Excerpts from San Francisco Chronicle edition Saturday, June 29
The battle over rights to intellectual property - a flash point with the emergence of the Internet - is drawing the attention and ire of Associated Press photographers. For the first time, the news organization is asking free-lance photographers to sign over all rights, electronics and otherwise, to all of their photos, even their unused ones. Those who don't could lose work. In addition, the nation's largest news wire service said it will not be liable for any injuries or claims against free-lance on assignment for the AP. The controversial contract, sent to photographers this month with a July 1 deadline, has triggered a storm of protest, prompting AP to re-evaluate the policy and extend the deadline. Meanwhile, angry photographers are organizing and in some cases threatening lawsuits to quash AP's seemingly strong-arm tactics. "AP is trying to bully people," said Brad Mangin, an AP free-lance photographer who lives in Union City. "The bottom line is that they don't care about quality, only the bottom line." Andy Kuno, who refuses to sign the contract, said AP simply wants to "hold rights to anything that appears on the Internet." Many, like Ben Margot of Alameda, who has worked for AP for more than 10 years, are town. "It's 80 percent of my salary," he said. "A lot of us have families and financial commitments."
AP reportedly is training inexperienced photographers to replace their stringers, sources said.
National photo organizations have moved swiftly to protest AP's prospective deal. The American Society of Media Photographers in Princeton, N.J. sent a strongly worded letter to AP's board of directors Thursday threatening legal action if the news agency goes through with its original contract. Meanwhile, the National Association of Freelance Photographers, a New York grass-roots organization formed over the Internet to protest the contract, is considering filing a lawsuit or injunction. "Frankly, we were surprised by the reaction; we value our photographers a great deal," said AP spokeswoman Tori Smith, who was unaware of potential suit. Still, sources said AP extended the contract because it is bowing to pressure from photographers and it is fearful of losing many of its best photographers during the Summer Olympics and the Democratic and Republican national convention. The impetus for the contract could be the introduction of a new on-line service called The Wire. This AP service, expected to debut this fall, would feature the work of AP photographers - who have signed the new contracts. "I think this is an issue not only for writers and photographers, but with any company that creates a Web site, " Smith said. "The Internet does not have a business plan." AP's Smith said the New York company, which is composed of national news organizations, is reviewing the contract and has no new deadline. But she said it was dead set on securing rights to its assigned work in writing. "(Free-lance photographers) are independent contractors," she said. "We hire them to shoot an assignment. They shoot three rolls of film, they bring the film back, we use it and we keep the negatives. This is no different from the agreement we've had for years. Now it's in writing." Vin Alabiso, AP's executive director of photography, said a number of newspapers including USA Today, the Chicago Tribune and Hartford Courant are considering similar policies. "The whole industry is moving in this direction," he said. In addition, sources said Reuters, Gannett an UPI are pursing the same kinds of policies.