Web video replacing stills could leave photographers without copyright

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) is “urgently” investigating concerns the new era of multimedia web journalism may leave freelance photographers out of pocket.

In recent weeks, concern has grown amongst photojournalists who say they are increasingly being asked to shoot video for newspaper websites – but to surrender their right to re-sell material. Now the NUJ says it will fight against the practice.

Tony Sleep, a freelance London photographer whose clients have included the Evening Standard and The Guardian and who runs the Editorial Photographers UK mailing list on which some of the first concerns were aired, said the problem stemmed from multimedia convergence.

“National daily newspapers are pressing to expand into video for web use, which is a growing income stream which we expect to largely displace print in due course,” he told Journalism.co.uk.

“Industry practice for video cameramen is often work-for-hire, with cameramen surrendering all rights. However BECTU rates are about double what newspapers pay, plus payment of hire charges for equipment, expenses, holiday pay etcetera.

“Newspapers are now looking to simply include video as an extra task at stills rates but grab all rights at the same time, arguing that is how the video industry does it. The claim is false and misleading.”

Mr Sleep said fees paid to stills photographers were traditionally lower than to video camera operators because stills photographers retained rights their broadcast counterparts did not.

No freelance photographers are yet known to have gone public on such disputes with picture editors, but the concern has the potential to pit Britain’s stills snappers against its moving picture maestros on the new screens where old media collide.

Martin Spence, assistant general secretary of the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU) which represents camera operators, confirmed to Journalism.co.uk: “Usually (dedicated video operators) work for employers on a freelance basis and, so long as the contract is respected and they get paid, all rights in the material they have shot reside with the employer.”

John Toner, NUJ‘s freelance organiser, said something needed to be done to ensure creators with a stills background are treated fairly.

“The freelance broadcast issues are relatively new to us. However, we are considering them urgently, and I agree that the NUJ is concerned about the issues you have mentioned,” he told Journalism.co.uk

“We believe it is a growing problem. We are concerned about the potential losses for both videographers and stills photographers, and we will be arguing that copyright assignment is neither necessary not desirable.”