Cathy Aron has been the Executive Director of PACA, the Digital Licensing Media Association, since 2006. Prior to that she was a longtime member as well as the president. Her involvement in the image industry goes back to her childhood – literally. Cathy and I talked recently about her background and where she sees PACA and the industry today.
Michael Masterson: You basically grew up in this industry. Tell me about your father and how he, and later you, got involved.
Cathy Aron: Actually, my father, Nat Harrison, was a jeweler, but he was a frustrated photographer and had done photography during the war and after. He even had a dark room built at the back of our house. When he and my mother started traveling around the world, he took photos and would do slide shows at schools. When he needed fill-in and title slide images he used a place called Wolfe Worldwide Films in Santa Monica. They specialized in selling duplicate slides inexpensively to schools and individuals. In 1978, WWF was for sale and my dad decided to buy it for something to do in his retirement (which was a few years off) and he asked if I wanted to run it. I was raising my children at the time, looking at for a part-time something to do. So I traveled to Santa Monica everyday from Mission Viejo (about 60 miles and in California that can be forever!) for a few months learning the photography business before moving it to Mission Viejo. A few months after we took over the business, my dad suddenly passed away at 60 leaving a mortgage on WWF, a jewelry business, and a devastated family. I didn’t want my mom to be burdened with the business loan, so I took over WWF and realized that there was something else that you could do with the originals and I began learning all I could about the stock photo end of the business.
Cathy: I found a partner, Gerry McDonald, who knew more than I did about the rights management part of the business and together we formed Photo Network. We built a nice general stock agency. She had a collection of images from a multimedia company called Pix Productions she and her husband had plus I had the travel images from WWF. Then we began representing photographers, selling mainly to ad agencies and developers. My partner died after about fifteen years, but I continued with Photo Network for 27 years.
Michael: You came to PACA at a very turbulent time in its history. How did you become the executive director?
Cathy: I was president of PACA after we fired our executive director in 2002. We realized she had embezzled a lot of money from the association. So, for two years I served as the president without an ED. It was a tough time for the organization but also an amazing time as everyone pitched in to save PACA, both monetarily and with their time and efforts. It did, however, take an incredible amount of time from my business. When it was feasible to hire an executive director again, I had just made the decision to sell Photo Network, so I applied for the job along with many others and was lucky to get it.
Michael: What are some of the things you’re proudest of during your time as ED at PACA?
Cathy: One would certainly be the organization, with Cathy Sachs, then executive director of ASPP, of the associations group. It was originally over the proposed Orphan Works Legislation, but we still continue to meet today. When we brought everyone together back in 2006 (I think that’s right) it was the first time we had gathered all the visual arts associations together in one room to discuss mutual interests. The participation and co-operative outreach of this group has enabled us to gain much more impact that each association would have individually. We have worked together on amicus briefs, statements for the copyright office and lobbying to the congress for legislation favorable to our industry.
I’m also very proud of pacaSearch that is the one benefit of our organization which directly benefits the business of our members. It’s the mega search engine that helps to level the playing field between large and small agencies allowing buyers to find the library that has the best images for theirs needs. It’s free to all PACA members. A recent survey by Visual Steam showed it came in as the fifth most-used site for buyers.
It’s also been wonderful working with Nancy Wolff and getting a much broader understanding of all the copyright issues and knowing that we have the best possible representation with her at the helm. Her expertise and standing in the copyright community gives PACA a chance to make an impact.
Michael: What are some other PACA highlights during your tenure?
Cathy: Our PACA Conferences would be definite highlights. We have had some amazing meetings over the last few years and we’ve provided our members with excellent opportunities to learn and grow their businesses with the information provided at these events. Moving out of a hotel last year and teaming up with Visual Connections has given a new spark to the meeting and we are looking forward to even more exciting innovations this year.
Our efforts in copyright education and outreach to schools and the community have and remain a priority for PACA. Colleges and universities throughout the country as well as many high schools use our Power Point presentation.
Also, our efforts with the publishers to work on contracts that are equitable to both sides was rewarded this year with a contract with Cengage that we feel has great language and terms for agencies.
It’s also been great getting new people involved in the industry. I have always been a firm believer that you get back more than you give.
Michael: What issues is PACA addressing right now and what other major industry issues do you see?
Cathy: We’re still on top of the copyright office’s debate on a Copyright Small Claims. This is a vital discussion for the industry and we’ve responded to the Copyright Office’s three requests for comments on remedies with many of our suggestions included in their report.
We are also a complainant in the ASMP vs. Google Books case. We will be part of an amicus brief for the Authors Guild appeal vs. Google Books. We are working right now on Patent Trolling and engaging the agencies that have been sued by Uniloc. This is a very serious problem for our members and non-members alike and we are actively perusing ways to help them collectively find materials to fight these claims.
I think that piracy and copyright infringement continue to be the biggest issues facing our industry. Upholding copyright is the biggest challenge to all of us.
Michael: The organization has changed like so many other industry trade associations. Talk about the challenges it’s facing and how you and your board are dealing with them.
Cathy: Buy-outs and consolidations have been the biggest challenges to PACA in the last 5-10 years. Our association has definitely felt the impact of the closure of many of the smaller agencies. Newer tech companies don’t always feel the value of an association, but the board is trying to reach out to the newer players and give them benefits that will appeal to them. The issues that face our industry will impact all the players in the industry, no matter what their structure is, so it is important that we work together to protect copyright or there will be no business.
Michael: One last question. As someone who obviously loves photography, if you could choose one photograph to hang in your living room, what would it be?
Cathy: This is an impossible question. As Ron [Cathy’s husband] will tell you, I have a very eclectic taste in art. I love the photographs of Ansel Adams and Arnold Newman, Annie Leibowitz, Art Wolff, etc., etc. But I’m also drawn to the work of new artists. I love beautiful scenics and graphic black and whites. I could never choose just one!
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