Thursday, July 7, 2011

A photographer's rights

Remi and I just returned from participating in a manifestation or demonstration that was organized by France's union for professional photographers. The point was to raise awareness about how the decline of the droit d'auteur, or the price that a photographer is paid for the use of his images, is drastically hurting photographers worldwide. This is a subject that is very dear to my heart, as it has affected me directly. 

As many of you know, my companion, Remi Benali, has been a professional photographer for over twenty years. His work has appeared in leading publications throughout the world including Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and National Geographic. Due to the economic crisis, magazines are producing less content, which means fewer assignments. That loss of income was partially balanced by the sales of Remi's images that have been distributed to image banks such as Corbis and Getty. However, with the arrival of websites like Flickr, where images can be obtained and used without charge, the image bank sales have also taken a nosedive. Remi has been told of photo editors at magazines that are given a bonus for coming in under budget and they do so by sacrificing the quality of the content by using free or inexpensive images. Everyone loses in that case as the public loses interest in the magazines, as they no longer offer a unique perspective. We know of at least five photographers that have been forced to give up their profession due to this turn in events. Press photography as we know it, is endangered. 

I know that this a tough subject to bring up in the blogosphere, where little thought is given to a photographer's rights and need to be paid for their work. Why, for example, are there several of Remi's photographs (along with some of my text) on Pinterest despite the fact that they are clearly marked as copyrighted on his website? Musicians have fought to stop illegal downloads of their work, as has the film industry. Photography should also have the same protection, one that goes beyond slapping on a photo credit on a stolen image.

I was happy to see that Lucien Clergue also participated in the demonstration. As the first photographer to have been elected a member of the L'Académie des Beaux-Arts de L'Institut de France, he is putting a very public face to this increasingly alarming problem.


  1. the arts are suffering in this economic crisis.i am sorry for your loss of income. i too,as a painter have had to change.usually, i work in commercial arts fields in times of decline.however those choices are now basically gone.i am reminded that certainty is a delusion.
    thank you for your fascinating blog.
    all the best from nyc.

  2. This is such a vexed dilemma, to which I can see no good outcome. Technology is moving at a faster pace than international laws, so how can it possibly be controlled?

    In my own field of architecture and design, this is a problem too, as people can copy photos of original buildings, then quickly adapt them to suit their needs, build them, and pass off the design as their own.

    As far as the photography is concerned though, I guess things have to evolve, as they always do, so that there is a demand for professional photography as a separate thing from amateur photography. Perhaps that will be more as an art, rather than a record of public events for media use.

  3. Thanks so much you two. Anonymous in NYC, it sounds like we have had some similar experiences in the past few years. In some ways it has been positive in that it has forced Remi to go beyond what he always has to discover new ways of working. Wishing you all the best...

    And that goes hand in hand with what you are saying Virginia, Unfortunately, excellent photographic equipment (including programs like Photoshop) is available to anyone that can afford it and so the gap between amateur and pro is lessened--especially as there seems to be less importance given to the classic standards of color, composition, etc.

  4. Heather,
    As a designer and self-publisher of needlework designs, specifically smocking, I know exactly the theft of intellectual property rights is so under estimated. In your case, unlike mine, it's a living. I'm always amazed when people purchase a design/pattern and think that because they have "bought" it that they can do with it as they wish....most often copy and give to friends that don't want to spend the money. I do hope that something can be done to fix the problem.

  5. So well said Gwen and I am glad to hear from you. Yes, it is unbelievably frustrating and says so much about our times; Your work deserves to be respected! Who would have thought about such a behavior before? I think it is the downside of our being so linked together with the internet. Of course the good side is that we get to have such a discussion...


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