ASMP to Getty Photographers: Time to Bail

by David Walker

The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) has released a memo that all but advises Getty contributors to quit the agency and find other ways to distribute their stock photographs if they can. American Photographic Artists (APA), meanwhile, has issued a veiled threat of legal action against the stock photo agency.

The uproar is over Getty's new contract terms for its contributors, which enable the agency to move rights-managed images that haven't been licensed for three years or longer to its royalty-free collections, and make royalty-free images available in its subscription products. The trade groups say the new terms further undermine stock photo pricing, as well as photographers' control over their work and their ability to protect their copyrights.

"The new Getty contract changes are not advantageous and should be viewed as an opportune time to re-evaluate options," ASMP Executive Director Eugene wrote in a memo he circulated on Monday.

Mopsik explained that his discussions with Getty about the contract terms did not yield "substantive results in the best interests of photographers...Therefore, ASMP believes that it is important for be aware of options including changing distributors and self-marketing."

Mopsik told PDN in a telephone interview that he's not telling Getty photographers what to do. "I say evaluate your relationship. If it works for you, stay there. If it doesn't, now is the time to look elsewhere. "

"I won't equivocate," Mopsik continued. "My position has always been that photographers should take back control of the sale of their images. And as time goes on, there are better and better channels for self marketing images. At the same time, I understand that there are people making substantial amounts of money from Getty."

In a statement to PDN, Getty defended the contract changes, saying that it is "updating our creative contributor agreements so that more content can be used in more ways that help our business meet current and future customer needs and grow sales in keeping with market changes."

APA said in a press release distributed on April 27 that the contract modifications "clearly signal that Getty Images' top priority is expanding its own market share by whatever means necessary, irrespective of the damage it causes to the rights and interests of contributing photographers and image partners."

While ASMP is recommending that Getty contributors find alternate means of distribution, APA says it has hired a law firm that specializes in copyright law and litigation "to help us develop a response" to the Getty contract changes.

Getty says it has taken contributor feedback into consideration, and made several changes to its contracts as a result, although it didn't give details.

But according to ASMP, Getty says it will let contributors exclude a limited number of their RM images from being moved to RF collections. For instance, photographers can ask for exclusions of images that show models who were promised that his or her likeness would not be  used in RF, and images that photographers consider a high production value investment. But photographers have to exclude sparingly, and justify the exclusion requests in writing by May 20. Getty also reserves the right to accept or reject exclusion requests at its discretion.

"I see this as a strategic move on Getty's part to cull out their contributors," to focus on those who actively produce and those who are willing to go along with Getty's marketing strategy, Mopsik says. But he hardly faults the agency, adding, "If images haven't sold in 36 months, what would you do?"

Update (May 10, 2011): APA has issued a new statement saying that it "must recommend to our members that they decline Getty Images' invitation to agree to these unacceptable [contract] changes." In other words, don't sign the new Getty contract, APA is telling its members. APA explains that it asked Getty to extend the deadline for imposing its new terms on contributors, but the agency ignored the request. APA's full statement is available here.


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