This is in response to a comment left by reader Leif Skoogfors in the, “Will I be a Victim of Infringement” article. It’s a great topic and we wanted to make sure no one missed this, a Trojan Horse so to speak, as in this situation can cost you big bucks.
In the interests of disclosure, it is no secret that I, Ed, have represented a buffet of photographers over the last thirteen years who claimed and/or filed suit against Corbis for among other things, the disappearance of their analog images. A review of the public record will reveal that while I recovered hundreds of hundreds of thousands of “lost” images, many untold thousands remain unaccounted for. Federal Courts in the Southern District of New York have found Corbis’ system(s) to be “wholly inadequate” in (at least) the tracking of imagery. Trial court and/or Appellate decisions in New York State and Federal Courts (and now I am told in France) where Corbis was a defendant are matters of public record. I need not and do not discuss these cases in detail but rather suggest that creatives read them for themselves and draw their own conclusions.
Suffice for now to say that this office has had a policy for many years of refusing to represent any photographer or illustrator who seeks to enter into a business relationship with Corbis. We have elected to forgo any legal fees we could earn in such matters. Such is our choice. None of the above is exactly news to much of the photo community.
The Corbis “system” (as well as those of some of their competitors) contain terms which come with a substantial price. One or more of the following may apply:
A. You are giving away (depending on your individual written contract) a large portion of the monies you could recover for yourself and are entitled to by law, over to the agency.
B. Under the terms of some Corbis agreements you lose the right to select your own counsel, are constrained to pay their attorneys at fees determined by them and you may not control the case or may even be prevented from even pursuing the matter on your own if the agency (for its own reasons) elects not to.
C. You may have no right to participate in any meaningful way in the settlement, defense or prosecution of “your” case.
D. At the termination of some of these Corbis agreements you must have the rights “re-assigned” back to you for registration with the copyright office by you at the cost of paperwork and a filing fee.
As you must be aware, OFTEN a rep or stock agent will refuse for its own business reasons to pursue say, one of their better clients for infringement of a shooter’s work. That may be in their financial interest. BUT as we have written before, Corbis (and other stock agents) have elected to drop the word “agent” from their contracts. Therefore by law they seek to relieve themselves from the legal responsibility to act in the photographer’s best interest. They may now act only in their own self interest – frequently directly opposite to the interests of the copyright holder.
Corbis is not alone in this “arrangement” and we have written and spoken out about it many times. One never gives up any portion of his/her claims in copyright to a stock agency or rep on anywhere remotely near the terms required by Corbis and its competitors. This provision serves as a profit center for reps, stock agents (and occasionally gallery owners) at the expense of photographers and creators. It is illogical to put a “straw man” (who takes a cut and controls your fate) between you and your lawyer. That agent/rep/straw man by the terms of some of these contracts determines how/when and if you will assert the legal rights you as a creator possess under both the Copyright Law and The Constitution of the United States. When something appears to be to good to be true….
Never give up your copyright to someone else. If any reader doesn’t fully understand this issue, please ask for clarification in comments, as Ed and Jack feel this is an important issue, one where photographers lose control of their rights though the “back door” while thinking they are being protected by a benevolent agent, rep or stock agency.