A Photojournalist’s Tale of Woe

It’s not just print journalists taking it on the chin these days. Per a long and highly informative article at ConsortiumNews.com by Don North, the acquisition of agencies Bettman Archives and Sygma by Bill Gates has done little to bring order to the domain of photo rights compensation.

In fact, fueled by the Internet’s power to at once disperse and devalue image assets, today’s consolidated photo news industry has become a virtual war zone. North zeroes in on an awful chapter involving photographer Dominique Aubert (pictured):

In 2000, during a trip to Los Angeles, Aubert discovered that some of his photos were being used in magazines for commercial advertising, which he had not authorized and had not been paid for.

Later, he found on the Internet a photo he had taken in Burma of Buddhist monks. The image had been altered to show them carrying a brand of computer… Aubert said he also discovered that Sygma had lost 750 original slides from the files. He made inquiries to and lodged complaints with Corbis/Sygma, but according to Aubert, he was rudely rebuffed and told that if he had complaints, “see us in court.”

Aubert sued and won a $140,000 judgment against Corbis, but later, when French courts upped the damages to $2 million, the company closed down Sygma and blamed Aubert for the loss of 29 full-time jobs! This litigation has since morphed into something larger, with four other Sygma photogs joining in.

[Photo credit/permitted use: Don North]

@hollywoodspin rhorgan@gmail.com Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.