Time Inc. foists awful new contract on photographers

New Time Inc., contract is an awful rights grab
New Time Inc., contract is an awful rights grab

It’s an awful part of the job, but photographers need to be able read and understand contracts. The new Time Inc. contract, which will be sent to photographers working for all Time Inc. publications, including Time magazine, Travel + Leisure, People, Sports Illustrated, etc., is an awful rights grab that results in lower fees paid to photographers. John Harrington has published a great deep read of the new contract. PhotoShelter has a nice overview of the issues.

Here’s the new contract below, along with an introduction from Time Inc. Chief Content Officer Norm Pearlstine. Pearlstine was also editor of Time magazine from 1994-2005. His introduction starts, “Since the 1920s and ’30s, when Time and Life magazines first appeared on the scene, Time Inc. and its brands have been known for the beauty and power of iconic photograph. While our commitment to original photography is as true today as ever, we are revising how we commission and use photographs.” Ironically, the contract that follows is an affront to the very livelihood of photographers. I couldn’t continue working as a photographer without decent fees, payment for reuse, and the ability to relicense photos taken on assignment.

Writing on PhotoShelter’s blog, Allen Murabayashi notes that the contract eliminates the notion of a space rate through a perpetual right to republish photos without compensation, makes all video shot for Time Inc. work made for hire, makes it impossible for photographers to relicense work used on magazine covers, takes away photographers’ recourse in case Time Inc. violates the contract, and allows payment for work done only in case an editor deems it “acceptable.”

I strongly advise all photographers to do what I do when confronted with contracts like this: refuse to sign until rights-grabbing language is changed. This is the only way for photographers to maintain their livelihoods.

In my 10 years of freelancing, I’ve given up the copyright to a photo (a single photo!) exactly once. In that case, I was paid five figures. There is, after all, a price for everything. In every other case in which an editor or art buyer has asked me to sign a rights grab or offered a pittance for my work, I politely refuse and offer some alternative ideas for contractual language that allows me to keep my copyright and the ability to license the work in the future. If the publication refuses to budge, I turn down the assignment or licensing agreement. Often, the publication will find a way to go ahead with the assignment or licensing on my terms, but not always. In a recent deal with Time Inc., in fact, I was able to get around the rights-grabbing contract and get a higher fee than their standard space rates by standing firm on my terms(but always remaining cordial and friendly). I’ve done the same with other major news and publishing organizations, including CNN, National Geographic, The Verge, and others. It can be done.

The only way to get rid of these awful contracts is to quit signing them. If you’re presented with a bad contract, strike the bad language and politely explain why you can’t and won’t sign the contract as it’s first offered. If they are open to negotiation, that’s wonderful. The client will likely view you as a professional. If not, stand firm and decline the work. There is no other way.

The curious case of National Geographic’s layoffs and financials

The dirty secret is that NatGeo needed the money for their endowment. Nothing makes money. Nothing. The only thing holding them together is the channel now, spinning off money so they can be alive.” former Nat Geo executive, speaking to the Guardian

The news was everywhere recently that National Geographic would be laying off staff at the magazine. This comes after September’s news that the magazine would become a for-profit after 21st Century Fox bought 73% of the new entertainment company controlling the magazine and National Geographic’s television and other media properties. Variety initially reported that the new entertainment company would lay off “less than 10%” of its 2,000 employees. Jim Romenesko published notes from National Geographic Society President and CEO Gary Knell which asked staff around the world to make themselves available on Nov. 3 to receive information about the restructuring of the organization. Then, in the largest layoff in the organization’s history, 180 of its staff were laid off, including cuts at the magazine. The Guardian has a great piece about the whole thing: How Fox ate National Geographic.

Screenshot of former National Geographic photo editor Sherry Brukbacher's twitter announcement that she was laid off.
Screenshot of former National Geographic photo editor Sherry Brukbacher’s twitter announcement that she was laid off.

When the merger between Fox and National Geographic was first announced, Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi wrote a curious article about how the financial difficulties cited as a reason for the sale were not evident in the National Geographic Society’s publicly-available financial documents. “In fact, in 2013, the most recent year for which records are available, the organization had one of its best years. Its revenue grew 16 percent, topping $500 million and throwing off a $25.7 million surplus. Net assets expanded by 20 percent, putting the society’s net worth close to $900 million,” wrote Farhi. Executives at the organization, including the magazine’s then-editor in chief had all been well compensated for their part in buoying the Society through tumultuous recent years. Farhi reports that executive compensation there ranked among the highest in the country, though cautions that comparison to other non-profits might not be good because the organization is part-charity, part-commercial.

Nevertheless, Farhi’s Nov. 4, 2015, article on National Geographic’s layoffs says that the layoffs were done to avoid “financial derailment.” In 2014, Farhi wrote, “Its revenue declined about 5 percent, to $500 million, and its operations swung from a surplus of $25.5 million to a $20 million loss. Net assets declined by $90 million, to $805.5 million, compared with a year earlier.” In his earlier piece, Farhi wrote that much of National Geographic’s financial growth could be attributed to its investment portfolio, and thus the organization was vulnerable to swings in the stock markets. The sale to Fox was intended to stabilize the organizations financials.

National Geographic Society President and CEO Gary Knell told Farhi, “You can’t prejudge [the merger]. If in two or three years, if we mess up the [National Geographic] brand, then people will judge us. But give us a chance.”

Reminder: make sure you have a backup strategy for your photos (also, RAID is not a backup)

I ran across the above story on PetaPixel. Oakland, California, photographer Jennifer Little lost her life’s work in a burglary. Thieves stole her camera equipment and 21 harddrives containing all of her work from the past 10 years. I can’t imagine the devastation I’d feel from this sort of loss. When I was just starting out, I had a harddrive fail and I lost a couple months’ work, including my only pictures of a few college friends. To lose the entirety of one’s professional work is unimaginable to me.

General Backup Strategies for Photographers

I thought this would be a good starting point to talking about how photographers should back up their work. Two rules of thumb before we get started: RAID is not a backup (likewise for Drobo and other proprietary RAID-like systems) and have a 3-2-1 system for backups, meaning three copies of files, in two different types of media, at least one offsite. RAID is not a backup because it’s function is to constantly mirror data on a drive. RAID is intended to maintain uptime in specific types of hardware failure. If you accidentally delete a file or overwrite keywords for a shoot, that bad data is mirrored to the rest of the RAID array.

I recently came across this piece by Tony Roslund: Bulletproof Backup Strategies For Digital Photographers. He runs through his phenomenal backup strategy which starts with redundancy during image capture when shooting tethered and goes from there. He does use RAID, which can be a good part of a backup strategy, but importantly he has other offline and offsite drives which hold the files securely in case of human or computer error with the RAID. If you want to really get into the nitty-gritty of backing up digital data, the ASMP has a great web portal covering backup strategies for photographers in depth.

The above guide does not consider online or cloud backup solutions. You shouldn’t trust the cloud with your only copies of files but if you have a 3-2-1 strategy, online storage can be a good option for offsite, other media storage. Photographers should also remember the complete debacle that was the end of Digital Railroad. The biggest drawback of online backups is the time it takes to upload your data.

My Backup System

My own personal backup strategy has evolved over the years. When I started, I used dual hard-drive backups and DVD copies of my archive. As filesizes and my own photography output began to increase, I had to abandon DVD storage. A single day’s shoot might span 10 DVDs. Now, I have dual hard-drive back ups and two different online storage systems. For hard-drives, I’ve been using Western Digital My Passport Ultras. At Amazon, you can get 2TB drives for $90. The drives have decent reviews, and in my 4 or 5 years of using them, I haven’t had a single issue in any of the 10 or 12 I use. They’re also USB 3.0 rather than a proprietary connection type like what Apple’s firewire or thunderbolt. They’re also small, so really easy to transport. In the past, I often made my own external drives by buying a reliable internal and then getting a cheap enclosure for it. You might find comfort in knowing exactly what drive is inside any enclosure you buy. I use SyncBackFree to make an exact copy of one drive on a second. And then I store the second drives in another location. For the 3-2-1 rule, this satisfies two copies and one offsite location.

I also have two cloud backups, both of which came free with services I was already subscribed to. I’ve been using PhotoShelter for years, but just this year, they announced that pro-level accounts have unlimited storage. Whereas I previously only used PhotoShelter as an archive and delivery system for selects from my assignment and personal work, I know have a collection within my archive (hidden from the public) that is a full mirror of every picture I’ve ever taken and the processed selects. The folder structure in this PhotoShelter mirrors my hard-drives exactly. It took about a month to upload ~8 terabytes of photos with my FIOS internet connection. I had a slow-ish cable connection before and it was painfully slow to upload huge amounts of data. Going forward, uploading between 10 and 50 gigabytes a day isn’t a big deal. The other drawback with PhotoShelter is that using the FTP upload method does not check for duplicate files or folders. So, if I upload a folder as soon as I ingest it on my computer but then want to upload selects later, I need to upload through the web interface directly to the appropriate folder so the system will skip previously uploaded files. On the other side, PhotoShelter allows multiple user accounts for FTP uploads. By default, all FTP uploads go to an Incoming FTP folder, and that’s not very helpful. Using different upload accounts, however, you can specify upload location within your PhotoShelter system. So, I’ve got one upload account that goes directly to my 2016 New Hampshire Primary coverage and another that puts files directly in the full archive collection. That really simplifies the process of uploading and organizing. One other issue that is a bit of an annoyance is that this method duplicates files that I upload as selects to show a client or otherwise keep in my public-facing archive. PhotoShelter’s internal search system leaves a bit to be desired, so I run into duplicates when getting lightboxes together for stock inquiries.

Amazon Prime also recently announced unlimited photo storage including raw files from a small list of cameras (I don’t believe that list is exhaustive. The 5DMark2 isn’t included, for instance, but I believe those raw files are fine). In my experience, uploads to Amazon’s photo storage is slower than my connection should allow, so it took longer to upload there than to PhotoShelter. On the other hand, Amazon’s uploader does check for and skip existing files. This is good in that it generally simplifies uploading, but bad if you re-keyword a folder and then need to re-upload. In that case, you’d need to navigate through your Amazon photo storage and delete the folder or files you want to replace.

With these two online storage systems, I now have a 4-2-3 backup system. Four copies of files, two different types of storage (hard drive and online), and three different storage locations. I’m not sure where PhotoShelter gets its storage space, and it’s conceivable that they might use Amazon’s storage services, but even still, I’m protected in case PhotoShelter goes out of business. This strategy protects my photos in multiple ways in these different scenarios: if I accidentally delete a folder on a backup hard-drive or online, if my home is burglarized or destroyed, if my hard-drives quit working or becomes partly corrupted, if PhotoShelter or Amazon go out of business, if someone maliciously takes over my PhotoShelter or Amazon accounts, and other disaster scenarios.

There are other online systems for backing up photos and other digital data, but be careful when you choose. Google Photos, for instance, allows unlimited storage of photos up to 16 megapixels, but they apply some compression to the files and it is impossible to get your uncompressed originals back. If you want uncompressed storage, you’ve got to pay.