Jack here. Ed just posted to wonderful comments on a great industry blog, A Photo Editor, regarding the recent sale of Getty Images for $3.3 Billion dollars. I thought it would be good to post and share it here, along with any comments our readers might have.
Below are Ed’s comments and I quote and paraphrased a response from a Ms. Woods. You can read the entire thread of comments on A Photo Editor at this link.
Ed starts: “Most of the value of these agencies is in their archives and libraries. These archives have been built up over the years by photographers not requesting the return of their analog historical and celebrity images. When the contributors die their estates rarely if ever recover the images which in effect, are abandoned to these large stock agencies and in effect become their “property”.
Over time images left to or not returned to “Joe Photographer” are licensed out well after Joe’s demise under the photo credit of “Stock Agency”. No more “Joe Photographer/Stock Agency”. The millions (yes millions) of images which have been left with or abandoned to stock agencies give the agency an asset worth buying.
Imagine a local consignment shop in a wealthy area such as The Hamptons. People move away, retire to Florida and leave some of their expensive, large furniture which they can’t use in the Florida condo with a consignment shop to sell. The items either sell or they sit and the retiree eventually dies. In real life the consignment shop rarely gets notice of the death and even less often seeks out the whereabouts of the consignor. The result is that the shop winds up with “ownership” of items which it then sells and rather than splitting the price 50/50 with its “true owner”, pockets 100% of the price. The estate of the deceased is 99% of the time, totally unaware that the items were in even some shop and therefore unaware of the sale.
Stock agencies do the very same thing. They do it because photographers have traditionally been lazy and/or have done no estate planning. The result is Joe Photographer’s image is now “owned” by Stock Agency. Images of celebrities or of an historical nature have value going forward. Simple, effective business model based in large measure on the passivity of contributing photographers.”
A Ms. Cynthia Woods, not knowing Ed’s background, questioned where Ed was getting his information. I personally think that’s something more photographers should do, ask where people are getting their information. Kudos to Ms. Woods for being skeptical and not just believing what she reads online just because it’s on the Internet.
She asked in part: “Perhaps you are an estate planner, and don’t know any real, living-working photographers…? I’m just not sure where you’re getting your information — or your ideas about photographers. (Also, have you, or as anyone you know, ever tried dealing with a behemoth like Getty Images…? Just curious!)”
“Dear Ms. Wood:
I have litigated against and negotiated with every major stock company including Getty and Corbis, dozens of times over 34 years. I am intimately familiar with the workings of most agencies having cross examined their personnel under oath at depositions or at trials on at least 50 occasions. I have with my associates, reviewed well over 1,000 banker’s boxes full of stock agency records and have spent several thousand hours representing photographers and artists in their disputes with agencies. I would gladly not possess the knowledge and experience I have of the intimate workings of agencies if someone could give me back the time we spent doing the grueling work of reading internal correspondence, examining phony records and fake tracking logs and listening to the inside information given us by former employees and “whistle blowers”.
We have represented well over 2,000 photographers, illustrators and artists over some three decades and our current client list of “living” photographers numbers in the hundreds. I have been lecturing, litigating and writing about this specific issue for well over a decade having appeared on APA and EP, panels at teaching at the School of Visual Arts, at PhotoExpo, PhotoShop World, lecturing at Hallmark, writing a monthly column with Jack Reznicki which appears in PhotoShop User Magazine and we did a book entitled “Photographer’s Survival Manual”. Jack and I do webinars for Nik software where like in our blog thecopyrightzone.com, we answer questions from photographers located all over the world.
So Ms. Wood I speak from extensive, personal experience and spend about 10 hours every day speaking with living, working photographers who work throughout the US, South America and the EU.
You might do well to Google some articles going back to about 1997 which deal with the large agencies like Corbis and Getty gobbling up the “mom and pop” agencies. You might also do well by asking photographers over the age of say 50, about how the stock agency model has changed from a simple 50/50 split to “pictures by the pound”, photographer be damned and 70/30 splits.
None of this is new to most of the people who have been in the industry for say the last 15, 20 or more years. The archives of these agencies largely pre-date the advent of digital work. Agencies have retained analog original(s) and any quality dupes whenever then can get away with it. You might want to do some research on the hundreds of thousands of images that were “lost” by agencies and how some of those “lost” images were magically returned after litigation(s) were threatened or commenced.
I hope this clarifies for you what the sources of my information are.”