How To Tuesday #31 - Keeping Your Copyright or Cash Out? / by Zack Smith

"Know when to walk away...know when to run..." Don Schlitz, Writer The Gambler, made #1 by Kenny Rogers.

Don was a smart guy. After shopping the song around a few times, he recorded it himself. It never went above #65 on the charts until Kenny Rogers got his pipes (and hair!) on it. Don never walked away, never ran. He knew when to hold 'em. The ultimate gambler, it's still his song.

In a perfect world I really wouldn't have it any other way. I like to make my own hours, set my rates, and take comfort in the fact that I am creating images that will last. For me it's less about what my day rate is or how much gear I have accrued. For me, the most treasured moments from my journey behind the lens always come from the magical manifestation of ideas into the world. I love getting in a client's head and figuring out their visual dilemma. Whether it is an advertising firm photographing bankers or an artist debating how high to hang a 12 foot canvas fish over a rotting pier. These are the moments I love like a mad scientist erecting the lightning rod.

Photography: The Magical Manifestation

I see myself as a tinkerer of the abstract visual map in a person's mind - piecing together the ideas and emotions they have to make something tangible and real. Man, I don't know about you but I want to keep those images forever! So much thought, time, energy and empathy go into this process. It's brutal and overwhelming yet so rewarding. Even though I am doing a "job" for a client I look at it as an investment in my future: how I get new jobs, how I create new relationships, and how I value the images in my archive.  But at the same time, I have to understand that a client who is paying their hard earned budget for these images sometimes need to have the comfort of unrestricted use.

The reasons behind this digression to the abstract has a lot to do with how more and more clients are approaching the Image Rights and Copyright line item in recent proposals. Not since around 2012 has this discussion come up so frequently. In my 12 years of working as a professional photographer and working in the realm of contracts, Usage Rights and Work For Hire's, I have never seen so many clients want "The Full Buyout" so much as in the last few years. I understand the client's need and it is warranted, so what does a photographer do?

In the terms of this discussion, The Full Buyout means that the client assumes all Copyright of the images shot and edited on a photo shoot and you then hand over (usually in a dual signed agreement) your rights to the images. This means without a special written line in your agreement, you can't use any of these images anymore. 

So, what does a photographer do?

As much as I am hesitant to hand over my Copyright of my images, I have to weigh the possible future resale of those images versus the buyout. I have to ask myself: Do I think these images will have a resale value to me in other markets? In the editorial world this is common if I were to photograph a musician and later on another magazine calls wanting to know if I had any existing stock of said musician. If I still owned the copyright, then I am free to negotiate. 

If there is a person in the shot, would a simple Talent Release allow me to then market the images for commercial use on stock sites or local jobs? These things must be considered before you consider a full buyout. Remember the joy of the magical manifestation of the visual problem? Is the answer worth the cash or the copyright?