NO COPYRIGHT = THE BORG.

COPYRIGHT RANT No. 2

The photography universe is facing a number of threats on a scale I’ve not seen in my lifetime. When I began, there were relatively few photographers. Now with digital, everyone is a shooter, and schools are graduating thousands yearly, all hoping for a life in photography. Competition is beyond fierce.

Statistically 1 in every 500 graduating photography majors will make it.

The biggest threat remains the gradual demise of copyright and our ability to license our images. Since the US Constitution gave creators the power of copyright, culture has flourished as artists have been able to feed their families while creating, books, paintings, photography, etc. A creative life was sustainable. The system worked beautifully for two centuries and everyone in society benefited.

With the advent of digital technology, and the past two decade-long corporate push to crush photographer’s copyright trade practices, the model is broken and will surely die soon, unless photographers unify and fight back. That’s as likely as herding the proverbial cats…. still it’s a shocking thing to see photographers slitting their own throats. That’s partly due to ignorance and fear—young shooters are not taught the value of copyright and existing trade practices and say yes to whatever terms they are offered just to break in—and older shooters say yes to bad terms out of very real need not to starve to death. I get it. And clearly the music industry was first, while film and photography is getting hit now.

SO WHAT IS THE NEW MODEL? HOW DO PHOTOGRAPHER’S MAKE A LIVING?

I ask everyone I meet this question and have yet to get an answer that makes any sense in the last year or so. Creating apps is cool, and being a consultant is cool, and those things might even get you some money. But they are not photography. These activities are not rewarding you directly for a photograph you created.

Commercial photography is broken and will not sustain the number of people trying to get in. The days of getting paid 15K per ad for even a new shooter are over. Everyone is working for less and agreeing to give up their rights without being paid for them just to keep working. Clients care nothing for quality, only the lowest price of a triple bid.

Editorial photography is broken and also is overwhelmed with young shooters and the already jam packed older mob of experienced shooters. There are just not enough outlets for all the work with the massive decline of newspapers and magazines, and they are paying less and less and rights are also a big issue with online and overseas.

Fine Art is actually doing pretty well. Here, the model holds. Artists get paid for their photographs as they always have. This area is also inundated with young hopefuls so the competition for this area is a fierce as the others but the model is holding. No gallery is giving away pictures yet as far as I know. So here’s some good news at least

CHAOS: So we have a perfect storm now with the confluence of these factors: gazillions of hungry, young shooters lacking basic business skills or awareness of how copyright could help them; the economic downturn and necessity of corporations to cut costs, along with their two decade push to crush copyright; and the advocacy of many leading digerati pushing a line about the brave new world that demands artists give up their rights and share their work freely.

First, the young and innocent: a generation has grown up downloading music and images and content for free. They feel entitled to this free content, it’s how they were raised. Many who now want to be photographers probably had one or both parents involved in the arts. Some of them probably grew up in houses paid for by the copyrighted content their parents created. Now that these kids want to make a living in photography they don’t realize the connection between say, not accepting a buy out, or accepting a fee well below accepted trade practice, and their long term ability to earn a living. I had the benefit of my elders, Jay Maisel, Greg Heisler, Elliott Erwitt and many others, strongly impressing on me the incredible power of owning my work and licensing it over and over could have. I paid for houses, put my kid through private school and sustained my personal projects through this simple privilege granted by the founding fathers. Why would I give it up?

The economic reality of running a photography studio is such that the fees you earn typically end up just barely covering your overhead. The nature of cash flow is such that by the time you get paid for a given job you need to pay old bills so that income disappears quickly. Hard to pull out profit. But when  check comes in for re-use and additional licensing, hey, it’s easy to sock that away. The real profit comes from whatever mark-ups can be found, but mostly from re-use. It has been extraordinary. And now almost every job comes with a request to hand over all rights with 0 compensation. They usually say they are sorry but they have some kid in Ohio willing to give up all rights without payment. You can’t compete with that. But at the same time that kid is getting a job that pays once, gets him through the month, but ultimately that model is unsustainable over the long term. Trust me.

As for the economic downturn, it is very understandable that this has impacted corporations and they need to cut costs. But it’s hard to accept knowing that most company profits are actually up right now and they are sitting on piles of cash. Something is rotten in the system for sure. But going back to the early 90’s, it was suggested by Bill Gates at the TED Conference to 500 CE0’s and execs of the leading technology, entertainment, and design companies (hence the name TED), that in the future no one should ever pay more than 50 bucks for a photo. Well that dream sure is coming true. I don’t underestimate the power of Bill’s words to influence corporate America. And until very recently, most corporations resisted that statement because they understood that the value of the quality of the images was intrinsic to the success of their marketing. They needed quality and were willing to pay for it. Thus they respected the existing trade practices. That has faded fast and most corporations now are pushing their ad agencies and design firms to request buyouts, without compensation, as a requirement for their work. Of course this makes no sense because the average life span today of a marketing director is around 18 months or less. So that person will be gone soon and the new person will probably want new creative. So they don’t need a buyout, except perhaps to prevent others from using the images. That is a valid concern in some cases and usually can be alleviated with proper compensation or protecting certain images. But a blanket buyout edict is unfair and will eventually destroy their own options for talent. The ultimate endgame of their strategy will result in thousands of photographers leaving the field, giving clients less creative choice. Then the pendulum of supply and demand may swing back giving photogs some new leverage. One can hope.

Photogs with brand names still can exert some leverage, but that’s diminishing as agencies and creatives have less control and power over their corporate masters who demand cheap. Agencies have lost most of their best revenue streams, so they have to cut costs since most are now public companies and the pressure is immense. This has diminished the role of creative directors also. They are our natural allies in this fight, yet we are a long way from recognizing that.

But there is another group pushing against copyright. The digerati elite. Why do so many people in the tech industry, and the young people who embrace their products, feel that copyright is an anachronism, an irritation, and worse? I guess everyone likes a good deal. These mindbenders, some are good friends of mine, seem to believe the world would be a better place if creators stopped trying to control their work. They think it’s futile to do so anyway since in the digital age it can be taken, so why not join the party and give all your work away? They are pushing for free everything, including software. Notice that many of these people made millions through sale of software in the first place. Notice that they and companies like Microsoft are not advocating giving away their own intellectual property while it’s still a cash cow. All the major software companies have investigators out trying to stop software pirating, just like the music industry. Oh, the hypocrisy.

Many digerati often propose that something like Creative Commons is a good solution and that copyright law goes too far. Libraries are up in arms and want pass the Orphan Works bill. Well, I donate pictures to libraries, students and non-profits and I think most photographers do as well, so that’s not really legitimate. Again, show me a compelling substitution for my ability to license my work, which allows me to feed my family, and I’ll consider it. I work very hard to donate my work and time to give back to my community so that’s not the issue. The basic ability of photographer’s to earn a living is at stake and giving the work away free just means no income.

But the scariest talk to come out of my friends in the digital world is the idea that someday computers will gain consciousness and when they do we’ll just jack in, upload our brains and leave our bodies behind. We’ll all be part of the hive mind. Sharing everything. No need at all for copyright or individual rights. Did these people not see Star Trek? Wasn’t the Borg the enemy? The bad guys? Hello! I was raised by radical left wing parents, but jeez, this is wierd. My hippie/libertarian/free thinking genius friends have anticipated a world that can only be described as a totalitarian fascist nightmare. As Jared Lanier points out in his amazing book “You Are Not A Gadget” in this world, we will all be slaves to the borg, writing free wikipedia entries in our minds all day. There will be no creativity, thus no culture.

In other words, take away copyright and you destroy the individual. The rights of the individual are paramount in an open and free society. Without the individual artist’s right to sell what he or she creates, there will be no artists. So yeah, resistance may be futile, but no copyright=totalitarianism! That’s my new t-shirt.

My message to young photographers: the digital providers and corporate clients do not care about you or your future. Only you can save yourself.

IF no one can think of a new model - aside from say selling iPhone apps and basically NOT doing photography – then why don’t we start a movement to bring back copyright? Why don’t photographers band together to fight for our rights?

This is what the Magnum shooters fought for in the 50′s and the ASMP shooters did in the 70′s and so it’s not a new idea. It’s just that it seems that aside from ASMP and a few aging and vocal veterans, the new generation is oblivious to the dangers. I guess they think they will be the lucky ones, that they are so talented they can rise through the dross to get the few jobs available. After all, this is the generation that got an award just for showing up to soccer practice… The most coddled generation in human history. What can go wrong when they got everything handed to them? Maybe in a few years they will wake up, look in the mirror and say “you want fries with that?”

Ok, sorry! Am I attacking my own son’s generation unfairly? Am I partly responsible? Of course, but I’m also trying to get their attention.

The reaction to my criticism from my young friends, as far as I can tell, is not very practical. They continue low bidding jobs, or thinking that if they upload to Flickr enough someday they’ll be famous and that will somehow bring money. That blogging about whatever and giving their pictures away will make them some kind of expert and they can somehow convert that notoriety into… what… a consulting gig? Advertising on their blog? I’m just not sure what they believe is a sustainable model.

Maybe that’s the point of the new digital reality. There is no one new model. There may be dozens of potential models, and what works for one person won’t necessarily fit another. But I ask again, what is an example of a new model, any new model, that is a viable substitute for licensing? That can generate the kind of income we had before?

This is not only about tradition, principles or money, it’s about saving a culture and a beautiful way of life through photography. It has truly been a gift to have had the ability to do the work I loved and feed my family. I fear for those coming up.

Sunday
16
January 2011

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DAVID BLAINE: THE MAN IS INCREDIBLE

TRAVEL CHANNEL TO AIR  BLAINE’S “BEST YET” ON SUNDAY, DEC. 12th AT 9:00 p.m.

Please check out David’s new special and watch for re-runs, it’s well worth it. Click producer Shelly Ross’s blog link to read more. David Blaine: “A Beautiful Struggle,” an Amazing 1-Hour Special «  shelley ross daily Xpress I’ve seen his work in person and although I spent years as a cynical journalist, I truly cannot believe the amazing things he does. There is no way to describe it other than seeing it and the show does a great job of getting the reality across. Besides the magic, there is his performance art– no other word for the combination of science, daredevil risk-taking and beauty.

Here’s David at the grave of his hero and childhood inspiration, Houdini, deep in Queens, which we shot for the Sundance Channel’s Iconoclasts show:

Magician David Blaine at Houdini's grave. ©2010 Doug Menuez


Sunday
12
December 2010

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BIG FUN, GOOD CAUSE

Charlize Theron auctions Doug Menuez photo to benefit her Africa Outreach Project « Stockland Martel

Charlize Theron + Jane Goodall in the Congo for Iconoclasts ©2010 Doug Menuez

Charlize chose this image for her auction last night for her South African AIDS foundation Africa Outreach Project. If you are interested in owning a signed version of this image we have 2 more 20×24 pigment prints left. Please email Molly in our studio: molly@menuez.com

Tuesday
07
December 2010

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NEW WORK: ICONOCLASTS FOR SUNDANCE

Photograph ©2010 Doug Menuez
Every once in a while one of those really special assignments come along, this year there have been a few but now I can share one that has been personally very important to me: ICONOCLASTS. Recently we wrapped this project which we’ve been working on all year with Radical Media for the Sundance Channel to document the Iconoclasts series. The show is running now on the Sundance Channel and it is definitely worth checking out. You can see three galleries of edits of my work on my main site here: Doug Menuez

You can also read more about it here on the Stockland Martel blog: Interview: What does it take to photograph “Iconoclasts”? « Stockland Martel

This really was a once in a lifetime chance for me to do what I love to do, which is document everyday life, but in this case with leading cultural figures, some of whom like Dr. Jane Goodall, with whom we spent a week in the Congo along with the marvelous Charlize Theron, have dramatically impacted the world and how we think. I was essentially embedded with the documentary film crew in order to shoot a photo essay of the creation of each show, which features an interplay and dialog between two fascinating cultural figures. I shot stills while they shot cinema verite and also was asked to shoot portraits for the Sundance ad campaign (now in Vanity Fair), busides, web promotion, etc.

My killer first assistant Demetri Fordham (and when shooting locally also with my insanely good digital tech Quinton Jones)  travelled to Australia to shoot Cate Blanchett with environmentalist Tim Flannery at Cate’s theater company and with a Komodo dragon, to the Congo to shoot Jane Goodall with Charlize Theron at Jane’s chimpanzee research station, in New York we shot Hugh Jackman with restauranteur Jean-Georges boxing and cooking together, to the Bahamas to shoot Lenny Kravitz with director Lee Daniels where Lenny was recording his upcoming new album, and to Chicago to shoot director Ron Howard with Phoenix Suns basketball star Steve Nash where Ron was shooting a new movie. The last show was shot most recently in NY with painter Chuck Close and magician David Blaine where we visited Chuck’s Soho studio and David’s inspiration Houdini, at Houdini’s grave in Queens.

What was so cool for me was having shot many, many artists, actors, musicians over the years, but particularly in my early photojournalist days in the 1980′s, there was a wonderful, easy atmosphere and complete access. Back in the day, you rarely had publicists controlling the shoots, unlike now where there is intense control. You also usually had much more time to spend with people in the early 80′s. Of course there were publicists but rarely did one ask what lens you were planning to use or approve your idea before you shot, and it was very rare that anyone asked to approve the work before publication. You could sometimes get days or a week with someone and document their daily life, building a rapport and from which would come candid moments as well as a meaningful portrait. The magazine might only want and need that portrait but you were given time to get it in an organic way that involved a lot of trust on both sides. Now with the relentless onslaught of paparazzi and general nasty coverage of personalities there has come a natural desire by the artists to control their image.

This makes sense but it leads to an impossible situation in terms of getting natural, documentary images. There has been a breakdown of trust. The publicists are just doing their jobs, even if with someone they trust their efforts actually can work against the best interests of their clients in terms of getting images that really stand out and show their clients in ways that resonate with their public. But I can’t blame them. And for Iconoclasts, a rare truce is invoked, honest interplay between the personalities on the show ensues and the results are fascinating. Anyway, this shoot was a rare breathing space for me to photograph some really innovative, creative people doing amazing work in a truly intimate way. Just a sheer joy for me and I thank Radical and Sundance and the Iconoclasts themselves of course for the stunning opportunity.

Thursday
04
November 2010

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NEW EDITS ON MAP

Please see our new edit of hands now on Menuez Archive Projects:  Menuez Archive Projects Home I’ve always been obsessed with how hands express so much of a person’s character. Along with the eyes, hands can be almost another form of a portrait. And also ck out Stockland Martel’s blog about this edit here:

Doug Menuez on photographing hands « Stockland Martel

Wednesday
13
October 2010

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RICK SMOLAN IS OUR NEW GUEST CURATOR!

I’m delighted to announce that our new Guest Curator at Menuez Archive Projects is my dear friend and mentor Rick Smolan. He has taken a run through the archive and come up with not one, but four interesting edits. Rick has been a huge inspiration as a photojournalist (many covers of Time, National Geographic, etc) and then book creator and publisher, and has been a huge influence on my career. Shooting the Day in the Life books each year was a highlight for me. Rick was the guy who taught me in the mid-80′s what a model release was among other things. And how important those could be even for photojournalists who might later want to sell stock. Hello! Each month or two we feature a new picture editor, art director, photographer, or friend of photography to share their take on what they find in the archive. They say every photographer needs and editor, and I believe them. Please take a look at what Rick put together on MAP: Menuez Archive Projects Home click “Guest Curators”

Monday
04
October 2010

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NEVER SHOOT KIDS OR ANIMALS

HA! Why can’t I get that simple, age-old rule from ancient photo wisdom figured out? Because kids are endlessly fascinating. And unpredictable. And chaotic. And that’s good fun. I also think I’m attracted to shooting kids because I grew up so fast and am now starting slowly to regress to a second childhood. At least that’s a goal. And although I’ve shot kids all over the world in various cultures, becoming a parent really gave me a heightened awareness of the curious child mindset. I love to try to imagine what they are imagining. But today we are launching a special edit called “CHILDHOOD” on Menuez Archive Projects and featuring a tight edit from our archive of some favorite shots of children. You can read about it on the Stockland Martel blog here and see it by clicking the link or image below.

Doug Menuez on photographing kids (hint: Forget about being the boss) « Stockland Martel

Menuez Archive Projects Home

©2010 Doug Menuez/ Menuez Archive Projects

Wednesday
22
September 2010

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NEW WORK: MENUEZ ARCHIVE PROJECTS

I’m very happy to announce that we’ve just uploaded 1000 new sports images on Menuez Archive Projects. Take a look at a tight edit called “Performance” here: Menuez Archive Projects Home As we move past the sweltering summer, grateful to finally have working AC, it’s time for new work to go up at Menuez Archive Projects. We’ve done some really cool edits and will be posting a new edit every week for the next 8 weeks. Check out Stockland Martel’s new blog about the first batch of sports images called “Performance”  here: Doug Menuez on capturing “the soul of sport” « Stockland Martel

Wednesday
15
September 2010

NEW SANTA FE WORKSHOP + CONTEST

I’m delighted to announce I will be teaching again at the Santa Fe Photo Workshops this winter AND you can win it (or another of your choice) by entering the first ever Santa Fe Photo Workshop Contest. The theme is “FAMILY” and the deadline is September 15, with $14,000 in prizes! Crazy, I know. Let’s go! Photography Contest | Santa Fe Photographic Workshops Santa Fe, New Mexico

My new workshop is called “The Human Experience: Making a Difference with Your Photographs,” February 13-19,  2011.  It’s about how to take your personal projects and give them structure and creating synergistic funding opportunities, how to do traditional and self-published books, new models for distribution and marketing and non profits and all that good stuff, more details soon. But I want to find photographers who are trying to make images that are meaningful and help them find ways to realize their projects. Not easy!

Santa Fe Photo Workshop Contest: Family

Wednesday
08
September 2010

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YOU: NOT A GADGET!

Will the human race be subsumed by self-aware computers as they gain super intelligence and take over the planet? This is the “Terminator” type scenario envisioned as somehow a happy thing by the fans of the future melding of man and machine known as the Singularity.  Are we falling into a trap with our misplaced faith that computers are somehow able to replicate human experience? Does this mean Facebook and other social databases demean and diminish human randomness and experience? Are we willingly destroying our individuality in favor of a borg-like hive mind noosphere cult?

Yeah, kind of, yes, to all of the above,  according to Jaron Lanier, the multi-talented scientist who lead the development of virtual reality among other projects. His recent book, “You Are Not a Gadget” is a thoughtful argument against the rising tide of mob mentality and misplaced faith in technology and computers that is destroying our individual humanity. It’s an incredibly eye-opening read I highly recommend. He’s not against the internet or new technology. He is carefully constructing an argument in favor of deeper thought, awareness and planning to prevent mob rule and the loss of our humanity.
Will humanist concerns guide technology development to leverage our brains with better tools, not supplanting them? Yes, perhaps if enough people read this book.

Web resources related to the book You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier

Saturday
04
September 2010

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