A View from the Front

Visual Connections 2012 New York continued the outstanding tradition of bringing image buyers and ‘sellers’ together to meet, greet, and open the doors to the extraordinary visual possibilities that image users demand and sellers provide.  The afternoon was filled with buyers visiting image purveyors from around the world.

My personal experience as a buyer has always been a take away of at least several new, and very usable, resources; and Visual Connections 2012 New York offered some unique new takes. As attendees toured the room, a novelty photo booth – complete with costumes and masks for portraits – was hosted by the American Society of Picture Professionals.  Image agencies offered treats, swag and the opportunity to get to know their collections better.  The more I’ve attended the VC event, the more I’ve come to know the stock industry as a close-knit family; and it’s always fun to see familiar faces and friends while on picture safari, exploring new visual opportunities.  Image agencies from the UK, Sweden, France and Germany joined US firms, filling the room with more than 60 visual media exhibitors.

I’m writing today about the morning Q&A panel discussion I had the pleasure of once again moderating, which has gained in popularity each year. For two hours before the tradeshow floor opened, over 100 art buyers and sellers with varying job titles participated in lively dialogs regarding the evasive subject of copyright and the ever-changing mystery of licensing.  For fun, we threw in some conversation and insight covering the future of image and footage usage and licensing trends. 

We convened a panel of experts including world renowned IP attorney Nancy Wolff, Internationally recognized stock footage expert Jessica Berman-Bogdan, Media Bakery founder Chad Newell, Stock/Image Technical Guru Doug Dawirs and Photography Director at Sterling Publishing, Chris Bain.  It’s fair to say that nobody left disappointed or unstimulated…

I’ve had the opportunity to moderate panel discussions on these topics a few times now, and I find that the questions people need answers to reflect quite accurately the changing nature of the technologies we live with.  Questions submitted via the VC website included “Can I use images from YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr and other online aggregators of images without getting additional permissions?”  “Are images from Pinterest fair-use?”  “How are publishers acquiring rights for electronic uses such as tablets and smart phones?”  Each of these questions, alone, could have easily consumed all or most of the two hours set aside; if allowed to drill down to the minutia of the subjects.   Our intrepid panel gave concise overviews of each subject, with warnings not to assume that each use and source could be pigeonholed into a category.  They consistently pointed out that all images have an owner, and unless the images are public domain the owner has copyrights that should not be overlooked.

We discussed various licensing models; how those models are evolving; different rights models attributed to images, including Rights Managed and Royalty-Free, and, that relative newcomer, Creative Commons.  Creative Commons does not replace copyright; it’s more of a copyright management tool that allows image creators to control how they choose to distribute images for public consumption.

The audience kept the tempo moving, with questions addressing issues such as: the use of fictional characters in greeting cards; and whether licensing for the USA would include Puerto Rico and American Samoa.  Also asked was how licensing stills and footage for enhanced books (think video clips placed in (formally) traditional text books now delivered in e-book formats) is negotiated with regards to the number of copies downloaded or distributed.  This is certainly a hot topic, and one that is being discussed by users and providers everywhere.  Everyone agrees we need consistency in licensing and licensing practices so the buyer does not have to deal with different rules with each vendor.  I predict that the agencies will eventually connect the dots: by identifying the needs of their clients, and that solutions will be developed that will work for everyone.

All in all, we validated what we knew, learned a bit that we didn’t, and went away thinking about how things are changing, and how we will have to change as well.

Doug Brooks has been a leader and innovator in the picture industry for over thirty years. He and his partner, Deborah Van Kirk, produced food and still-life photography for assignment and stock licensing. Doug went on to be Director of Acquisitions and Visual Resources at one of the larger publishing houses in the United States. Today Doug directs the marketing efforts of the Image Research Team, which specializes in finding and licensing beautiful and large-scale imagery for educational museum exhibitions and book publication. Doug is a National Board member of the ASPP.

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