For about the past 50 years or so the mantra spouted by mainstream media has been that, unlike say The National Enquirer,  “We don’t pay for news”. Typically this was the answer given to photographers (and others) who were in possession of timely and valuable images or footage which they want to sell or license. All too many amateurs actually believed such representations and then offer up their images without charge hoping that maybe, just maybe they could get a photo credit.

With the advent of digital photography and especially the proliferation of cell phones, news and celebrity photography became ubiquitous.  Media outlets receive hundreds of thousands of images monthly for which they pay little or nothing to publish. Amateurs willingly and in most instances foolishly, submit their valuable images to media outlets of all types and sizes often forfeiting their rights in the images they created.  (See our articles in this blog: NY Times Rights Grab and The NY Daily News, Part 2 among others)

Ed (and countless others) has been involved in the licensing of time sensitive news photography on many occasions where the conventional or traditional news media paid money to creators for the right to use video or still images on networks and in newspapers big, small and in between. The 2014 movie “Nightcrawler” starring Jake Gyllenhaal is a fairly accurate portrayal of videographers who routinely work with and sell the rights to news footage to Los Angeles TV stations.

Back in real life now comes a particularly horrifying piece of video where it appears that a police officer executes one, Walter Scott. As of this writing it appears that Mr. Scott is at worst a guy who might owe some child support. The 50-year-old father of four was more than $7,000 behind in child support, but no bench warrant had been issued for his arrest. The officer shot the fleeing “suspect” several times in the back. The officer has been arrested and charged with the murder. The story is carried by virtually every news service and the official police footage shot by the patrol car’s dash cam is everywhere.

A few days after the incident a grisly, shocking and commercially valuable footage surfaces.  This video was shot by a witness and was taken from a revealing angle.  A media feeding frenzy ensues – such “frenzies” not being terribly unusual by the way.  The imagery is very obviously valuable.  Media execs who are fond of saying “we don’t pay for news” are and have been for decades run to their check books.  If the images are valuable, the checks will be drafted.  So it has been and always will be.  The members of the media who say, “We don’t pay for news” are, now sit down folks, lying.

See this article in the New York Daily News.

There is nothing new about media outlets paying for valuable footage. Some in the press would have the public believe that this current story is unique in the news business. It is not.

Having no actual knowledge of the negotiations concerning this footage we can’t intelligently comment on whether the alleged fees referred to in the piece are accurate. We can say that the numbers thrown around are not at all unusual. We are privy to cases where short-term licenses for the use of valuable news images commanded payments well in excess of six figures.  Payments in the four or five figure range are far more commonplace.

Occasionally such payments are masked as an “appearance fees”.  The person who created the image is paid not for the use of the image but rather is flown in from say EastAnywhere, Wyoming to Gotham to make an appearance on “The Big Time Morning Show”. The creator, his spouse and kin are put up in a nice hotel, well fed and given tickets for the Mets, Phantom of the Opera and did we remember to use the phrase “all expenses paid”?

One of the reasons that a given network or publication media buys such imagery is that it then licenses it to others many times over many years in exchange for money. “Yes” ladies and gentlemen such outlets make a profit on imagery it purchases or as is more likely, has received from “contributors” to whom it has paid nothing.

There is simply no good reason to give away valuable news or celebrity imagery so that a media company can boost its bottom line. If you are disposed to giving gifts may we suggest that they be directed toward friends, family members, charities or your humble correspondents.