Picture Buyer’s Fair: What’s the future for the image?


On Thursday I attended the Picture Buying Fair, organized by BAPLA, (The British Association of Picture Libraries -Yes, there is such an organization) It was rather a low key trade affair, with not a huge amount of display. However it did have an interesting seminar line up, of which I attended three.

The first one I managed to squeeze into as it had already started when I got there at 1pm was Seminar 2: A Word of Advice: Privacy, Censorship and Photography. Which was suppose to take place on the Wednesday but seems to have been rearranged. The speaker was Rupert Grey, who was a real life Judge John Dean style of a guy.Just look at his CV! Not only is he a top media lawyer, but he’s been a cowboy and lumberjack in the Yukon, an oyster fisherman in New Zealand, the official photographer on Arctic expeditions and he’s an 18th Century Furniture dealer! What a guy, bet he’s good for a yarn or two round the table. Like all people who speak publicly for a living Rupert held the floor in the palm of his hand with his beguiling mahogany voice, he enunciated each word like a wine taster chewing a Barolo, rolling it around his mouth.

Anyway, here’s my notes on his talk. His main thesis was the development of a Privacy Law in the UK. At the moment we don’t have one on the statue books, there is no Privacy Act. But recently there have been a number of cases where article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights have been used.

He went on to talk about this picture by Cartier-Bresson. And how perhaps nowadays, you couldn’t publish such a photo without the sitters model release, even though they’re in a public place. He went on to site Peck vs The United Kingdom 2003. In which Geoffrey Dennis Peck was awarded nearly £20K as an image of him brandishing a knife (after a faild suicide bid) in Brentwood High Street was used to promote the virtues of CCTV in maintaining law and order. So the ‘public place’ defense doesn’t always hold water. He then went on to talk about the Gilbert Duclos case in Quebec, Canada. A definition of privacy it seems, like pornography, is difficult to pin down.

He then moved on to the notion that ‘celebrities have the right to make an economic living from their image’. And talked about the OK! vs Hello! case. In summing up, he nodded to new technologies like Flickr and Facebook, and these are changing the public and private realms, see the recent myspace teacher photo episode. There are some very serious issues around privacy at the moment. It was a really interesting talk from someone who not only knew his legal onions, but also was a practicing photographer and new about the issues we all face.

The next seminar I attended was Seminar 5: Back to Basics: Clearing Image Rights for Media Use. It was interesting in that anything useful or thought worthy had to be dug out from under the showreel of Corbis or the plug for Mary Evans Picture Library, both of whom spent time talking about their businesses relative merits.

Paul Brown went first, to outline why Right Managed imagery and ‘personal professional searching’ were still important in this day and age, he then recapped the current rights situation, RM, RF, subscription and micro-payments, culminating with, if it’s just about cost, why isn’t everyone using micro?

Ivan Purdie then took the floor, and gave us a look at some of the work Corbis do, particularly in the commercial sector. First up was an advert for the Italian yellow pages I think, which the Rocky ‘Adrian?!’ scene was mashed up with a chimp trying to deliver something… Ivan dryly commented that this piece shows us, firstly that italian creativity knows no bounds, but secondly that the biggest area Corbis (and I presume Getty) are dealing with now is celebrity image clearance. He then talked about some of the ‘faces’ Corbis represent. On Albert Einstein he said, and I kid you not, ‘He’s working harder now that he ever did". What!? Solving the fundamental nature of the mechanics of space-time and leaving a lasting legacy upon which others are still building or selling computers? (And I say this as an Apple fan). For an interesting take on the use of Albert Einstein’s image, see this tale.

He then showed three images, one of Sydney Harbour Bridge with the Olympic Rings, one of the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and one of the Eiffel Tower. The IOC are very protective of ‘the rings’ and are highly unlikely to let them be used on a product that isn’t an IOC sponsor. The Guggenheim, which I visited recently, is also protective of it’s image, and any company seeking commercial use is asked to become a museum sponsor. Finally the the owners of the Eiffel Tower are famous for their protection of their image, so much so that when the city of Paris took back the right to use the image during the day, SNTE copyrighted all shots of it in the evening as they’d added a ‘distinctive’ lighting display. (see here for more details). This was to illustrate the point that buildings can sometimes have clearance rights. Next up he showed an image of a professional golfer on a course making a winning put. He then asked how many clearance issues the audience thought there might be? The answer turned out to be nine. The player, his club maker, Ford, – who sponsored his shirt, the course owners themselves, the people in the background etc. When your business is rights clearance, you naturally want to obfuscate the situation and present yourself as the solution.

This point was addressed by the next speaker, Dominic Young, from News International. He talked about how they use over 250,000 pictures from over 5000 suppliers and how a huge chunk of their budget, perhaps even a quarter, goes on admin. He summed up the newspaper process thus ‘We have an idea, we want to do it, print 3-million copies and put them out on the street 30 minutes later’. He went on to to counterpoint Ivan’s view, saying that you shouldn’t need to clear all this stuff to to make content, though a bit o googling reveals NI trying very hard to protect their own content recently (here). He ended with ‘is there room for a rethink’.

The final seminar was Seminar 6: Adapt and Survive: Challenges for the content industry. Featuring an old work mate, Tom Loosemore, with Lisa Wren from Pearson Education and Daniel Harris, founder of the ‘Lost’ style sounding Kendra Initiative. It was chaired by Tom Morgan from the NPG. Wren kicked off first. She talked about how new media was blowing apart traditional models. For example, the way in which images are costed has totally changed – size, print run, does a thumbnail cost less that the image it pops up? Does that count as two uses or a reuse? She talked about how Pearson had paid in some cases three times for the same image at different times for use it books, CD-ROMs, and a website. Which doesn’t sound good business practice to me.

Dan then went off on one talking about visual search or something. Then Tom came in with the key message ‘you don’t add value through scarcity’. This was met with a rather telling silence. There was a straw pole taken and maybe a third of the people in the room were in archives. The discussion then moved on to the cost of images. One guy talked about how clients won’t pay high prices anymore, and that the cost is being pushed down and down. To which Tom rejoined, ‘well the cost is coming down’. Later he went on to say ‘You’ve no God given right to earn £300 an image’. Ahhh you should have seen their faces.

Later one he explained that if the there was another Buncefield, or 7/7, that the BBC would be totally overwhelmed with user contributions, that the ‘have your say team’ for BBC News numbers what, 10+ people, they would just not be able to process all that information. They would have to use the processing power of the audience to let the key things float to the top.

There was this funny atmosphere in the room, it was as if people knew what was being said was true, and most acknowledged it, but they didn’t want to believe it. They all thought that there must be a way out. There were two mature ladies (Hope they don’t mind me saying that, one admitted to the room, she was in her late 50s) who ran a picture library, one voiced the idea that eventually, when things ‘settle down’ the archivist or specialist knowledge holder, would once again become valuable, that they would be a ‘trusted source’. And that is probably exactly what Encyclopedia Britannica said a couple of years back. The other woman said, ‘we’re just like blacksmiths and wheelwrights now’ but those two trades evolved… We’ll see.

In conclusion, here’s what I think.

1. Kudos not Cash: Institutions and media outlets can now look at alternate sources for content: users. People love seeing their name in the byline. Now it’s no good being loved by everyone with nothing in the fridge. But as one of the old ladies say to me afterwards ‘I used to have the only images of wild Polar Bears in Western Europe, EVERYBODY CAME TO ME!’ – them days are gone. There may even be a return to the idea of bartering. One idea I had at Channel 4 was to give away VIP credits to 4oD content rather than cash as ‘payment’ for using someone’s images. It would build loyalty, it would strengthen the brand, and keep the relationship solely between C4 and our audience.

2. Rights: I asked the the guys from seminar 5 about creative commons, they didn’t seem to have heard of it. Dom Young talked about a rival system but I can’t remember the name. I think CC has the potential to sneak under the nose of the industry that is just getting round to the idea of micro payments, and clinging to the cherished idea of RM. Why 1,600+ photos of London buses cleared for commercial use on Flickr. 1,800+ tagged ‘Poker’, that’s got to affect company’s like http://www.pokerimages.com -‘the most comprehensive collection of gaming images in the world’. I was going to find a poker image from them and compare it to a flickr one, but I can’t even be bothered to register, because…

3. Search: …I should be able to search across multiple datasets. We need to open up the dark archives, some tiny fraction of the World’s data is online. One attendee complained that they’ve had to re-scan everything from only a few years ago, as the technology has improved so much, ‘this costs money’ say the picture libraries… and it does. But so does keeping not digital stuff on the shelf turning to vinegar.

3. The rise of the ultra-niche: Channel 4’s target audience is 16-34, they’re into a myriad of different things. Take music for example, Getty or whoever are not gonna send some fat fuck old Dad of two with a D200 to some secret small time boy band gig. And if they did, is what they shoot really going to capture the essence of the event for that particular market? Is it worth it? It is to the kids. Sure there’s young photographers around, but look at the line up of most paps.

4. The Gentleman Amateur: Photography will return, in part at least, to the world of the Gentleman Amateur (which is where it started with Fox-Talbot) Firstly the technology is there – DSLR’s are peanuts and everyone has a camera phone. Secondly, the distribution method’s now there with the growth of photo-sharing sites. Thirdly the rights frameworks is there with CC.

Media outlets better bloody wake up to this because we’re seeing stories ‘in the fly’s eye’ now, there’s not one image anymore, there’s no ‘Guernica’. There’s a multitude of contrasting and conflicting viewpoints from many different angles.

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I've left it here for historical purposes. Please visit my new blog at www.foodjournalist.co.uk


These are my personal views and not those of Channel 4 or the BBC
May 2007

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