Portions of this column were originally written for the August 2009 edition of News Photographer Magazine.
Mark Loundy is a media producer and consultant based in San Jose, California. Full bio.
The opinions in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the official views of the National Press Photographers Association.
August 2009, Volume 82
By Mark Loundy
"If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable."
Between 1919 and 1933 it was illegal to make, sell or transport liquor in the United States. Did that mean that nobody made, sold or transported booze during Prohibition? Heck no. All it did was to make a popular and continuing activity illegal. Breweries operated openly in Chicago under the protection of corrupt public officials. So called "speakeasies" were well known and well patronized in nearly every city. Liquor transport in the southern states was so well entrenched that its drivers formed the nucleus of what became the multi-billion auto-racing empire NASCAR.
From 1974 until 1996 you risked getting a ticket if you drove your car faster than 55 miles per hour. That law was ignored even more widely than was Prohibition.
Lawmakers may make laws, but the will of the people is what defines society in the U.S.
Federal law prohibits copyright infringement but the average person thinks that if they pay a professional photographer for a print, they have the right to scan it and make enlargements from it. The law and what society believes is inherently "right" don't match-up.
Pirated sports photos are common on eBay. Bloggers think nothing of "swiping" images that they find online.
Access to intellectual property is popularly perceived as a right that should be freely exercised. By "free" I mean that nobody should have to pay for it.
The impact is realized not only on the bottom lines of newspapers, but also on those of every media-related business, — including freelance photographers.
Musicians have been counseled to capitalize on the exposure provided by pirated music by touring more and selling more T-shirts.
But photographers can't capitalize on ripped-off images. They are nothing more than icons of a failing industry. Journalistic imagery has become nearly valueless. Certain celebrity baby images may have fleeting value. But with the near universal presence of consumer cameras, unique news images have become rare indeed. The recent upheavals in Iran were covered largely by ordinary people with cell phones.
Just like network television, photography has shattered into thousands of tiny markets. But photographers with advanced niche skills can still do well.
Professional sports photography has become a boutique market shot by a handful of elite shooters and published in a single magazine.
But for the most part, the only images still recognized as financially valuable are connected with commerce. Top-level advertising and promotional photography is still beyond the skill set of most non-professionals.
If you still plan to be a general photojournalist 10 years from now, do yourself a favor: Develop a Plan B.
Please let me know of any particularly good, bad or ugly dealings that you have had with clients recently. I will use the client's name, but I won't use your name if you don't want me to. Anonymous submissions will not be considered. Please include contact information for yourself and for the client.Leftovers
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