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Yesterday duckrabbit published a post criticizing the photo industry for selling a set of pictures of the aftermath of the Haitian Earthquake but refusing to compensate the photographer because he had shared them on a twitpic.  Much of my criticism was aimed at JF Leroy, the Director of Visa Pour L’Image (a photojournalism festival).  You can read the full post here. Today we are printing Leroy’s response in full:

While i do not support your defamatory tone and behavior, which I do  not believe is conducive to adult discourse, I do think your readers deserve an elaboration on what I told the BJP.

First of all, you seem to misunderstand my fundamental point : it is not because I believe that Mr Morel was wrong to upload images to  Twitter that I believe that AFP had the right to steal them. The  reductio ad absurdum that you reprint by using a rape metaphor is not  only deeply offensive to me, it is also patently wrong. A better one,  in my view, would be that of an insurance company who would refuse to  cover the theft of a car its owner would have left with the keys on  the ignition. My position here is that of the insurance company.  While, had the owner of the car (or, in this case, of the images) have exercised a reasonable amount of caution, I would have been defending  him, I am forced to see that this caution was not exercised, and that  I therefore cannot defend him. This does not mean that I defend the  thief, as you imply.

We, at Visa, have always defended professional photographers who work  on representing the real within the specific context of the  mass-media. In other words, photojournalists. We are, like many, a  little bit overwhelmed by the recent evolution of the craft, and the  technological evolution that has come with it. Among the many recent  changes, there have been three major evolutions that are especially  relevant to the field, and that I would like to touch on. The first is  the availability of technologies that allow for fast retouching of a  sort that necessitated considerable means and knowledge only a few  years ago, and who make dishonest behavior easier.

I expressed my  views on this in this year’s editorial, but this question of ethics  is, I believe, relevant to the current case. The second is an  increased ease in the transmission of images : much in the same way  that movie studios are no longer the most efficient way to spread the  movies they produce, photographic agencies are no longer the  gatekeepers to the mass dissemination of material. In fact, they are,  in some cases, less efficient at it. The third change is an increased  blurring in the lines between professional and amateur photographers,  in part as a consequence of the ease of transmission of the images.

I expressed my views on this in this year’s editorial, but this question of ethics is, I believe, relevant to the current case, in the sense that professional photojournalists have different ethical constraints than amateurs who post their images on social networks.

We at Visa strongly believe that photographs are documents which have  a value, and that their use should be fairly retributed by those who  use these images. We also believe in a photographer’s freedom to  choose to let someone use these images for free in a given context, if  they so wish. The images that are displayed on Visa’s website were  licensed for the use on Visa’s website, and, as stated by the  universally-recognized copyright sign at the bottom of the front page  where you stole the work of others, they are protected by copyright.  If you have some kind of viewing impairment that prevented you from seeing this, please accept my apologies. I would however appreciate it  if you had the courtesy to remove them from your site, or at the very  least make an effort to contact the photographers whose work you  infringe.

Now, back to the Morel case. I will not take a stance on the  legalities, because I do not believe it is my place. However, I will  explain where my position came from.

As I said earlier, the tools that have been developed to allow people  to share their images can sometimes appear to be more efficient as a  means of spreading information than traditional means. However, their  use can come at a cost, which is an ambiguity as to what their source  is, as well as what the role of this source within the context that  they are photographing is. As in many fields, scarcity makes the value  of a product go up – an exclusive picture, especially in the United  States, is worth much more than one that everyone has. In this  context, by choosing to use a tool that is designed to spread images  as efficiently as possible, Mr Morel made a decision that was contrary  to his direct financial interests, and, as such, behaved not as a  professional photographer but as an activist. That he seems to have  decided at that moment that the value of the immediate dissemination  of his images to the public was greater than his own financial gain is  extremely noble behavior, and it should be commended. However, it also  means that it is extremely difficult for me to defend him within the  limits of what I do, which is defending professional photographers. I  was not in Port au Prince when the earthquake struck, but I am surprised that, as a professional photographer, Mr Morel claims that  the only means available to him to transmit his images was a Twitter  affiliate. I have no way of verifying this claim, but I must say I am  surprised by it. I am curious to know what technological exception  made Twitpic more accessible than other options (assuming the absence  of an FTP site, a password-protected archive uploaded to something  like YouSendit, for example), which would have allowed Mr Morel to better protect his valuable intellectual property. This is an  explanation that will hopefully come out of the trial. My understanding is that Mr Morel also made the fundamental mistake of  uploading full-resolution images to Twitpic, or at least at a size  that was useable by the people who printed them (this is another  fundamental difference between the images that you stole from Visa’s  website, and those that Mr Morel uploaded).

Making these kinds of  files public, especially in the case of images that are so valuable,  is, to me, akin to leaving your keys on your expensive car, and it is  not something that I would do if I owned an expensive car. In other  words, Mr Morel behaved in an amateur way. Much like Martin Parr would not expect me to defend him when he submits his pictures to photo club juries and, in doing so, takes his work out of the context of professional photography, Mr Morel should not expect me to defend him when he makes elementary mistakes like sending his images in the open instead of going through the established channels that would have allowed him to best profit from his work, and to control the context in which they were shown, something that is of prime importance in our field.

This said, I do not believe you will find me defending the AFP’s  behavior anywhere.  Between the liberal attitude towards the rights of photographers and the problems with sourcing within sites like Twitter or Flickr, I’d be defending a car thief who went around having unprotected sex and then complained he’d not only gotten caught, but that he didn’t know he could be spreading gonorrhea.

I do, however, truly hope that the matter will be  resolved in a fair way, not only for Mr Morel, but also for others in the field who might make mistakes such as this in the future.

JF Leroy

duckrabbit’s response can be found here. I would also like to point Mr Leroy’s attention to the comment by IAMNOTASUPERSTARPHOTOGRAPHER.  I hope that at the very least Mr Leroy agrees that it is time these issues are debated face to face, in front of an audience and in the real world.

  • I am amazed at the stance taken here. Surely, using twitpic to send on images doesn’t somehow override copyright protection.

    • Yeah … it allows people to share them across the network, but not to take them and sell them on for profit.

  • iamnotasuperstarphotographer

    Mr Leroy,

    I would like to point out a few issues that you have raised in this response to the Morel situation and relate it to the problem of Photojournalism.

    1. Your revised analogy “that of an insurance company who would refuse to cover the theft of a car its owner would have left with the keys on the ignition”.

    This is absurd. The thief steals the car. You are not an insurance agency and AFP are stealing for profit. The person who steals the car has stolen the car.

    If the police found the thief through CCTV then irrespective of the insurance claim, it is a crime. Your position legitimizes theft and your insurance analogy shows a lack of understanding of the legal position.

    2. “While, had the owner of the car (or, in this case, of the images) have exercised a reasonable amount of caution, I would have been defending him, I am forced to see that this caution was not exercised, and that I therefore cannot defend him. This does not mean that I defend the thief, as you imply.”

    This is the problem with back tracking, it creates problems. It is like you are saying “If a child did not exercise caution running across the road, I cannot feel sorry if the driver who hit the child was driving too fast”. You are not forced to do anything except defend your initial reaction of supporting AFP.

    3. You say “…the tools that have been developed to allow people to share their images can sometimes appear to be more efficient as a means of spreading information than traditional means. However, their use can come at a cost, which is an ambiguity as to what their source is, as well as what the role of this source within the context that they are photographing is.”

    This is rubbish. All because Mr Morel chose to tweet his image, it does not mean AFP is correct in stealing it. All because I post photo’s on Facebook, it does not mean people are allowed to steal it for profit. Your intellectualizing of this process does not change the fact that AFP from stole for profit. The discussion of distribution is only about distribution, not about ownership. Not about who created the image and who owns it.

    4. You say “As in many fields, scarcity makes the value of a product go up – an exclusive picture, especially in the United States, is worth much more than one that everyone has. In this context, by choosing to use a tool that is designed to spread images as efficiently as possible, Mr Morel made a decision that was contrary to his direct financial interests, and, as such, behaved not as a professional photographer but as an activist.”

    This is industry arrogance and business logic gone mad. This thinking is why the PJ’ism industry is dying on its last breath. A Ferrari is scarce because it costs a huge amount to produce (time, skills, materials). A Mona Lisa is scarce because it cannot be reproduced. Photographs can be reproduced in an unlimited fashion perfectly and cheaply. Your context is outdated and suitable only for the Art world. “Limited edition” photographic work is a hypocrisy that most of the public cannot understand so they do not participate in enough numbers to generate a market. It is an industry for the wealthy that run by the wealthy. Why, because scarcity is being artificially created to increase the wealth of a few.

    In any case Mr Leroy, you say you represent the journalism world and what good is journalism if it is scarce? This is the kind of intellectual arrogance that is killing the medium.

    You might be one of the people who take value from creating scarcity but most photojournalists are outside your “closed circle of value” and suffer due to this mentality. Your wealth and personal standing might benefit from the illusion of artistic scarcity but most do not. Photojournalism has t liberate itself from this disease.

    5. How can you defend your own statement

    “by choosing to use a tool that is designed to spread images as efficiently as possible, Mr Morel made a decision that was contrary to his direct financial interests, and, as such, behaved not as a professional photographer but as an activist.”

    I would say

    “by choosing a tool that is designed to spread images as efficiently as possible, Mr Morel made a decision that was contrary to his direct financial interests and as such, behaved not as a typical “we are the best photojournalist agency in the world so lets shoot more suffering for sale”… but as a human being who wanted the story to have as big a social impact as possible and make a difference where time is a critical aspect of the earthquake.

    Mr Morel had this beautiful intention taken away by the theft undertaken by AFP. You defended it and you are trying to hide your initial position. How dare you call Mr Morel “an activst” from your elitist ivory tower? How can you defend that?

    More importantly, how do you think the public view this behaviour from AFP and yourself? Do they respect this industry anymore? Is there an incentive to engage? Where is the trust supposed to come from?

    6. So what if Mr Morel says that a Twitter affiliate was the only way he can get out a image.. who is anybody to argue who was not in Port au Prince? It is the failure of an entire industry that has lost vital trust from the public that ceased to invest in a distribution platform effective enough to do the distribution work Mr Morel relies on. I bet Twitter was the best way to get it out there given the alternative of working within some of the more predatory aspects of the photojournalism industry that means it is more effective to know the right people than it is to be functional.

    Tweeting full res or not, theft is theft Mr Leroy and Mr Morel is no activist. You might label his action “amateur” but this is totally disrespectful of someone who was actually there witnessing the tragic events in front of his eyes yet you afford yourself the luxury of calling him Amateur and an Activist?

    You are not defending “defending professional photographers” Mr Leroy as you would be defending Mr Morel. You are defending your interests and reputation within the small enclosed circle of value you think you are in.

    If you left your keys in your expensive car, I would take the keys out and give them to you.

    7. “Between the liberal attitude towards the rights of photographers and the problems with sourcing within sites like Twitter or Flickr, I’d be defending a car thief who went around having unprotected sex and then complained he’d not only gotten caught, but that he didn’t know he could be spreading gonorrhea.”

    William Klein highlighted how images of shanty towns without context provided nothing more than sensationalism. You are at the center of this show as I believe so not many people are more guilty of this than you. I think it is highly inappropriate of you to sensationalize this discussion using concepts of suffering when you have been accused of sensationalizing the suffering of others to promote Visa Pour L’Image.

    I am anonymous on this blog as a point of principle but duckrabbit have my details. In your case, I invite you to a public discussion about the three points you mention about the industry you defend – Namely the “availability of technologies”, the ” ease in the transmission of images” and the “blurring in the lines between professional and amateur photographers” because you say negative things result “as a consequence of the ease of transmission of the images” where as I say everything you fear is something you should be embracing as opportunities.

    Defending an ideology based on some futile notions of artistic scarcity is contrary to the social function of journalism which that is to speak to an audience. Without a social function you cannot have social value. Without social value, you cannot monetize and invest in the aspiring.

    The world gets smaller and the circle of wealth and influence becomes more entrenched, the audience has stopped listening. The time for change has never been more critical for an industry that needs to reconnect using more than just social networking technologies but a complete ideological and structural overhaul.

    9. In the UK, satire is an entirely legitimate form of political scrutiny and I applaud duckrabbit for their humour and free thinking. Jon Stewart does this on The Daily Show” in the US too so I would also dispute your view that they are not “adult” in their discourse. Rather they are just broader, funnier and definitely more creative than most in the photographers working in all the shanty towns in the world with delusions of grandeur.

    I think it would be useful to stop calling people who you do not like “amateurs” or “activists” as that devalues Visa Pour L’Image. People might start believing that you direct your festival based on having personal social influence with you, sensationalism of the suffering and the financial power one brings to the table rather than the democratic values of business, social function and good old story telling with contexts.

    (P.S. I have to admit I do not go to Perpignan but to Arles every year instead so all I have to go on is the opinion of William Klein et al on your show and your website.)

  • AFP’s position is indefensible. They used the images without permission, it matters not where they ‘found’ them, the law clearly states that images must only be used with the permission of the copyright holder. Therefore AFP is guilty of copyright infringement, its really very simple.

    If I found a wallet lying in the street containing money and credit cards I would not take the view that just because it was found in a public place that I could keep it and profit by it. However, AFP are arguing that just because the photographers images were found in a public place it was ethical that they should use and profit by them. What kind of ethics do AFP follow?

    Of course many corporate bodies like AFP indulge in behaviour such as this because they get away with it most of the time and they make a fast buck. What kind of ethics do they follow?

    Now that a photographer has had the balls to say “You are guilty of copyright infringement” they don’t like it because a) it threatens their greed and b) people will ask “What kind of ethics do they follow?”

    So now AFP accuse the photographer of an “antagonistic assertion of his rights”. Well he is entitled to feel antagonistic towards a copyright infringer in the same way that he would feel if confronting a car thief. He is also, by law, entitled to assert his rights.

    What AFP are trying to do is to suggest that normal ethical behaviour that is a cultural norm in society and is enforced by the rigour of the law does not apply to them, that their behaviour is in fact ethical.

    Does anyone understand the kind of ethics AFP follows? The ethics they follow permit AFP to ‘assist’ the United Nations in photography competitions in which the UN claim unlimited rights from the entrants. The UN then grants these rights to AFP.

    I’m sure the court will take a very clear eyed and unsympathetic view of the kind of ethics that AFP follow.

    • Gordon, great comment. Infact we wrote about the UNDP comp you mention earlier this year, which was being fronted by several ‘name’ photographers. Indeed it did give AFP the right to clean up on the photos submitted. This is about power and greed.

      • Many thanks for writing up the earlier AFP/UN rights grab. In a letter to Pro-Imaging the UN said they were following normal practice i.e they work to the same ethical standards as AFP, a perfect shining partnership.

        As to what ethics AFP follow an article by Jeremy Nicholl reveals the answer to that question – http://bit.ly/djmpqw AFP have previously been accused of copyright infringement and their pathetic whinging defence against being sued was thrown out by a United States District court.

        • Hi Gordon,

          just had a lovely time on your website. Some years ago I took a small boat to EILEAN MUNDE whilst making a documentary for the BBC. I can still remember the bones that you can see in the graves.

          Beautiful photographs. THANK YOU>

  • regular hack

    AFP = French govt. news agency, Visa getsw lots of govt. support. serendipity suck-up?

  • MWWAWWAAHHHHHAAAAAAHHHHHAAA…

    A car thief with gonorrhoea?

    Tell me, does it ever get much better than that?

    Hehehehehehe….

  • To IANASSP…

    Nice point about handing back the car keys, I like your style even though I can’t abide your name…

    Hehehehehe…

  • Schmoock

    Mr.Morel is not fighting with the “Insurance Company”, but with the thief!

    • iamnotasuperstarphotogrpher

      Schmook from Berlin?

duckrabbit is a production company formed by radio producer/journalist Benjamin Chesterton and photographer David White.We specialize in digital storytelling.

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