The Handcuffs and Temptation of Stock Agencies

Someone finds your work on Flickr. They contact Getty Images to buy it. Getty Images contacts you for permission to sell it to their buyer. Do you do it?

Yesterday, I received two more requests from a potential Getty customer wanting to license my work for commercial use. I’m not told the price in advance. They simply want a yes or no answer.

But it’s not a guaranteed sale either. Whether it sells for $20, for $400, or maybe not at all, you loose the right to ever license that image or any other similar images again without going through Getty. At this point, Getty now owns the exclusive distribution rights with a no competition contract. A tough pill to swallow but maybe I value my own work too much.

To date, I have had 27 requests but have only accepted one as a “what if” test. I offered Getty that single image and while it did indeed sell, the royalty margins are the typical low. The Flickr collection is all royalty free and in this particular case, Getty licensed my image for their standard price of $382.50. They keep 80% of it leaving me with $76.50 before the IRS steps in (Canadians can file to get it back) and claims another 30% of that earnings dropping my payout to $53.55. I suppose $53 is better than nothing?

Turning down sales and commercial publication is very hard but the value Getty offers for 80% on a royalty free sale could be argued. But what do I know? I have local photographer friends that were able to quit their day job due to sales through iStockphoto alone — and those royalties are as low as $2 per sale.

On the flip side, the Parks and People Association are releasing a book next month to celebrate the 75th anniversary of PEI National Park and it has several of my images inside. If I would have accepted all 27 of those requests, I would not have been able to offer the images I did for this publication.

The “what if” temptation is strong and something I have now resisted for a very long time. While the argument can be made for both sides — it is hard not to wonder what would have happened if I uploaded all of my work, gave away my distributions rights and accepted the 80/20 business model.

4 Comments

  • RobertB May 25, 2012 Reply

    I agree with your position. The exorbitant share that goes to Getty on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis is highway robbery, but losing all rights to your images in perpetuity is basically adding insult to injury. I don’t fault Getty as they are in it to make a profit and they do provide a servece and income for many photographers. I’m by no means a pro and barely an adequate amateur, but my ego became over inflated as I was embarrassingly flattered and seduced by the Getty offer on one of my images. In the end their client declined, but I lost control of one of my images when I said yes, which brought me back down to earth rather quickly. I do enjoy your blog and look forward to your regular postings.

  • Bunty Albert May 26, 2012 Reply

    Thanks for explaining this Stephen. Maybe it’s time for photographers to start a cooperative “stock” agency with new rules.

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  • Chris Clark July 19, 2012 Reply

    Stephen, there is another interesting dimension to this. 5 years ago a client of mine had a website built that included an image provided as part of the deal.

    Getty subsequently bought the rights to the photograph, date unknown. They searched the internet with specialist image software, and discovered the photograph on my client’s site. Next they issued a 9 page claim against my client for the photo for UK £800 + VAT with a very sophisticated set of payment alternatives.

    This matter is being defended under fair use, and not one penny will be paid to them.

    Upon checking the Getty Contributor agreement (2011 contributor agreement v.4.0 (d) sample-english.pdf), I could not find any evidence that where a photographer sold an image to another party prior to assigning their rights to Getty, that the original sale would be immune from a subsequent Getty claim.

    Getty have just been hit with a $10m class action lawsuit in Israel because of similar practices there.

    So, how wise indeed is it to submit your pictures to Getty? Especially if a client to whom you sold a photo to winds up getting hit with a massive claim after you sold future rights to Getty? After this case I’d suggest it’s no longer handcuffs, more like danger of unexploded bombs.

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