The Beat Goes On

While the news seems unrelentingly gloomy at the moment, I’m pleased to say I’ve had some positives to focus on.

I’ve had bits of work in the last couple of weeks and enquiries have also increased. People are looking to promote their businesses once again!

This doesn’t mean a flood of work is about to engulf me, but it’s encouraging to know I still have clients. I also have some great supporters helping me via my ko-fi account*. They’re keeping me funded for the non-client projects I’m engaged in. *HINT: You can do the same from as little as £3.00 one-off payment!

What is especially encouraging is that in an atmosphere of debate about what counts as a viable job, my job – the job I love, which has been put under this particular spotlight for many years now, continues to be considered viable; invaluable, even.

There are many out there who believe professional photography is dead and that every photo ever needed has been taken already. And if it doesn’t already exist, well there’s always that professional photographer in your pocket. They are, of course, quite wrong.

We know automation and technology cannot replace certain needs. Technology still can’t make a decent loaf of bread, so we can’t expect it to make pictures with the right tone and impact. This only comes about through human interaction.

Try to imagine a world without human interaction, how much fun would that be? How creative? We’re experiencing a taste of it now, so we know the answer already.

So while there will be some very difficult times ahead, I’m going to stay focussed and positive. No one is telling me I’m not viable.

Storms Now, but Storms Ahead Too?

Two nights ago we experienced the weirdest lightning storm anyone seems to remember witnessing. I had only seen something similar once, about 30 years ago in Germany, but even that was nothing compared to this more recent event.

Accompanied with Biblical rain, for almost an hour lightning lit up the night sky with astonishing frequency with BBC Weather reporting some 48,000 strikes nationally. It never struck Earth in my bit of Somerset, it was all cloud-to-cloud, which is what made it and its accompanying Hollywood thunder noise all the more eerie.

It happened to be the day we learned Boris Johnson was to be our new prime minister, and some speculated that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were about to burst through the clouds and lay waste to all that lay before them.

Of course politics and the weather are not so closely related. Setting aside political decisions which might cause or reduce global warming over generations, we can safely say this lightning storm and Bojo’s appointment are not that intertwined. However, as metaphors go its timing could not have been better.

So what of this new political future? Are we moving to the sunny uplands? Or hurtling towards a terrible storm? Anyone who knows my politics will be aware that I happen to believe Brexit is a very bad idea (putting it both mildly and diplomatically). However, it seems that’s where we are headed and whether we are inners or outers, we’re going to have to deal with whatever Brexit means.

It’s practically impossible to know how Brexit will affect my business. I know it will affect a great many people whose work takes them regularly in and out of the EU and their futures more than mine will rely on a sensible deal being reached about freedom of travel. For my part, looking back at my books over the period during which we were meant to leave, I’d say the uncertainty has definitely affected the willingness of businesses to press ahead with new projects. It’s been a real stop/start year so far.

Perhaps with a definite date in mind clients will feel better able to plan for October 31st and freer to make investment or expansion decisions. Sadly I suspect there is still a great deal of doubt about what Brexit will ACTUALLY mean. For all Mr Johnson’s energetic promises, he still has to deliver what Theresa May couldn’t and it still might not be the Brexit some people had in mind (while still managing to be the Brexit many never wanted).

I worry about the effect Brexit will have on those who have less control over their lives and fewer resources to deal with any negative consequences. I also know business will carry on one way or another. What is absolutely certain though is that nobody, not even Boris Johnson, has any real idea what to expect on the other side of all this. I think we can assume Boris will be ok, but beyond that, not much can be said with any certainty.

Possibly the most inconclusive conclusion I have ever written.

Marketing Smarter

While my lovely Pentax S1a is off for a rebuild, I’ll return my attention to things more corporate photography related.

With doom and gloom headlines about the state and future prospects of the UK economy all over our news channels it might be tempting to think it’s time to tighten belts and hunker down for the long haul.

Often the first casualty of financial difficulty is marketing, and perhaps more specifically photography, but if that’s your plan you might want to hold fire because done right, good marketing and good photography, even on a reduced annual budget, can keep your company name in the frame and help you survive the economic Winter.

This week’s message is simple: If you’re going to market less, you’d better market smarter. What does this mean in practice?

Of course I speak from the perspective of a photographer in this corporate world and what I occasionally see is businesses devoting a lot of resource to cutting corners. Not only is this a waste of their valuable time, it also leads to results which don’t hold the client in the best light, or images which have little real impact. It might look like the cheaper option, but at what cost to the business?

I know I’m not the cheapest photographer in my market, but then I wouldn’t want to be. Because quite apart from the quality I strive for in my photography, when a client approaches me I’m there for them from the word go until well after the project has been delivered.

The difference I offer starts with the helping hand and sounding board at the concept stage. Even corporate portraits or the “humble” press release require a level of creative input and the right photographer will be able to guide the project from the earliest stages, ensuring the end-result has maximum impact.

The other aspect you’ll want to consider when hiring a photographer on the sole parameter of cost is, will they help, guide and assist during and after the photo session?

All this help and input, from concept stage to post-delivery assistance, requires time, knowledge and experience, all of which have a value which should be factored into the cost of hiring. Of course this means a cost above and beyond simply that of producing photographs, but since you’re spending the money anyway (and almost certainly taking up your and your colleagues’ time doing so) you may as well get the best results possible.

And when the job is over, the photos delivered, is your photographer still there to help if you need it? I’m not just talking about up to the point they’ve sent the invoice. I’m often helping clients with follow-up assistance months, even years after the job was shot, delivered and paid for.

So, who’s the smart marketer now?

 

The Stupid Economy

Yes, that’s a misquote of the often used “the economy, stupid,” but I thought I’d throw a few thoughts out there about the economy because I covered an “economic dinner” last week (it was a dinner for economists, not a low-budget supper) at which one of the guest speakers was Andy Haldane of the Bank of England.

There was much talk of the economy, interest rates, access to finance and so on, and while I don’t hear everything at these kinds of events on account of I’m busy concentrating on camera and flash settings, angles, focus, and composition, I do get the gist of what’s being said.

But why should anyone care what I, a mere photographer, think is happening with the economy? Why indeed, though it’s fair to say most economists seem to be equally ill-equipped to understand all the statistics about employment, productivity and forecasts on where the economy is headed, so I may as well give it a shot.

Andy Haldane of Bank of England speaks at a lectern at a function in Bath

Andy Haldane of the Bank of England gives an economic forecast at an event in Bath

I was at another function earlier in the year and was approached by a representative of the Bank of England who I thought was going to ask me something to do with photography. Instead he asked me how my business was doing because, he said, “I suspect someone in your line of work feels the ups and downs of the economy rather more immediately than many others.”

I think he’s probably right. Commercial photographers often feel the start of a bust almost before it’s happened because while companies might feel they’re working in isolation and cutting their marketing budgets ahead of an expected downturn, when enough of them do this the photographer feels the downturn before it officially hits. I experienced this in 2008 not long after Northern Rock hit the rocks.

So where are we now and where are we going? Well for a start I’m happy to report that things have picked up over the last two or three years. My turnover is back to where it was pre-crash, and actually marginally up, but it all still feels rather delicate.

Company budgets are still very much under constant revision and my turnover is up because I’ve had more bookings, not because I’ve put my fees up. In fact my fees haven’t changed significantly in about four years.

What can be hard to separate out is whether businesses are booking more photography because they’re feeling more confident or because they’re trying to make up for lost ground having slashed marketing budgets in 2008. I can only speak anecdotally, but I’d say it’s a mixture with a tilt in favour of the latter.

Businesses which have held back spending on photography for more than a couple of years often find that when they come back to review their marketing plans, they’re lacking in pertinent pictures and often have to restart their picture library from scratch. This can be an expensive process, and might force some to further delay commissioning new work. It can become a bit of a vicious cycle.

Then when the decision is made to give the go-ahead on new imagery, because so much is required to recover lost ground it’s understandable that there is some pressure to keep costs down. The end result is, I get more work but I can’t charge any more than I was a few years ago. Many businesses find themselves in a bit of a limbo situation like this.

It really doesn’t require an economist to tell you that the “recovery” is going to be slow and vulnerable. The debt bubble is still in the economy. It was with the banks, now it’s been spread amongst us all, but it is still there and getting worse. This is keeping everyone, businesses and individuals alike, nervous. Of course my best advice would be to not slash your marketing budget (I would say that, wouldn’t I) because it’ll harm your chances of finding new business and retaining existing clients and it’ll cost more to re-start it later.

Now my thoughts on the economy might not be detailed and in-depth, but like any astrologer, if I remain vague I can’t be accused of being wrong can I? Famous last words.

Electile Dysfunction Problems – what’s next?

We may have just had the most exciting election since Blair took power from the Tories in 1997, but the result has been somewhat surreal and indecisive. At least now David Dimbleby can finally take a nap and Gordon Brown can finally switch his smile off for good. No more face-strain for Gordon, no more wincing for us.

I suppose we have to accept that the most pressing job of the new government will be to sort out the dog’s breakfast we laughingly call our economy, though to be fair to Gordon and Labour, it really wasn’t their fault. The problem is, as it’s not the Government’s fault, by logical extension there also isn’t a great deal any government can do to correct it apart from push some debt around until it pops up somewhere else, like a fiscal version of whack-a-mole.

I don’t wish to dwell too much on the economy though. I’m happy to leave it to others with far larger brains than mine to make an even bigger mess of it at the expense of those of us least able to cope with the consequences. What I’m really interested in for the purpose of this blog is what a Tory/Lib Dem government will do about copyright, orphan works and extended collective licensing.

photo of tile mural in sicily protected by copyright watermark.

Will all photos on the net have to be disfigured just to protect them?

Yes, I know it’s not a major issue right this minute, but it will become one very quickly and we can’t be sure when it will sit up and slap us in the face, so we need to be prepared.

Let’s look back first to those halcyon days when a Parliament wasn’t hung and prime ministers weren’t a double act. When the Digital Economy Bill was passed into law (the DEB almost certainly will be revisited soon) and the orphan works clause was debated, albeit briefly, in the Commons.

What happened then, just to recap, was that under lobbying pressure from photographers and the Stop43 campaign, Conservatives (with an eye on the electoral prize) agreed to drop Clause 43, while Labour (perhaps thinking they had more chance of a majority than they actually did) decided they didn’t need to drop Clause 43 – or perhaps it was their bargaining chip for getting the rest of the DEB through all along, whatever. Meanwhile, Don Foster for the Lib Dems argued to amend the clause, but keep it. This despite the fact he’d been told in great detail why this was a bad idea.

So now that we have a Tory/Lib Dem coalition government, do we really know where the parties stand? The Conservatives said at the time of the DEB debate that there would need to be a proper review of copyright, OW and ECL after the election, and it would appear that at face value they have some sympathy with photographers and other creators of original content. But then we have the Lib Dems, who clearly don’t understand the issues.

With some luck the Lib Dems will see the light, and the Tories won’t be lobbied so mercilessly by publishers, aggregators and content thieves that they lose sight of the fact that photographers generate a great deal of wealth for business and the country. It’s part of our industry and our culture. It’s our heritage too. Without professional photographers, all users of images would suffer and visual innovation would stall.

It’s going to require a mammoth effort from core groups of photographers to draw up required minimum standards for any review and subsequent legislation, but it will also require the effort of individuals who claim to care about photography. They will need to keep in close contact with local groups, who in turn should keep an eye on developments at national level so that when the time comes, our voices won’t be drowned out by big business and freetards.

The Fat Lady has sung…

YES to victory over DEB

Professional and amateur photographers can celebrate this morning!

And what a sweet song of victory it was. Thanks to Editorial Photographers UK (EPUK), stop43 and thousands of individual photographers, clause 43 of the Digital Economy Bill was dropped (proof here if you scroll down to Enforcement Obligations) last night, and the bill was passed without it.

I wish I could add my thanks for the support of organisations like the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies (BAPLA) and the Royal Photographic Society (RPS), but instead they chose to opt for having their tummies tickled by Government perhaps (though presumably not in the case of the RPS) with a view to becoming licensors of orphan works themselves once the bill was passed. Instead they’ve left themselves damaged for having tried to sell copyright for a fistful of beans.

But let’s not be too proud in victory. All these organisations took views which they thought were correct. They operate in an unfamiliar environment now, and we will need to work with them over future legislation which will surely be tabled by the next Government. Copyright laws do need reform, photographers want it, and individuals and “representative” organisations will need to work alongside each other to achieve a fair balance between creator and consumer. All we ask is that our work, and the work of countless creative amateurs, isn’t stolen from us and sold to all takers, and that we have a statutory right to be identified as the authors of our work. There are other issues which need to be sorted out, but all in good time.

Perhaps the next important battle is the proposed changes to the Data Protection Act, which will see much photojournalism and street photography outlawed or rendered impossible. One thing at a time, though eh?

It ain’t Orphan ’till the fat lady sings…

stop43 viral image

If the DEB becomes law with S43 in tact, your photos become fair game.

Today’s the day. Not only will Gordon Brown pay a little visit to Buckingham Palace to ask if he can dissolve Parliament (yes please!), and give us our chance to vote for the frying pan or the fire, the blunt axe or the sharp one, but it’s also the day the Digital Economy Bill gets its Parliamentary debate (such as it will be) and will either be voted through in the wash-up, or dropped. If it goes through, it may or may not include Section 43 which deals with orphan works.

In the Parliamentary equivalent of a smoke-filled room, all the horse trading between vested interests, and personal ambitions of departing politicians with an eye on their post-political careers, will come into play. Forget democracy, this is a seedy little private auction for business and career interests.

There is hope though, even at this late stage. A couple of days ago, the conservatives announced they would oppose Section 43. But of course there is still a risk of a last-minute change of mind (they are politicians after all), and we’re still not entirely sure which way the Lib Dems want to go. They’ve made encouraging noises about how Section 43 should be changed, but no clear commitment to oppose it at this stage. Personally, I hope they have the integrity to oppose the entire DEB on the basis that one afternoon isn’t enough time to debate anything as complicated and contentious as this bill. If they do that, and the Conservatives stick to their announced opposition, the bill would fail to be passed.

We have to believe that at the very least, Section 43 will get dropped. The amount of time and effort expended by my colleague photographers in fighting this ridiculous bill could have been better spent doing our jobs or completing VAT returns and getting our books up together for the end of the financial year. But no, some daft politician somewhere managed to come up with a system of dealing with orphan works which was so insanely un-balanced and damaging to our profession that we had to pour all our efforts into this.

And before you start playing your violins for us, remember that even if you are not a professional photographer, even if you are not based in the UK and even if you only take photos of your drunk pals on a Friday night, if some commercial or political organisation thinks your pictures are worth stealing and using without payment or permission, the orphan works legislation would affect you. If you’re in a photo taken by someone else that gets used without payment or permission, this legislation would affect you.

So let’s wish Gordon a nice trip to the Palace and hope all this effort has paid off.

Read more and keep up with latest developments here: copyrightaction and here: stop43

Jeremy Nicholl’s excellent blog continues to inform on the developments. Click here for more.

Orphans ‘R’ Us

viral photo condemning digital economy bill

Stop 43 has made virals with which to lobby your MP.

I just wanted to start this article by thanking everyone who read my last article, “Orphan Works. No It Doesn’t“. Each and every one of the 3,724 of you and counting, which is a personal record by a distance of about 3,600 (give or take). What the article proved to me is that A LOT of people are seriously concerned about the Digital Economy Bill.

So where are we now with the DEB? Well, we’re 5 days from triumph or disaster. Less than a week until the Government either rushes through this dog doo of a bill, or sees sense (HAHAHAHAHA!…) and decides that democracy is too important to usher in such a contentious and complicated bill without proper scrutiny(…HAHAHAHAHAHA!….)

We now know who’s lined up to be the culture vultures (pejoratively speaking), who will pick the commercial flesh from the bones of the orphaned works they’d like to sell.

The BBC, Publishers Association and others have signed a letter to Lord Mandelson and others within government exclaiming that without the ability to exploit creators’ works unhindered, their sectors will be damaged. I quote from the letter, which can be seen in full at Stop 43.org:

“We believe this outcome would be catastrophic for the creative industries. The strategic importance of making orphan works available and, for some industries, enabling extended collective licensing schemes, cannot be overstated. Failure to make orphan works available  is likely to result in  far cruder alternative solutions, which would run the risk of contravening the Berne 3 step test, and which would have far-reaching and damaging consequences for our sectors.”

Aw, poor loves. My heart bleeds, it really does.

What they fail to mention (strangely enough) is the converse, massive damage which clause 43 will inflict upon the creators of those original works which the BBC and others would like to exploit.

What we can be less sure of is the position to the DEB of other players. I know there is much disquiet amongst back-bench Labour MPs at the threat to copyright, and the Lib Dems are generally against the DEB being rushed through without scrutiny. Meanwhile, there has been no detectable or recent view from the Conservatives that I can see, and I have neither a Tory MP (mine is Lib Dem) or the right connections to get any kind of response from the Parliamentary Conservative Party.

What I do know is that Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman, has been persuaded to give the bill a full day’s second reading debate on April 6th, which will still only be the Bill’s second reading. We can hope that enough opposition from all sides builds in these last few days, and that some brave Labour MPs go against the party whip to defy the bill once it’s been through the wash-up, assuming it gets that far. It’s still probable though that Labour will have a majority vote on the Bill. Let’s be honest, most Labour MPs don’t give a monkey’s cuss as they fully expect to be bounced out of Parliament pretty soon anyway. That’s if they’re not stepping down for fiddling expenses.

From all this, it’s still hard to say for sure which way things will go. Close to the wire doesn’t describe it, so continue to write, get onto your MPs’ Facebook pages and lobby them there. If this Bill becomes law with Clause 43 included, the consequences will be dire for both professional and amateur photographers. Prepare to lose control over your own photos, regardless of who uses them, how they are used and with no recourse to punish those who exploit them.

Update: Professional photographer Eileen Langsley blogs about the DEB.

Excellent illustration of when copyright abuse backfires monumentally in this article by professional photographer Jeremy Nichol.

Orphan Works. No it doesn’t.

The UK Government has been pushing a piece of legislation through Parliament called the Digital Economy Bill, the main thrust of which is to set out how the UK manages its digital economy for the future.

Clauses in the bill deal with such subjects as the broadband tax, which charges each household a fee so that all households can be brought up to a minimum connection speed, and controversial legislation allowing illicit file sharers to have their internet connections blocked.

But buried deep within the bill are some clauses which far from protecting the rights of the creative industry, will actually leave almost no protection against infringement. Section 43 of the DEB deals with Orphan Works. Those are creative works (photos, illustrations, videos) which have become separated from their owners. A work with no identifying metadata, no watermark. A child of a creative mind, lost and alone, waiting for Fagin to take it under his “helpful” wing.

The original plan was to allow museums, galleries and the like to release from dusty vaults tens of thousands of forgotten works, the creator of which is unknown, so they could licence them in ways that would bring much needed revenue to those institutions. However, certain politicians not being the sharpest tools in the box thought it would also be a “good thing” to encompass ALL works whose creators could no longer be traced.

As an illustration, a photo you take on Wednesday morning, post to Flickr by lunchtime, is lifted by an unscrupulous blogger or corporate marketeer by 5pm and so (because they stripped your watermark and IPTC info) created an instant orphan by teatime. Anyone stumbling upon that stolen version will have no idea who took it.

tim of horse meat

Your photos could be stolen and used for anything. However objectionable the context.

Because there is no way to trace that photo back to you, even a “diligent” search (as required under the act) would not reveal your ownership of the photo. So anyone else wanting to use that image just has to pay a made-up fee to a newly made-up UK Government licensing body, and off they’d go on their merry way, using your photos for heaven knows what.

If at some point you happen to stumble upon that use of your photo, you’ll be able to go to the Government and ask for “some” money for its use. Assuming the government can see that you took the photo, and that the user of the photo paid the government some money, or beans or a sheep, you’ll be able to claim a fee (or beans, or sheep, who knows?) This fee may or may not reflect the commercial value of your photo, or the money spent taking it, but no matter. Government knows best.

There isn’t time here to go fully into the nightmare scenario of child identification/model release/property release issues in orphaned works used on the net, or exclusivity agreements a photographer may have had with their client before the photo was nicked. Nor is there time really to go into what happens when a UK company steals a photo held by, oh let’s say, Getty – an American company with lawyers whose litigious fingers are twitchier than a Wild West gunslinger’s, and whose fighting fund would bale out Iceland and Greece rolled into one.

The Digital Economy Bill is complicated enough, but the legal ramifications of what happens when it becomes law and all starts to go horribly wrong, will make your head spin like an owl in a blender.

For further enlightenment, go to: Copyright Action, or Stop 43.

Whether professional or amateur, it’s important (if you care about photography at all) to contact your local MP now. The bill looks set get thrown into the Parliamentary “wash-up” on April 6th, where it will not be debated at all and will become law, so there isn’t much time to react.

Other blogs on the subject:

Irish perspective from professional photographer Neil Danton, but mind the blue language…

Scottish photographer David Robertson gives a view.