Taylor Swift is in the headlines again. She’s a singer and it seems that she is quite good. Apparently she is about to be presented with a very special award for being Artist of the Decade by the American Music Awards but, it seems, Taylor has a problem.
It appears that she is not able to actually sing any of her ‘own’ greatest hits during the ceremony to mark her achievement because she has been banned by the owner of the copyrights to all her past – and vast – material.
You see, as the copyright holder, someone else has the legal right to say where and when a piece of her creation can be performed and she has no say in the matter. It could become quite a fight in the courts but unfortunately when she was just fifteen, and fame was still a dream, she was persuaded to sign away her rights in a binding contract with her record label.
Estate and lettings agents, just like music agents, art agents or any other agents must be made aware of copyright law.
As a consequence, they took complete ownership of everything that she wrote and produced. The copyright to her creativity was taken away from her.
As a creative person in the arts I feel for her and thankfully I have never been put into that position to sign away my ownership to anything, and I’ve created quite a number of them in my time.
As a photographer I still own my photographs. As a commercial photographer specialising in property photography I still own the images that I have taken on behalf of estate agents and developers. They have paid me to take pictures and create quality images that will entice potential buyers to physically view a property and I have granted the payer a ‘right to use’ those images for marketing purposes in their own website pages and on various online viewing platforms. For me, and for a lot of my fellow snappers, it all works well and smoothly.
However, every now and then a vendor throws a nasty, if understandable, spanner in the works when they decide to switch agency – or they appoint a second agent probably in the hope of speeding up the sale. At this point the new estate agent has to make a tricky decision from two options regarding the photographs.
Option one is to start afresh and send in a new photographer to capture new images and – of course – option two is to use the splendid pictures that already exist. Why would you reinvent the wheel and why incur more costs?
Many choose option two. I know because it has happened to me. I have seen pictures and thought, “Where have I seen those before?” when I have looked on websites under agency names that have never commissioned me. They have acquired my images, possibly from the other agent, and used them for their own benefit without even letting me know.
However, unlike Ms Taylor I have never signed anything away so I still own the copyright and I only gave the payer a right to use them in a single agency stream. If another agent wants them then they need to call me and I will charge them a relatively small fee for them to have a right to use also.
Agents are breaking the law
By using the images without my permission they are breaking the law. It’s as simple as that. Estate agents, just like music agents, art agents or any other agents must be made aware of copyright law which applies not just in the UK but pretty much around the world. I will say who can use my pictures and how, and until I am asked, no you can’t. So please, Mr and Mrs Estate Agent, call or email the photographer, have a conversation, and pay a sensible licence fee so that your work is simpler and the photographer is rewarded for his or her creation and can put food on their family’s table.
Alastair Griffiths LSICIP QGPP www.followthehatphotography.uk