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Portions of this column were originally written for the September 2012 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.

September 2012, Volume 114
By Mark Loundy

"... unconscionable, that someone would attempt to take advantage of the suffering of thousands to his own benefit."

— Ray Johnson

As print newspapers continue their inevitable spin towards the black hole at the center of the galaxy, executives continue to try to cut their way to success, or at least stave-off bankruptcy until they can sell their stock. But even as they cut and cut again, the need to feed their content machines only grows. "Gosh," they think, "if only we could have the same number of staffers but only use them when we need them..." They stroke their chins and stare dreamily into space. "If only we didn't have to pay for their benefits. If only. If only..."

May_I_Have_Some_More?"Perma-lancers" to the rescue. Perma-lancers are freelancers who work primarily for a single client, sometimes even working scheduled shifts and getting day rates, sometimes working by the assignment, but always costing their client less than a traditional employee.

One of the ways that perma-lancers offset their low pay is to license their images to multiple clients. But the New York Daily News saw that as a loophole to be closed. According to a story in the New York-based online publication Capital, the News handed their freelancers a new contract that increases image exclusivity from 48 hours to seven days — effectively killing the potential market for news images.

Of course, the News — like any business — is free to negotiate with its suppliers for the best possible deal. The problem is that perma-lancers are in a position of weakness. If they say "no," the News can simply find a more agreeable photographer. A contract is essentially imposed without negotiation.

Daily News perma-lancers are typically paid between $175 and $250 per day, with most at the lower end of the scale. If they made the maximum and worked five days a week for 52 weeks, that might add up to $65,000, but that includes no benefits, unemployment or disability insurance or even what passes these days for job security. Oh yeah, and NYC is one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live.

Does this story end with a bit of wisdom or a satisfying denouement? It does not. We leave an economically oppressed group with little recourse other than to take their reduced bowl of gruel and like it. That is unless they can cooperate and, together, be more powerful. I'll be keeping an eye on this.

The Good
Bullet No Good this month.

The Bad
Bullet Blues musician Joe Bonamassa for a rights grabbing, limited usage agreement for covering his shows. But man, can he play. I'm listening to him as I write this.

The Ugly
Bullet The Associated Press for accepting images from "contributors" and paying them nothing for the chance of a 50-50 split of possible future licensing fees.

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.

  • A jury has found in favor of photographer Louis Psihoyos in his copyright infringement suit against publisher John Wiley & Sons. According to a story in Law360, the former National Geographic photographer prevailed in three out of the four counts.
  • Actress Shirley Jones not only lost her suit against Corbis for distributing images of the actress, she and her husband, comedian Marty Ingels, are left holding the bill from Corbis legal team. Photo District News reported that the U.S. Ninth District Court of Appeals dismissed the suit and left the celebrity couple on the hook for $357,533 in legal fees. The decision underscores the legal principle that editorial distribution does not constitute commercial use for the purposes of requiring permission from the subject for publication.
  • Getty Images continues its promiscuous ownership trip as it agreed to acquisition by private equity firm Carlyle Group for $3.3 billion.
  • Post by me on, talking about the Los Angeles Daily Journal laying-off both of its photographers: "Do any of these publications have more than a nodding acquaintance with long-term vision? They're losing readership because their products are not keeping up with expectations and technological and social changes.
    "If firing photographers makes their publications better, I could understand. But all it does is slow down the spin around the drain for about five minutes. Surely there are executives with more creativity than buying another pad of pink slips."