Common Cents logo

Common Cents Column On The Cost of Doing Business

Small Business Administration

NPPA Online Discussion Group Instructions

Portions of this column were originally written for the November 2014 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.

November 2014, Volume 133
By Mark Loundy

"A specialist is someone who does everything else worse."

— Ruggiero Ricci

Ten years ago, I used an example of a photographer who specialized in insects as a way of standing out in a crowded industry. Now, another insect specialist is giving in to rampant copyright infringement and hanging up his lenses.

Illinois-based photographer Alex Wild is holds a doctorate in entomology, but has made his living licensing his insect images. Now he's returning to academia, partly due to the grind of dealing with an average of five DMCA copyright takedown notices every day.

Wild wrote in Ars Technica that, as an artist, he's caught between the futility of suing a small infringer, who wouldn't be able to pay a judgment and a corporate infringer, who could bring enormous legal defenses to bear and cost hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

Individual artists, like Wild, are trapped by an Internet that serves both as an indispensable marketing and publishing platform and as a conduit for theft and product dilution. Widely infringed works can have little-to-no commercial value.

The solution is copyright law reform. Fair Use needs to be codified to give non-commercial users broader legal access to works. Infringement statutes need to better serve small businesses by eliminating the maze of regulations and registrations required to pursue a legal action.

Photographers shouldn't have to be specialists in intellectual property law.

The Good
Bullet Butter wouldn't have melted in the mouth of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill spokesperson when he or she stated that there was no way for the university to have known that photographer Justin Cook's image was not "free to use" on the school's Facebook page. In Yiddish, they call that chutzpah. On Twitter, Cook posted a letter outlining the accord that he and UNC reached, including an agreement to hold an interdisciplinary forum on the importance of creative rights.

The Bad
Bullet No Bad this month. Maybe next year.

The Ugly
Bullet Las Vegas Review Journal, for not only firing staff photographers and re-"hiring" them as freelancers, but then requiring them not only to legally indemnify the paper, but also to list the RJ on their liability insurance.

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.

  • Photoshelter's The Top Ten Things Photographers Wish They Learned in Photo School is an interview with seven well-known photographers answering one question. There are the expected comments about vision and stretching artistically, of course, but both Ami Vitale and Ryan Pfluger zeroed in on business. Vitale noted that, "Having talent and working hard is one side of being a photographer but you must also be a decent business person to continue the craft." Pfluger thought he knew the business side, but said, "I really was not mentally prepared for the true amount of hustle that is required of a photographer."
  • Aspiring photographers are often shocked when they realize that a decent portfolio is not all it takes to be a successful freelancer. Sometimes it takes the wisdom of experience to set them straight. Megan Schaut is executive producer for Seattle-based photographer Chase Jarvis. Last year, she wrote a guest column in Jarvis' blog outlining tips for entering the photography world. Her work ethic-oriented list is remarkable in its lack of photo-specific suggestions. Indeed, they could be tips for entering the (insert industry here) world.