For Every Action There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction

For Every Action There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction

Over the last few months there have been a number of very good conversations regarding image management and how we might track and monetize usage online. As I listen to each of the proposed solutions I can’t help but think of them as part of larger conversations.

I don’t pretend to have the answer to the issues of distribution and monetization, but do hope the following will help inform the discourse. My goal is not to state whether one solution is better than another, but to raise questions and present information for us to consider as discuss how to manage, distribute and monetize our imagery in the future.

Beware of What You Ask For

Two years ago I wrote a post about Wikileaks, the release of governmental cables many felt illustrated the freedom and the power of the internet to provide transparency and distribute information. What isn’t been frequently discussed is the natural governmental response to those leaks, which is to create greater restrictions on the flow of data and build choke points into the system that will allow a country to restrict the spread of information in the future. Hence a gesture made to facilitate the flow of information has resulted in a loss of the same.  Frequently the response to an action is the opposite of its intended consequence. We need to consider these long-term and sometimes unexpected responses as we make choices as an industry and individuals moving forward.

SOPA

SOPA was the acronym for the Stop Online Piracy Act, a bill that simply put, would have stopped copyright infringement by cracking down on sites that allow infringement.  In general media companies were in support of the bill and tech companies  were against it. There was a lot of money and power behind the initiative to limit online piracy, yet it lost. Many consumers were happy with the outcome as it meant greater individual privacy and a greater access to content.
I wonder, as we work to build methods of tracking the use of images and other information if we, or the general public, are ready to give up the individual rights to privacy that we hold dear. Are we ready to have our every action on the web tracked and logged by a single corporation, agency or government entity? Are we willing to pay for every bit of information, for every image or video we view?  Some would argue that this is already happening; others would say that the failure of pay walls illustrates the public’s lack of desire to pay for certain content. What will win, privacy, the free flow of information, or commerce?

Proposal for United Nations Control Over the Internet

There is a currently a United Nations conference happening in which participants ate discussing the possibility of United Nations control over the internet. As intellectual property owners this may be a disturbing and substantive change. In virtually all of our lectures and discussions we address rights and usage though the very western perspective of intellectual property rights and ownership.  In large portions of the world these right are not recognized or do not exist. I was at an economic forum in Russia two years ago at which a regional government official simply laughed at the idea of intellectual property rights.

In a world in which many individuals hunger for access to information and countries desire the ability to compete on a global scale, in a shift to UN control we may see the rights of intellectual property holders become diminished.  Representatives of countries who have a need for free access to intellectually property may be loath to defend the rights of content creators.

ASCAP

ASCAP is a not for profit performance rights organization (or PRO) that protects its members musical copyrights and collects licensing fees for usage.  They license over 11,500 commercial and 2,000 non commercial radio stations and partner with over 100 PRO’s in other countries.

Could this model work for photographers? Possibly, but there are fundamental differences in the way our businesses work. The first issue centers around the importance of an individual work.  In the music industry large amounts of money and usage concentrated in a relatively small group of popular songs, this is not the case for even the most popular still images. Video is another story, the popularity of a video can be similar to a hit song, so this may be an area where we are able to develop and distribute revenue streams over the long run. The second issue revolves around the shear number of images that exist online. While there may be thousands of songs created every week, more than 250 million images are uploaded on a daily basis to Facebook alone.  To date there are over 15 billion images on Facebook, making it the largest image sharing site in the world.  How would an agency manage and track the shear volume of imagery that is moving into the world, commercial or otherwise?  We might argue that only “professional” or ‘commercial” images need to be tracked, but that ignores some of the larger questions of usage that are facing our industry.

This is not to say that a PRO for image creators is impossible, but it is important to consider the substantively different issues an image based PRO would face as opposed to a PRO such as ASCAP.

What About an Image Registry? 

There has been a lot of discussion surrounding the building of an image registry that might function in some manner like ASCAP. The PLUS coalition is working hard to provide a structure that will work for businesses and photographers alike. This is an effort that has been supported by ASMP and it would be great to see them succeed.

I wonder though about the number of photographers who will participate in a registry of any sort. Copyrighting your imagery is one of the easiest things that a photographer can do, yet only a small fraction of the images created are copy righted. Past efforts such as the photographers Coop failed to draw substantial interest, as have other initiatives. Are we too comfortable functioning as individuals, and our goals too disparate to come together for the good of our industry?

Given the hundreds of millions of images that are uploaded on a yearly basis how can we expect aggregate enough images to make a difference? If we had all of the images in the copy right office in the registry would that be enough? If the registry had all of the images in Getty as well would do the trick? At what point do you gain critical mass? Are you as a content creator willing to be invested in a program such as PLUS? Please take a look at the web site and make yourself aware of your options. (plusregistry.org)

What About The “Amateurs”?

This is the big question; what about the non-professionals? What about the people who shoot jobs and sell images who would not naturally participate in a professional registry or program?  How do we include people who are comfortable with their images being used for free? How do we educate the general public and help them understand the value of their imagery? The mass market has always driven photography, how do we begin to influence that market?

Every Camera Has A Code?

Perhaps the solution resides with the camera makers, and not Adobe, who can imbed a searchable personal code into each image when it is taken as opposed to placing information into metadata that is frequently lost.  If your personal code was literally built into the pixels of every image, then every image taken by a photographer would, in theory, be searchable. Maybe it’s a pipedream, but perhaps it is possible.

Contracts

As professionals it all comes down to the contracts we sign. If it is easier for Conde Nast to write a blanket contract and not pay for usage on every platform why won’t they do so? If Forbes can develop new revenue streams by owning and relicensing the images through Getty and Corbis why shouldn’t they write that into their contract?  You might argue that morally they should not do so, but as a business with shrinking revenues and more supply than demand it makes sense.

As content providers the questions regarding contracts supersede other questions. We cannot expect these contracts to go away based on their morality or lack thereof. Either work in a unified manner to stop such contracts or begin to develop business models that will function along side them. If we are not going to own our imagery in the future, then we need to consider this entire conversation in a new context.

Follow The Money

Finally, it seems to me that the answer to most of the questions surrounding tracking, distribution and usage will come from those who have the money and the influence to dictate the terms. Given the explosion of imagery on multiple platforms, the possible revenue stream from the licensing of those images is too seductive for a company to resist. We will most likely see a handful of corporations enter the field of image management and utilize it either as a profit center by aggregating small sums over millions of transactions, or as a loss leader to drive consumers to their content.  Governments will also have their say in how our content is distributed and protected.

I don’t believe that photography/videography/image creation, is going away. Nor do I feel that it is or will be impossible to make a living as a photographer, but we do need to decide how we are going to work together to inform each others professional practice, and help drive larger conversations in a manner that will benefit us all.

Our job as content creators and trade organizations is to continue create new partnerships, influence industry decisions, develop new technologies, and find new business models that will allow us to succeed in this environment. At some point the use of imagery will be better monetized, the bottom line for content creators is who will be doing this, and what our role will be in helping develop the solutions.  Given the information above, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thomas Werner

Lecturer, Educator, Curator, Consultant

Thomas Werner Projects on Facebook.com

Thomaswernerprojects.com (launching in the new year)

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Thomas Werner_ASMP National Board Election Information

I wanted to offer the some of you who do not know me the opportunity to learn more about my work and to make an informed decision regarding the upcoming election. To that end, and I hope in the interest of fairness, I have posted a brief bio, my statement, and a few of the comments from those who have taken the time to send an endorsement. Please do read the ballot page when it is up and running on the ASMP site, and to review all of the comments by the members who have taken the time to provide an endorsement.

As you read through the materials posted below please keep in mind the qualifications as defined by Richard in the prior thread, “National directors, read a lot, listen, ask questions, do research, chair committees and create policy…I as chair and as an ASMP member, want intelligent, critical thinkers who can take the society to the next decade of this changing industry.”

I have always believed in the mission of ASMP, but feel that today more than ever we need to be good caretakers of our organization and our industry. I hope that you will allow me the opportunity to serve on the board, and appreciate your time and support.

Respectfully,
Thomas

Biography – Thomas
Thomas Werner is a graduate of The University of Wisconsin with a Bachelors of Science in Communications, The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena with a Bachelors of Art in photography and a film minor, and Long Island University with a Masters of Fine Art in New Media and Performance. He was a scholarship student at The Art Center as well as the speaker at graduation. He lectures and teaches internationally on topics of Photography, Video, Education, Business, and the Art Market. Werner has had the pleasure of working with the United States Department of State as a cultural representative in Russia, been a photography consultant for COACH, and a consultant for Rodale Publishing on special projects regarding contracts, licensing, negotiations and usage. His research is centered in Russia, addressing the need to build cultural bridges while working to help develop creative cultures and innovative economies within the country. To this end he has visited twenty seven cities, conducting numerous lectures and developing numerous projects. He is currently partnering with fourteen cultural organizations to produce the video project Bridge: A Cultural Collaboration in New Media in twenty cities spanning Russia. Thomas has curated numerous exhibitions in the United States and internationally including the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.

A fine art and commercial photographer, Thomas’ clients have included: Bank of America, Swiss Re, Courvoisier, Twentieth Century Fox, COACH, The New York Times, E! Television, William Morrow Publishing, Glamour, Face, Forbes and People Magazine among others. Werner is the former owner of Thomas Werner Gallery in Manhattan’s Chelsea art district, was a two term Director on the National Board of the American Society of Media Photographers, is the former President of ASMP’s 800 member New York Chapter and ASMP Foundation, Co-creator if the ASMP Nationwide Fine Art Specialty Group, Former chair and member of ASMP’s Strategic Research Committee, Founder to ASMP’s Education List Serve, and a current member of the ASMP National Membership and Social Media Committee’s.

A Few Endorsement and Other Comments:
Todd Joyce: Thomas is a leader in the industry as an artist and thinker. Thomas sees the big picture and is not afraid to ask the tough questions. I respect Thomas and believe asmp needs him as a national director.

Shawn Henry: The Board needs strong members who are willing to offer their ideas and opinions regardless of whether those ideas fit the status quo. The Board needs members confident enough in their convictions that theyʼll stand by them in the face of conflict, yet level headed enough that they realize that disagreement doesnʼt signal disengagement. Thomas possesses these qualities in spades, and he is critical to building the strong board that the Society requires for a healthy future. He is the one candidate for whom Iʼd gladly trade my seat.

Gail Mooney: Thomas brings a unique perspective. He sees things in a broader scope, analyzing things from a more global perspective. He would be an asset to the board at a time of change and opportunity.

Tony Gale: Thomas is an extremely hard working, motivated and caring part of the photographic community. He was a fantastic leader of the ASMPNY Steering Committee/Board, when it had been struggling as was a huge reason that New York is such a successful chapter now. He is very informed and aware of the issues facing photographers and the photographic industry and would be a tremendous asset to ASMP on a national level.

John Slemp: Thomas Brings solid business sense, excellent judgment and a world view to the National Board. He has been active in teaching commercial photography practices both in the US and Russia, and is committed to furthering the goals of ASMP. A true visionary, Thomas is a leader that ASMP’s members would be proud to associate with.

Ken Hawkins: Thomas brings a rare, wide spectrum of leadership, creative and business experience to ASMP. He draws from his work and relationships in academia and publications as well as being a noted gallery owner and curator. He is a tireless advocate of our ever-emerging struggles in the field of publication photography.

Tom Dubanowich: Tom understand economic pressures, and evolving image valuations due to “commodity thinking” toward uses (i.e.social media). The Fine Art world tests these issues before they impact our industry. Tom offers ASMP a unique opportunity to have forward insight into outside perceptions that directly affect the commercialization of our imagery.

Felicia Perretti: Thomas has a great understanding of today’s need for photography. Applying social media skills along with his experience teaching art students shows a well-rounded background. Other than lecturing, owning Thomas Werner Gallery gives new and experienced artist a chance to exhibit their work. This shows appreciation for the young generation of photographers.

Renee Rosensteel: Since Thomasʼ visit to Pittsburgh I have followed him online. I have admired his dedication to mentoring emerging artists, the way that he embraces and applies technology and his analysis of the image making marketplace. His attitude is forward thinking, inclusive and realistic.

Connie Drapeau Kennedy: Thomas brings a global perspective yet focused attention to his audience or colleague. He’s approachable and extremely knowledgeable. Having worked and taught in several aspects of our industry, Thomas blazes trails – sharing his discoveries. With much in transition ASMP would greatly benefit from his insights, leadership & very quick wit.

Frank Rocco: Thomas brings enthusiasm that is refreshing in the current photography market and is constantly finding ways to help guide ASMP through the inevitable changes in photography. He is one of the key voices in fine art photography and brings with him extensive experience in both fine art and commercial photography.

Holly Bernstein: I had the pleasure of meeting Thomas at Strictly Business 3 in Los Angeles last January. He was, and has continued to be, very approachable and available to offer advice and share his experiences in the business of photography. I followed his career this last year and am impressed with his success and commitment, not only to the business of photography, but to educating young and upcoming photographers. He is a hard working, friendly, successful photographer who serves as both an inspiration to myself, as well as others involved with ASMP. I think he will be a great addition to the board.

Jim Flynn: Thomas has historically been a strong advocate for Photographers rights and education. His experiences both in the boardroom and in the classroom would make him a valuable Director for ASMP.

Liza Voll: A keen interest in educating and enabling photographers so they can successfully attain their career goals, and an inclusive, positive demeanor with a focus on facilitating collaboration and progress among ASMP members, rather than promoting the segregation of established and emerging photographers.

David Arky: I think that Thomas is very dedicated to ASMP’s causes, and has contributed tirelessly to the organization for the past 15 years.

Peter Ogilvie: Experience, Sanity, Fairness, Intelligence

Statement
ASMP is and its members are facing a number of important of challenges and opportunities over the next few years. During what will be a frequently difficult time it would be easy to fall back into our comfort zones and hope that old solutions will become new again, but to do so will only exacerbate the problems that face us as individuals and an industry. As we move forward I believe that many of our members are looking to ASMP to provide leadership, insight and vision in terms of the issues that face us, help them better understand emerging business models, and to protect their rights as image makers and content producers. ASMP’s job is not just to advocate, educate and problem solve, but to help identify opportunities for growth and new ways in which our members can expand their careers and survive in new environments. ASMP cannot provide all of the answers, but it can help equip our members with the tools, information, and visibility to necessary to succeed.

To that end we must work to strengthen and support the working photographers who are the core of our organization, while also welcoming and learning from younger photographers who are finding ways to succeed in a changing environment. We must also strengthen chapters and further develop community and information sharing on a local level. Nationally, we need to work on larger issues such as helping members diversify and develop new revenue streams, reviewing contracts that are at the heart of many of our members problems, addressing the democratization of photography, and finding ways to educate a larger photographic base regarding the value of their imagery, among other issues. We must also create an environment in which difficult questions can be raised and discussed, both in the boardroom and with our membership.

It is my hope that my experience working nationally and internationally as an educator, curator, gallerist, grant writer, exhibiting fine art and commercial photographer will provide a diverse and unique perspective that will benefit our membership and our organization as we move forward. I have always believed in the mission of ASMP, but feel that today more than ever we need to be good caretakers of our organization and our industry. I hope that you will give me that opportunity.

Please visit the endorsement link to see endorser’s comments on the ASMP Site.

Endorsements (Note: A handful of these endorsements did not appear on the ballot statement as they arrived the day or two days after the deadline): Todd Joyce, Shawn Henry, Clay Price, Gail Mooney, Jay Klinghorn, Peter Krogh, Frank Rocco, David Zentz, Irene Owsley, Kate Baldwin, Ed McDonald, Joel Zwick, Chris Hollo, David Seide, Peter Ogilvie, Scott Indermaur, Kimberly Blom_Roemer, Ken Hawkins, Kathleen Collins, Forest McMullen, Kevin Lock, Michelle Kawka, Jason Gardner, Salem Krieger, Scott Nidermaier, Connie Halporn, Tom Donely, Dave Durbak, Eric Wessnam, Allen Birnbach, Renee Rosensteel, Ron Gould, Ramon Purcell, Darren Edwards, John Slemp, Rocky Kneten, Jim Salzano, Angela Faria Belt, Tom Dubanowich, David Arky, Connie Drapeau Kennedy, Clark Dever, Hall Puckett, Steve Umland, Angel Burns, Bruce Katz, Dirk Fletcher, Susan May Tell, Jim Flynn, Tony Gale, Christopher Winton-Stahle.

Written Support by Associate members: Liza Voll, Holly Bernstein, Felicia Perretti,

Once again, thank you for your time, patience and consideration.

Thomas