Is Time Inc. taking advantage of photographers?

Story By: Nathan Biddle

On Nov 2, 2015, Time Inc. issued a new contract to freelance photographers. This is not out of the ordinary. What is out of the ordinary are some of the clauses buried within the contract.

Time Inc. sent the contract to photographers who have worked with or are currently working with the company. The contract will go into effect on January 1, 2016. Jeniqua Moore, Associate Director of Digital Assets Contracts and Rights Management with Time Inc., issued this statement with the contract: “No new assignments will be made to you after January 1, 2016 unless you confirm your agreement to the attached new Time Inc. commissioned photography agreement be signing the agreement.” This statement is pretty aggressive. Why were such words used when the new contract was released? Some answers may be lying within the contract.

As you read and study the new contract you will come across clause 4 which mentions the “Idea House Projects”. Any job that you take when on an “Idea House Assignment” is work made for hire. In other words, you release all rights to any and all work that the photographers have created for Time Inc.

Clause 5 states that any assignment that is never published is in the embargo period. This means that the photographer cannot re-license the image to anyone else until the assignment has been published. There could be no end to the embargo period. Many photographers accept these assignments knowing that there is possibility to re-license the image, but if an image remains in an embargo period the photographer cannot try to re-license that image(s).

Clause 6(b) states that payment will be made upon the acceptance of the photograph(s). If the photograph(s) are not acceptable (this is completely subjective), or if the story is cancelled before the image(s) can be delivered, Time Inc. is under no obligation to pay the photographer.

Time Inc. offers this reason for the adjusted terms: “Our goal is to create a new management system that will allow us to track the use of commissioned editorial photography and to foster a consistent approach across Time Inc,” a statement by Norm Pearlstine, Chief Content Officer for Time Inc. There may be more that lies beneath the surface. Allen Murabayashi, writer for PetaPixel.com, suggested that Time Inc. has come under some difficult financial pressure. In May of 2015, before Time Inc. separated from Warner, their stock prices fluctuated from the low to upper 20’s, but once separated, their stock dropped drastically. As of December 2015 their stocks are in the mid teens. It is possible that Time Inc. is trying to recover lost ground in any way they can. Sports Illustrated (SI), which Time Inc. owns, laid off their entire photographic team in hope that they can rely on freelance photographers to fill the void.

“I don’t see the new contract as a way of intentionally screwing freelancers out of a fair wage but simply a form of self preservation and a last ditch effort to stay afloat,” stated local freelance photographer Chad Hurst, who has worked with SI as a freelance photographer.

Is change necessary for Time Inc. to survive? I do believe so. The best way to move forward is to get all who are involved with making Time Inc. successful and see what they can do together that would benefit both sides. “While publishers need to legitimately shift their business models, they should be working with their freelance contributors rather than regarding them as an impediment to make progress,” stated by Tom Kennedy from American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).

This contract is one sided to the advantage of a major publication. What can the photographic community do to help revise this contract so that it benefits both sides? Kennedy released the following statement for freelance photographers:

Register their objections with all in Time Inc. that might be dealing with them, from Norman Pearlstine on down to the picture editors they work with most closely. … [P]hotographers need to think long and hard about whether such contracts are worth accepting. Many long-time contributors are refusing to sign and I think change can only occur if all stand firm in their resolve not to sign.

Time Inc. is making a move to try to help save a great publication. In an effort to so they may have possibly damaged an integral part. If we continue down this path it may be a race to the bottom.