What IF.…?

What IF.…?

In the past weeks, I have had so many conver­sa­tions on Reijo, rights grabbing, Sanoma et al. contracts… People are eager to know what is going on, but they are somehow totally lost in this. And the moment I try to explain it in abstract terms… I see that nervous flicker in the eyes — you know what I am talking about: when the other person politely listens to what you got to say but does not register a word…

So I thought: I make this “Rights Grabbing 101” — and explain with three hypot­he­tical yet concrete examples — all from my own work during the past couple of weeks — what would have happened had I signed a contract such as the one Sanoma News and others are aggres­sively pushing.

What Do They Want?

They want me to sign a contract if I want to work for them.

This is a three point simplified list — had I signed such a contract — I would have agreed upon:

  1. All the work I do — i.e. each and every picture I take while working under contract for them belongs to them. They can use it where ever they want — print, web, iDevices, TV — as much as they want, where ever they want — without notifying nor paying me anything for this. Globally.
  2. Now and in the years to come, they own all the rights to this material. They can make books, magazines, web-presen­ta­tions, documen­taries, they can sell the material/images further as exten­sively as they want to — and keep 100% of the revenue it possibly generates.I cannot display anything publicly without consulting them first. If I want to make a book, I have to ask first if they instead would like to make it — and consequently let them keep all the possibly generated revenue from this publication.Should they for whatever reason want to prevent a picture or a set of pictures from being published, they have all the rights and means to do so.An extremely rigid interpre­tation would be that I could not enter — say World Press Photo compe­tition with my pictures — or anything similar because: should I win, I would have to give limited publishing rights of the winning image to the organizer — something which I could not do (as I would no longer have any right to do so). I have to admit myself though, that this example is a bit far-fetched… , but purely technically, this is the case.
  3. Should there be any legal contro­versy when they publish my pictures (anywhere, without notifying me) I would be held respon­sible for any consequences the use of my images might generate — if it could be argued that I had been careless, sloppy, or something similar.

The publishers demanding these give “justi­fication” for the first two points usually by: “well, you have to understand, times are tough…” and “you understand, we have to prepare for the future…”.

The third one — i.e. legal consequences — they try to wave off as “a mere formality which never would be used in real life.”

My academic answer would take several pages, so let me summarize it into one word:


Ok, let’s make it two words: Total Bullshit.

Or to make it sound a bit more educated, let me make reference to professor Jeff Jarvis from CUNY and his talk in New York about a year ago: “This is total bullshit!”

But: I save that academic argumen­tation for a later day. Today I simply try to show with three examples — nothing more — from my own work during the past couple of weeks — why I consider working under such “rights grab contract” a total impos­si­bility and a ridiculous endeavor.

Three Cases

Case 1: Finland vs. Sweden Track and Field Competition

So I am covering a track event, early days of September. Two days of sports photo­graphy. This is what I do for a living. Annual Finland vs. Sweden track and field compe­tition in Helsinki.

I get an SMS from my client “The shorts of Finnish ladies team are real small, can you get a pic?”. I sigh — this is not kind of stuff I enjoy doing — but: it’s my client asking and they pay the bill so I quickly shoot couple of images. Don’t think more of it, but send them and continue my work.

Original crop vs. published…

Late at night I notice their website. My full figure shot has been aggres­sively cropped and the image is used as a “conver­sation opener” in the website: “Vote yes or no, if you think these are too small.…

With my name in the byline. I sigh. Sure, real nice. And yes, frankly, I’m pissed off. I really do not enjoy seeing my name in such context.

BUT pay attention: it’s only my personal pride — or vanity — which is hurt. They have done nothing wrong. They hire me, ask me to do, I deliver. Simple as that. If I don’t feel comfor­table with it — well, it’s my problem, right? My choice.

Then the photo chief tells me: “ You did know, the girl is only 14? And her mother got really upset about that pic?”

Pause. Shit. Now, think carefully: What if…?

What if I had worked under Sanoma et al. ‑contract? What if it was not a Finnish athlete but — say — an american? I would be sued faster I could say the first syllable of “I’m sorry I did not know”.

Tradi­tio­nally the respon­si­bility in publishing is with the publisher. But: was I negligent, because I just shot and sent an image of a cute butt in tight shorts — as asked by my client — and did not compare the bib number with the starting list which has the birth year marked? Does that classify as carelessness?

I’m sure there would a legion of money hungry lawyers ready to argue that it does indeed and that I had caused serious damages.… say worth 10 000 or 100 000 euros ?

Would the publisher pick the tab or do the litigation for me — or would they just wave the “contract” under my nose finger pointed at words negli­gence and carelessness- and go on business as usual. Take the next eager freelancer for the next gig because they just had an opening in sports photography…

Wanna bet?

Case 2: A Book on Photography

A dummy spread in an book which is coming out soon.

During the past couple of weeks I have been selecting some images to go into a book on photo­graphy. I have the privilege of being presented next to some top photo­graphers in the world as somebody specia­lized in sports photo­graphy. I think I’ll have maybe 4–5 pictures in this book.

On the right you see a mock-up of one of the spreads in this coming book (the layout published here under permission). You might recognize the image, I posted it earlier this year in this blog as an example of what I consi­dered a good image at the time .

Now: What if…?

What if I had worked under Sanomat et al. ‑contract when taking this image. I could not sell my image (although it was never even published, but I sent it to my client) — and consequently, it would not be used in this book. The person authoring the book would never have found the image, as it would have drowned under thousands or millions of images in the publishers database. And if for some luck of God he would have found it — and if the publisher/rightsholder would have agreed to sell it for a reaso­nable price — I would not have been even notified of this — let alone being paid.

I’m sorry — call me greedy or control freak — but I think there is something wrong there.

Case 3: Rock Summer 1988 Multimedia

Multimedia Rocksummer 1988
Click the image to enter the multimedia

I have been raving about the experi­mental multi­media I did for YLE Teema in my previous posts. I was twenty-seven years-old, independent freelancer when I shot those images. Same images I used now, twenty-two years later to create this piece of work. Same images which played a very central role in the documentary which was on in Yle Teema about a month ago.

What if…?

What if I had worked under such a contract in 1988? First of all, the documentary “Eesti Vabaks!” would never have seen the light of day. Why? Because the “rights holder” would have seen the historic value of these images and set such a price that the small production company commis­sioned by YLE would never had had the means to purchase those rights — even if the “rights holder” would have bothered to dig out and agreed to sell those images in the first place. A very probable scenario would have been either a) no documentary or b) a stolen idea by the “rights holder” to do something similar — as they now had both the idea pitched at them and all the material — both free of charge.

What about the multi­media? No question about that: it would never ever have seen the light of day. Why? I can imagine the people in charge of selling images and their reaction when I would have approached them saying “I want to do something experi­mental and I need the original c. 1000 negatives for scanning so I can publish it in the web for free — as an experiment.”

I mean, they would have laughed their heads off and continue telling this incre­dible story of this stupid, ignorant freelancer who wanted to have such an amount of images — for free? I mean seriously, who did he think he was?


I could go on and on about this. And there are other repulsive aspects of this whole conver­sation — if you can call it that — which I have not touched here. Big issues touching concepts such as freedom of expression, what this means to a democ­ratic society, etc.

But these are big words. What I really wanted above is to illustrate the fact that we are not talking about a minor formality which can be brushed off with “oh just sign the paper and continue as usual — this is just something for the lawyers to keep them quiet…” — which is something people working for these publishers have been quickly whispering to the less seasoned, younger generation of aspiring freelancers.

I chose the three examples which first came to mind from my own limited world. I probably could have come up with half a dozen more looking at my own personal work during the past couple of weeks.

So could each and every one of us working as profes­sional freelancers.

I could start discussing the impor­tance and complexity of IPR… but I would lose my audience pretty soon. It sounds so complicated — and it is complicated.

Just remember this: the concept of copyright exists for a reason.

19 Replies to “What IF.…?”

  1. Very good points. However as the son of a Jewish lawyer and an American, let me make a few points about your first scenario:
    1) Actually, the national team would be the ones open to litigation, as they are the ones who asked a 14 year old girl to wear such revealing shorts. Anybody doing the suing would know that they have deeper pockets than a freelance photographer.
    2) There is no expec­tation of privacy at a sporting event, as it is understood by all partici­pants that their perfor­mances would be covered by the media and that pictures would be taken.
    3) Yes. You may be have been sued, but you also probably would have won. That being said, who the hell needs that sort of trouble?
    4) You would have had a good case to sue the publication for the recovery of your legal fees. You could still make a case that their negli­gence dragged you into a case that you shouldn’t have been dragged into. Just because the contract states that you are liable does not mean that the law agrees.
    5) Did I mention, “but who the hell needs that sort of trouble?”

    1. Hopper -

      as always, I appreciate your comments. I’m too damn tired (it’s about one at night over here) to really dig deep into your comment. But I hear you.
      As to ref. your point nr 3: I’ve been wondering — and you as the son of a Jewish lawyer — maybe can answer this: what it the correct word for “threat to sue”, is it “slap suit”? I.e. the case where the opposing party does not even pretend that they think they would win but merely state that they will sue the pants of you (ok, bad choice of words in this context…) and they have soooo much more money to put behind lawyers that you’d better settle… shall we say 10 000?

      That happens more and more — and especially in IPR and patents lately.

  2. Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Partici­pation: Slapp Suit. A slapp suit is intended to get people to drop, not to settle. Most lawyers (at least in the US) actually aim to settle and don’t want to actually go to court.

    1. Thanks Peter — live and learn. I should have know the son of a Jewish lawyer would know that immediately :-) . Actually, I have asked several Finnish lawyers about it — be it for whatever reason, but they have not been familiar with the term.

  3. As usual, brilliant blogging! My own take on this issue is somewhat blasé, though.

    I don’t believe (any more) that the big media companies will collapse in the near future (see this: http://keller.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/10/03/disrupters-and-adapters-continued-will-the-internet-save-newspapers/?ref=opinion ). However, I don’t believe that the companies will be managed like they are today for very long, either.

    Today the companies still believe firmly that their physical assets are the most important means of production, like they always have been. They own the factories, so they can manage the labor as they wish. Hence the blatantly one-sided, win-lose contracts like you describe above.It is a kind of China syndrome.

    Just about everybody can prove this attitude wrong. You only have to think: why do I click a site on the internet? Do I click to see “Helsingin Sanomat” only because it is so important a media?

    Well, yes, most of us still do, but what happens next? You browse the main Finnish news and then you click…(drum roll)…Tom Friedman, Seth Godin, Chase Jarvis, Frank Rich and Jon Stewart. After that you might click Engadget, BBC, Guardian and Macrumors.

    In other words, most of your clicks are motivated either by individual writers or high quality collec­tives of indivi­duals. So the most important means of production in these sites is labor.

    This is the situation 15 months after iPad came to the market and a month before Kindle Fire comes to the market. After, say, 15 months of Kindle Fire influence, I’d guess that the situation might be even more tilted toward individual internet stars and high quality groups. Every new pad creates a new discerning customer who probably is willing pay for content, but who will not buy content based only on a company brand. Company brand might have an effect, but it does not dictate the transaction any more.

    Eventually there will also be a micro­payment system for off-brand content that will make these individual stars into multimillionaires…and then even Finnish media companies might notice that physical assets and managerial routines are not that important any more.

    Give them a couple of years to understand this, and it won’t be long after that when they realize that the people who actually produce their content are kind of semi-important, too. And after that they notice that you really cannot make much money in the content industry like you do in the hardware industry: by outsourcing the production to some poor, nameless, easily replaceable biomass.

    You really cannot make much money in the content industry like you do in the hardware industry: by outsourcing the production to some poor, nameless, easily replaceable biomass.”

    And then there will not be contracts like these any more.

    1. Great commentary JP — again -

      thank you. I hope you don’t mind I highlighted one of your sentences, I thought it was so well put.

      I read the article you refer to by Bill Keller of NYT: while you agree with the writer that (as do I) that big media companies will NOT collapse in the nearby future, let me quote another thing he said which struck a chord:

      ” Nobody has killed more newspapers than newspaper publishers, who culled compe­tition to create monopoly markets. ”

      The guys running the newspapers presently (see eg. Sanoma News) are the guys-in-ties with no background in journalism — either as a craft or as a business. And my guess is (but who cares about my guess… ;-) ) that these guys have to go… just to find another business they can exploit to their liking.

      I said about two years ago i.e. before we even knew that the iPad would be called iPad (and actually, I will say it in public again next week in a confe­rence in Tampere) that it is my firm belief that this (touch screen) will be the future of journalism. However, it will not save the physical newspapers.

      It might — and hopefully will — save journalism.

      The dominant iPad publication in the country in two years time can be called anything — even “HS” although looking at their present effort and knowing their R&D I seriously doubt it. But it won’t be on physical paper, that’s for sure.

      And in order to survive more than the launch, you are absolutely right: it cannot consist of content produced by “some poor, nameless easily replaceable biomass”.

  4. Thanks Kari for keeping your pen sharp! We really need to keep raising the issue of copyrights: the corporate policy seems to be factual ignoring of copyrights and just taking a bloody advantage of each and individual freelancer. We need to get our brains together and restart Reijo 2.0.

    1. :-) We’ll do that. Keith Olbermann (or was it Michael Moore, don’t remember…) said the other day while talking about what’s going on in the Wall Street: ” You know… every big change in history has simply started with groups of indivi­duals going “This is just plain wrong”.

  5. It is nice to see that younger generation still has flame in their hearts. :)
    But Case 1 is a bit lame. You did what You were asked and so on.
    E.g. Your 8th shot from Deagu showreel is that same type of shot what You are ranting.
    I guess every sportshooter are producing those
    type of shots and all sport pages are publishing them.
    Which came first chicken or the egg ? Great showreel thou.
    Did You manage be without contract with Ilta-Sanomat all those
    years when You shot for them? My wild guess is that You have worked for them but perso­nally I jump over sport pages…

    1. Jaanis -

      long time no see. No, the images are a bit different. (I don’t believe I’m doing this, i.e. discussing diffe­rences of butt pics… :-) ) See the Daegu images 7,8 and 9. They constitute a series of Blanca Vlasic… Sure, you can say a butt is a butt — but I’d argue there is a diffe­rence of approach compared to that mugshot (of an underaged girl) cropped as it is in my post. Besides, I am not ranting about that. Comes with the client, I already mention that in my post, I really cannot fight it. My actual point comes after WHAT IF…?

      You say you jump over the sport pages… well, don’t blame you.… but as you taken a look into my work from Daegu and maybe even from that same Finland vs. Sweden event, you do realize that documenting the size of somebody’s panties is not my idea of great sports imagery. Actually: sport pages do NOT publish pictures such as the Daegu series. I put in into my gallery because I found some esthetics in that. If you decide to see it as simply butt-watching.… well, I guess you are free to do that. I beg to differ, but that’s just me ;-) .

      What comes to me working for Ilta-Sanomat… Yes I worked for them for c. 15 years. Yes, I still own all my images from that era. Sanomat can use my images in HS and IS if they want — if my images are published and paid for. If they use unpublished images from their archives, they will have to pay me. They pay peanuts, but yes, they will have to pay me. Ilta-Sanomat is actually very good at this: every January I ask for a listing of my publica­tions, they deliver and I write an invoice.

      When it comes to HS — well, they pretty much decided that they don’t have to deal with that kind of shit. So they take my pictures (and yours, btw) and publish them — and don’t give a shit about reporting or paying.

      I’ve mentioned it couple of times to them but no real reaction leading to any kind of chance.

      Which does not mean that I approve or have forgotten. They are actually building quite an time bomb here: using imagery of dozens of people without paying them, year after year.… I think I have all my publica­tions since 2004 unaccounted for.
      There is an American saying: “Payback is a bitch” — and there will be payback time, that’s for sure.

  6. Hyvä Kari! Oon täällä Minnea­po­li­sissa oppimassa amerik­ka­laista journa­lismia ja näytän artik­kelisi muillekin opiske­li­joille. Kiitos!

    1. Moi Eija -

      ai vaikutat sielä tällä hetkellä, hauskaa. Kiitos kun kommentoit; olen just (jälleen kerran…) miettinyt, että pitäisikö tai parem­minkin olisiko pitänyt tämä juttu kirjoittaa suomeksi, mutta jälleen yksi osoitus, että ehkä sittenkin kannattaa pitäytyä tuossa toisesssa kotimaisessa…

  7. Jos esim. arkisto kuviasi käytetään iltiksessä/hesarissa/iltalehdessä/ jne allekir­joit­tamasi sopimuksen mukai­sesti niin tilanne on mikä se on (yleensä kuvaajan/kirjoittajan kannalta huono). Jos mitään sopimusta ei ole ja kuviasi
    julkaistaan eikä niistä suostuta korvaamaan mitään tai poistamaan arkis­tosta niin sinulla
    on vahva keissi, jota esim Journa­lis­ti­liiton juristi lähtee kyllä ajamaan loppuun asti.
    Ja tämän hän tekee jäsenedun nimissä liittoon kuuluville.

    Itse kuvasin joskus 90 luvun puoli­vä­lissä Sanoma Magazinen ns.perhelehteen kuvituskuvia
    aiheena “nuorten huumeiden käyttö” tms. Painelin diskoon ja kuvailin tanssi­joita pitkällä sulji­na­jalla ja kamera täristen ettei ketään vain tunnisteta. Jutta julkaistiin. Sitten joskus
    2000 alkupuo­lella sain puhelun hätään­ty­neeltä äidiltä, että hänen tyttä­rensä leimataan
    huume­hör­höksi. Hän oli löytänyt vanhan lehden sattu­malta. Olin tietysti hyvin hämmästynyt,
    koska myös lehdelle oli tärkeää ettei kuvissa olevia henki­löitä tunnisteta. Pahoit­telin asiaa
    ja sanoin, että ottaa yhteyttä lehteen. Hän sanoi jo soitta­neensa sinne ja he olivat ystäväl­li­sesti neuvoneet ottamaan minuun yhteyttä. Nice. Jos oltaisiin ameri­kassa niin maksaisin vielä kuollee­nakin miljoona korvauksia hänen tyttä­rensä kunniasta. Noh asian käsittely loppui siihen. Minun ja julkai­sijan välillä ei ollut mitään sopimusta.

    1. No just too -

      mieti, mitä ois tapah­tunut jos sinulla olisi ollut sopimus jota lasita­losta nyt tyrky­tetään? Arvaa vaan, kuka olisi joutunut maksu­mie­heksi, olisiko heitä kiinnos­tanut pätkääkään. Ja olen melko vakuut­tunut, että nyt kun mediasta on tullut tällainen puhee­naihe ja taval­listen ihmisten kunnioitus lasitalon tapaisia insti­tuu­tioita vastaan on täysin muren­tunut (tarkoitan: “kyllä ne ammatti-ihmiset tietävätä mitä tehdään ja mikä on oikein…” etc.), niin tällai­sista tapauk­sista poikivat oikeus­jutut ja korvaus­vaa­ti­mukset tuleat kasvamaan suuresti.

      Mulla kävi myös Ilta-Sanomien aikaan vähän vastaava juttu (kyse oli strip­pa­riclu­billa kuvatuista IS toimek­sian­nosta kuvatuista kuvista), mutta silloin vastaava päätoi­mittaja Hannu Savola kutsui mut puhut­teluun, kysyi mistä on kysymys, katsottiin kuvia yhdessä ja hän vain totesi: asia selvä, et ole tehnyt mitään väärää, me hoidamme tämän.

      Hannu ei ole enää keskuu­des­samme. Hommaa pyörittää vähän toisen­lainen leegio valko­kau­luksia, joille lukijat ja tekijät ovat vain — miten tuo JP sen niin hyvin ilmaisi — “onnet­tomia ressu­koita, nimetöntä, helposti korvat­tavaa biomassaa” — tärkeää on se bisnes ja se paljon kaivattu ansai­ta­malli… Selkä­ran­gat­tomia limapalloja, sanoisi joku.

      Valitet­tavaa on, että vieläkin luullaan, että median tämän hetki­sessä tilan­teessa on kyse pienestä kriisissä ja tilanne laukeaa itsestään. Ei, ei ja ei… tämä on täysin ennen­nä­ke­mätön raken­ne­muutos toisaalta mediassa, toisaalta yhteiskunnassa.

      Kuullostan joltain helvetin tuhon enkeliltä jos ja kun yritän julistaa, että tämä on vasta alkua… Mutta kun se valitet­ta­vasti vasta on. Ja yleisesti: tällai­sessa tilan­teessa pitäisi yrittää luoda uutta, ei pyrkiä kiris­tämään kaikkia osapuolia ja pakottaa jäljelle jäävät tylsästi omia kengän­kärkiä tuijot­ta­viksi, ajatte­le­mat­to­miksi koneiksi. SIllä sellaisten hengen­tuo­tokset eivät kiinnosta ketään.

  8. Terve!

    Ja kiitos hyvästä blogista.

    Olen itse freelancetoimittaja/kuvaaja (vaikka jälkim­mästä hieman vähemmän, toivot­ta­vasti painotus kuitenkin vielä siirtyy jossain vaiheessa) ja esitte­lemäsi sopimus on käytän­nössä ident­tinen myös kirjoit­ta­valle toimittajalle.

    Allekir­joitin vastaavan lapun noin kolme vuotta sitten, ymmär­tä­mättä oikeastaan mitä se tarkoitti käytän­nössä. Tuolloin olin kuitenkin urani — jos ei nyt alkuvai­heessa, niin ainakin siinä vaiheessa kun jokainen avusta­ja­so­pimus punnittiin kullassa.

    Tänä päivänä kaduttaa. Ei kestänyt kauaa kun tekstini oli julkaistui niin kahdella netti­si­vus­tolla kuin Iltaleh­dessä, itse sain vain yhden palkkion. Samaa on jatkunut pidemmän aikaa, vaikkakin tuon jälkeiset sopimukset olen onnis­tunut neuvot­te­lemaan niin, että tekstillä on ainoastaan yksi sovittu käyttö­tar­koitus, eikä sitä saa uudel­leen­jul­kaista ilman lisämaksua. Tästä pykälästä on luonnol­li­sesti pitänyt tapella melkoisesti.

    En ymmärrä lainkaan miksi vakava­raiset media­talot tahtovat lietsoa tällaista eripuraa avusta­jiensa ja itsensä välille. Totuus on kuitenkin se, että yksikään lehti ei pärjää ilman avustajia. Jotenkin vain kaikki pitäisi saada hyväk­symään se linja ettei itseä myydä halvalla. Itselleni ei kukaan näitä kertonut aikanaan ja kaiken sai opetella kantapään kautta. Tänä päivänä sanoisin nuorem­malle itselleni, ettei kirjoita nimeä ihan mihin sattuu, ja lisäisin ehkä myös sen että nuorta ja innokasta on liian helppo kusta silmään.

    Sivuhuo­mau­tuksena, uusin Journa­listi syynäsi useiden talojen sopimuksia. Yllättäen parhaan diilin antaa Image, Sanoman ollessa huonoin kautta linjan.

    1. Kiitos kommen­tista -

      arvostan sitä oikeasti. Tartun viimeiseen lauseeseen:

      Yllättäen parhaan diilin antaa Image, Sanoman ollessa huonoin kautta linjan.”

      Pitää paikkansa, kertoo ehkä jotain jotain talojen koosta ja/tai asenteesta työvoi­maansa kohtaan. Vältän sanaa “avustaja” sillä se kuullostaa niin vähät­te­le­vältä. Tosiasia on, että jokaista “oikeaa työnte­kijää” kohti on useita freelance­reita, jotka ovat suurelta osin vastuussa siitä, että läpys­köihin saadaan jotain paina­misen arvoista.

      Mutta pointtini: sinulla on premis­si­virhe. Image/Sanomat eivät anna mitään diilejä. Diilejä ei anneta, ne neuvo­tellaan. Ehdoista joko päästään yhtei­sym­mär­rykseen tai sitten ei. Sanomat eivät oikeasti neuvottele.

      Ne kertovat mitä ne haluavat ja ottavat sen. Sitä ei kutsuta sopimuk­seksi eikä diiliksi. Sitä sanotaan saneluksi, riistoksi… englan­niksi on loistava sana “bullying” — käännetään se suomeksi vaikka öky-öykkäröinniksi.

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