Collecting what, for whom?
PHOTOGRAPHERS' representative bodies are organising to challenge a plan to set up a body in competition with DACS, the Design & Artists' Collecting Society. DACS distributes monies such as those paid by university libraries for copying works for students, on the basis of surveys of such "secondary uses".
It was the Editorial Photo UK group www.epuk.org.uk that exposed practices at the Rex agency that are now the subject of a police investigation. EPUK is now aware of such investigations into four major picture agencies.
The Freelance cannot currently comment on these investigations. But a major concern is that agencies and libraries are taking a growing share of the money paid for secondary use. EPUK believes that all this money is in law due to individual photographers. Until recently there has been no contractual basis for agencies taking any "rake-off". Earlier this year the Alamy agency - historically one of those better regarded by photographers - issued a new contract including this (see www.londonfreelance.org/1607alam.html).
Now the British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies www.bapla.org.uk has launched a new collecting society in competition with DACS, to be called PICSEL. BAPLA has stated that there will be no requirement for a mandate from the photographer. EPUK says this shows a willingness to claim secondary rights payments without the creators' permission or even perhaps their knowledge.
But requiring PICSEL members to show the agreement of contributors would not solve this problem. It is regrettably well-known that agencies put pressure on photographers to allow them to claim when the photographers do not want them to do so. EPUK has examples of bullying letters from agencies claiming non-existent legal rights, even threatening that the agency may terminate their contract unless they agreed to authorise agency claims. Agencies withhold the sales data that photographers need for their claim.
Further, PICSEL has stated that undistributed money will be used for the benefit of its members, the agencies. DACS found more than 400 untraceable names in the REX list of contributors for whom claims had been made. This raises the question of where the money for those claims has gone in the past and why they have continued to be made. Under PICSEL the money due to the creators for those claims would be handed to the agencies. This policy, EPUK notes, "creates a perverse incentive for an agency to be unable to trace a contributor".
This story is set to run and run.
The immediate practical advice is: anyone receiving a new contract, or being asked to agree to varying a contract, must seek advice from your Union before signing anything. Which means being in the union.