Copyright and Giving Credit were Credit is Due
A friend of mine, Brent, a Canadian fashion photographer posted on Facebook recently how disappointed he was at having is work published, but uncredited, time and time again. I felt very sorry for Brent and decided to lend support, the best way I can, with an article based upon my own experiences in the photography industry.
Have you ever seen images you've made reproduced without being credited to you, the maker of the image? This is a real and significant problem for all photographs, particularly the working pro. I've worked on occasions as a stills photographer on TV and film and am not aware of ever being credited, despite agreements to do so, for my work. I'm talking about having my name and/or that of my business appearing as a caption on the bottom of a photo published in a magazine or newspaper. My name has been up on the big screen, which is the sort of thing that makes your mum happy, but the promotional value associated with a byline cannot be understated. Can you imagine the trouble if a writer, director or actor wasn't credited for their work? But for the stills photographer, at the bottom of the food chain - Well, you know.
The problem, particularly in countries like Australia where there's very little money in the film industry, is that photographers are all too often paid peanuts or not at all. And, in fairness, they're not the only ones. Young folks, new to the industry, are often prepared to work for free as a way of gaining valuable on the job experience. Days are long and conditions, particularly on location, can be brutal. Historically this was also the way many commercial and advertising photographers would enter the industry. In some cases they'd be expected to work for a year or more to earn their strips, by which stage they should have acquired the skills and techniques to really assist rather than just make coffee, move furniture and run errands. The smart ones also spent their time building up valuable client contacts so as to make the transition from assistant to working pro somewhat easier.
From my own experience it can be the fault of staff at the newspaper or magazine in question, or even the publicist associated with the project. They just don't care. There's a simple lesson my mum gave me when I was a kid that has largely framed the way I interact, in business and socially, with other people.
"How would you feel if your were in their position and they did that to you."
I reckon I only had to hear that little speech once or twice before I got it.
It's usually true to say that, as well as a full-on introduction to the industry, working on a film set puts you in contact with truly fantastic people. You'll likely make great friends. I've met some amazing people on set, actors and crew alike. But don't be fooled, there's nothing exotic about it. It's a real grind and provides, from a still photographers point of view, very limited opportunities to do really good work. But then there's always hacky sack. Fortunately, in addition to a range of images required for promotion and publication, I've been encouraged to produce a behind the scenes record of the crew. I've found this kind of documentary work to be great fun and personally rewarding. What's more the crew appreciate the attention being placed on them, for a change.
The irony is that working for free is unlikely to gain you the respect you need to be able to do the job you're required to do. And, assuming you're able to make the images needed, to be credited for your work is perhaps the best way you have for gaining paid work in the future. The fact that no credit is given, despite agreements to the contrary, eliminates this significant promotional tool.
If you think working in this way is worth the experience then, by all means, go ahead. But ensure you get a written agreement that relates to any benefits (e.g. bylines/captions on images published in the media) you were promised. And never sign any agreement, particularly at the last minute once you've agreed to do the project, that effectively gives away copyright on your own images. It's unbelievable what people will try to pull and, despite unrealistic expectations from actors agents and the like, you have your rights which you'd be crazy to surrender. That's not to say that you wouldn't agree not to publish certain images up till the time the film is released. After all you'd want to be respectful of the needs of others.
I'd like to put a question to all those people who rob aspiring photographers of their due recognition and previously agreed to promotional opportunities by failing to credit their work. Did your mum or dad not provide you with this lesson, or is it that you simply don't care?
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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru