I agree and to clarify I’m saying that giving up copyright to an employer is not the worst thing that can happen for photojournalism. As long as photographers can still use their images for portfolios, lectures, books and exhibits, t…
First, let me say that I hope my replies don’t seem argumentative. I appreciate our dialog. You raise questions that deserve a reply, even if it doesn’t support conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom is the consequence of an institutional memory loss about how the photo business got into this predicament in the first place.
The vendors of today, literally bought their way into the photo marketplace without any organic knowledge about it; and with little subsequent organic growth. Growth ridiculously meant big fish swallowing smaller fish, hoping to acquire more and better content. The result has not been growth in either revenue or market size.
Initially, the big fish were simply consolidating a bunch of smaller revenue streams. Now, the revenue stream is stagnant; and the incumbents think they can stimulate growth by gobbling up more content. It has been a failure all around. (Again, read my longer article.)
Photographers simply capitulated, or stood by and watched the proceeding helplessly, because they had no tools to use against the vast capital resources arrayed against their best interests. But I am saying that technology can level the economic playing field and restore an agency business model.
My direct reply to your statement about copyright, is that giving up copyright to an employer may not be the worst thing that can happen to photojournalism per se, but it is the worst thing that can happen to photojournalists. The reason is, as you imply, that the potential for ancillary income diminishes, or disappears, without the prerogative of copyright. If you think that doesn’t matter, then you also think photographers who are employed by news distributors are well paid.
I don’t think they would agree. Bragging rights of authorship and exhibition don’t put food on the table. Furthermore, without copyright, even those kinds of rights DO NOT belong to the photographer. They exist only at the discretion of the employer.
How many photojournalists do you think are directly employed (not counting newspapers), by the way? I would argue fewer than 1,000 worldwide. Maybe even as few as 500. The market is so much bigger than the number of photographers shooting for vendors and distributors. It’s a $14 billion market.
You ask, “How did owning copyright benefit the photographers who worked for these agencies that are now defunct? What are today’s agents going to do differently?” The answer is, photographers are entitled to additional income that is being denied to them—likely illegally denied. But photojournalists don’t have the economic clout to fight. To put it bluntly, big corporations are stealing from them; not because they’re inherently evil, but because they can. It’s too easy. I believe they are also inept—the vendors that is—because they could be earning much more revenue, as could the photographers themselves, if they understood how the value of copyright could be maximized with an astute application of technology (e.g., connectivity and machine learning). This is an offline business today, run primarily on paper in the 21st century!
There are no agents today. There are only vendors and distributors who answer only to a few stakeholders and NOT to photographers. But the photo agency business model can be restored in a manner that will level the economic playing field for photojournalists (and commercial photographers) and publishers.
This is not a philosophical issue. It is a tactical issue. I have the technology to do this. I’m trying to get it funded. It’s hard, though, to get past conventional wisdom and — I hate to use such a trite meme — “think outside the box.”