all images copyright protected
Recently I discovered that my images are being sold by Getty Images. Many photographers, particularly those new to the stock photography industry, would be thrilled by this news. I am not.
A few weeks ago I received a royalty payment statement from an agency in the UK which used to represent my images. Because they no longer represent my images, I queried the statement, and a rather murky trail was revealed. It seems that the UK agency had placed my images with an agency based in South Africa who had then placed them with Getty Images.
It can be very hard to get information from agencies about their royalty splits with sub-agents, but having done some research I think it goes something like this:
1) Getty Images pays 20% to 30% of a pictures' earnings to many of their suppliers. Why so little? Because Getty Images dominates the market and many photo agencies and photographers, in desperation, have agreed to these extraordinary terms.
2) The South African agency pays around 50% of their earnings to the UK agency. (I am guessing here using a market average)
3) The UK agency then pays me (in breach of their contract with me, and the reason they no longer represent my images) 40% of the money they receive.
When I confronted the UK agency they told me "the basis of your calculations is not quite correct".
I have asked them to tell me what the correct figures are. Their response:
"I am afraid that I am not going to be able to give you the detail of the existing contractual arrangements between third parties - it is a matter of confidentiality."
What I want to know now:
1) Is this legal? Can they refuse to give me details about the percentage of a sale I earn from my copyrighted material, via two other parties?
2) Why would any photographer trust an agency which refuses to provide this information?
What really concerns me is, if the percentage split was better than my calculations, it would be in their interests to tell me so. Because they will not tell me, does this suggest it is even worse? .
Either way, this means that when one of my images sells through Getty Images,
I find this so sickening that I do not want my photos on Getty Images' website. I understand that they are the biggest agency in the world. I understand that they have the best sales record. But if I am paid 6% of the earnings from my images, then I am merely being exploited.
I have had a similar problem before with an agency placing my images with Alamy. I like Alamy's business model, and I like it that they pay photographers a higher than average percentage of their earnings, but if I want my images on Alamy, I can put them there myself. The sheer cheek of an agency putting my images on Alamy, and then taking 50% of the earnings, astounds me.
The whole sub-agency system is a holdover from the pre-internet days when it was difficult for photographers to market their photos in foreign markets. The internet has done away with that problem, and the fact that agencies perpetuate this shady "death by a thousand cuts" system of sub-agents needs to be exposed and addressed.
There needs to be transparency.
- photographers must be allowed to contractually opt-out of sub-agent agreements with their agencies.
- agencies must clearly state the percentage splits in their stock image sales so photographers know where the money from their image sales is going
- agencies need to recognise photographers as equal partners in their business success, and that means paying them a minimum of 50% of the earnings from their images
Getty Images may argue that they are merely the top of the chain, and what happens further down is not their responsibility, but the sheer contempt that they show to photographers by paying them only 20% of the earnings from their images exposes what Getty Images is all about, and it has nothing to do with the interests of the photographer.
For that reason, Getty Images, you're fired.
Please pass on this message to any photographers who you think may feel the same way, or picture buyers who think that photographers deserve a decent percentage of the earnings from the work they create. If you would also like to fire Getty Images, or would like to expose other agencies' sub-agent payment percentages, please post below: