Dear Mr Leroy (an open letter)

Thank you for your  response to my post yesterday critisizing the way way certain photo agencies seem content to abuse the rights of indvidual photographers. I am sorry that we misunderstood you. Might that have something to do with upholding a logic that many people find is at odds with your self stated remit of ‘defending professional photographers’?

If you take that remit seriously and if you want others  (the one’s who are not desperate to grace the walls of your festival) to take you seriously, doesn’t it make more sense to embrace the digital world in which the vast majority of professional photographers produce their work?

To tell photographers not to use social network sites is a bit like suffering from agoraphobia and then insisting that nobody else in your family leaves your cave for fear the sky will fall on their heads. Let’s briefly look at two things.

  1. The use of the web by photographers
  2. Your attitude towards Morel

Many, many photographers successfully use social network sites and in fact many agencies actively encourage this because they rightly conclude that the danger of another agency stealing and selling their work is far less than having an invisible and therefore worthless product.

Photographers that have used social networks to promote work recently include Kashi, Nachtwey and Bleasdale.  David Alan Harvey’s Burn magazine is a social network site. Images can be stolen from it in exactly the same way as Flickr or Twitpic, infact the pictures on Burn are generally of a higher resolution.

How many other cases like Morel’s are you aware of? By putting his pictures on Twitpic he got them out to a huge number of people, at a time when the most important thing to him was that the public was aware of the magnitude of the crisis in Haiti.

Did the fact that he published his photos first on Twitpic stop any of the world’s major news outlets from publishing his photos also? No.

Did it stop any of them from paying for his photos?  No.

The only problem is that the money went in the wrong persons pocket and now they want to keep it, for which your comment to Olivier Laurent of BJP was:

‘AFP acted in good faith.’

Mr Leroy if that’s not defending them, then I’m a haricot vert.

Infact the majority of those news outlets who wrongly published Morel’s pictures have now paid him for his work.  So actually in many ways his strategy worked. And as stated above it’s a strategy pursued by many of the world’s major agencies.

Take Magnum. Just like Morel everyday they use Twitter to link to their images.

I continue to be perplexed by your unwillingness to accept that there is little difference in protection between publishing a photo on the Visa website and on Twitpic.

In your response to my taking images from the Visa website in the same way AFP took them from Twitpic (to demonstrate the hypocrisy of your comments) you write:

‘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.’

This is the copyright sign that you are referring to:

But you are mistaken.  It refers to the website but not to any of the uncredited images that I copied from your website because Visa is not the copyright holder of those images, the photographers are. Infact  your use of copyright is almost identical to the sign at the bottom of the Twitpic page, the site that you call Morel an ‘amateur’ for posting his pictures on.

However if you want to be seen to really care about the rights of  photographers you may want to take a lesson from Twitpic who add the following text to their website under terms and conditions: Given the fact that your own website offers less explicit protection then Twitpic’s isn’t this a case of two standards, your own being lower than the website and the photographer you seek to denigrate?  That brings me to issue two, your attitude towards Morel and your bizarre analogy with car insurance. Let’s go along with the analogy for the sake of argument.

You are driving your car and an earthquake strikes. That earthquake destroys much of the city and kills tens of thousands of people. Within minutes this is the scene you are photographing (Morel’s words published in the New York Times and 100eyes magazine):

Destruction. Horror. Black. This place was hit by — I don’t know — hundreds of cruise missiles at the same time. I never saw anything like that. People, dead bodies were all over the place. And in minutes, I would say like 10 minutes, the street was full — full of dead bodies.  Everybody was panicked. Sobbing and dazed —people crying for help. Buildings collapsed—the Cathedral of St. Trinity, the Cathedral, the Iron Market, the Presidential Palace, the Palace of Justice, my father’s bakery. The principal manifestations, institutions, and symbols of my Haitian childhood were destroyed in less than a minute. There were aftershocks every 15 to 20 minutes which lasted from three to five seconds.”

And whilst you are doing the job of a photographer someone comes and steals your car, which they then sell through their showroom.  When you write to them to try and get compensation they write back to you saying that if you come near the showroom they will run you over.

Infact it was the first evening of the earthquake that Morel, after having just lived through the scene above, had a friend’s daughter help him upload the photos to Twitpic over a dodgy internet connection on the roof of a hotel. Both of them will have been in a state of shock.

I have to tell you honestly Mr Leroy many people are wondering in these horrific circumstances what kind of person who claims to represent photographers  (or otherwise) goes right out of his way to beat up on the guy for leaving his keys in the car rather than expressing outrage at the people who took his car and sold it?

Here’s a possible answer that to question.    Take a look at this screengrab from your website:

Three questions for you to answer:

  1. Isn’t it true that Visa has a business relationship with Getty, one of the companies who distributed Morel’s photographs and are now refusing to compensate him?
  2. Do you yourself derive benefit from that relationship?
  3. Given that Getty are one of the key sponsors of Visa is it possible that some of the money Getty received from the sale of Morel’s photographs could benefit Visa?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes there is an obvious conflict of interest. Nothing wrong with that. Conflicts of interest are a part of life. But it does mean that given your readiness to lay into Morel people will question your impartiality and ultimately your commitment to photographers, to journalism and to storytelling. That’s a shame considering how much of your life you have given to these things.

I’ll end with an extract from a comment one of our readers made in response to your attack on Morel:

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

Me too.

Yours Sincerely

Benjamin Chesterton (aka duckrabbit)

Author — duckrabbit

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

Discussion (22 Comments)

  1. J Hooker says:

    This is just hotting up nicely. I hold great anticipation for the next instalment.
    Great work.

  2. Love the duckrabbit!

    Duckrabbit for Prez!

    And love iamnotasuperstarphotographer as Aide-de-Camp.

    Guess the high Morel ground will be won by those with silly names rather than well known ones after-all!

    Well that is if justice will be properly served anyway….

  3. J. Fulton says:

    Photojournalism is having a rough transition to whatever’s next and some argue Morel got what was coming to him for placing the photograph on Twitter? Please. If we can’t all agree that AFP just plain stole that photograph then where are we really? It’s a good question. Duckrabbit please don’t forget the even more egregious thefts that take place everyday on paper. It’s the onerous and degrading contracts that photographers sign so that they can give all rights to their pictures to various publications, agencies and wire services. There’s little complaining about those “thefts by paper” anymore because everybody’s been hit over the head so often they’re use to it. In the Morel case all AFP wants to do is hit us over the head on that issue, too. Eventually, we’ll all become numb to that. Not a pretty picture. More of a shantytown, I suppose. Keep banging the drum, Duckrabbit.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi J,

      I agree with you. Unfortunately its a matter of supply and demand. If one photographer is prepared to accept poor terms and another is not then sadly the one excepting the poor terms will often get the work. To change the terms photographers have to collectively fight back. The tools are there as we saw during the digital bill recently.

      Companies and individuals care what people say about them. We shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and question the business models that have served all but the photographers at the top so poorly.

  4. Willie says:

    Thank you Duckrabbit.
    The attitude of Leroy and Getty is deplorable at the least, despicable in the medium and downright obscene in main.
    The weasel worded tripe that they use to excuse their behavior should be condemned by all who are aware of such acts.

    How can anyone excuse theft?
    A simple question that should be put to them.

    They deserve the contempt of fair minded individuals across the world.
    Keep sticking it into them.
    Regards from Australia.

    • duckrabbit says:

      HI Willie,

      thanks for your comment, which I have slightly amended for legal reasons.

      I would like to defend Leroy. He did not, nor has he ever to my knowledge stolen any pictures. There is no doubt he has done a huge amount of work to promote the rights of photographers, which is why I find his stance in this instance so inexplicable. No doubt though his business model is based on the patronage of the agencies.

  5. Daniel says:

    I do feel sometimes that many of the older generation still have very little clue about how the Internet works and operates. If we look at the above example of copyright, it’s not new. Too often people see content on the web as free, as in beer, as there is no purchase price next to the content they are lifting. It has a © sign next to it, but look it’s available in my browser so therefore I don’t have to pay and it’s mine.

    Generally speaking, a big chunk of the photo industry are luddites when it comes to new technology. There needs to be a big drive to make sure everyone who is responsible for purchasing, producing, organising and generally using content, to fully understand the rules surrounding copyright on the web.

    Just because it’s on a fad site, such as twitpic, doesn’t make it any easier to use and abuse as if it was on Getty Images or Magnum or indeed any other web site.

    Education is key here, this Intaweb lark isn’t going away but the older generation is…

    • duckrabbit says:

      Great points Daniel. It’s just a shame that JF seems so intent on becoming a cartoon figure in the industry as opposed to embracing change and putting Visa at the Centre of it. A new team would give the festival new flight, greater relevancy and ultimately enhance Leroy’s standing.

  6. Thank you for both explaining and documenting this ugly incident. Personally, I was surprised how readily Getty was embraced by the “elite” photojournalism community through venues such as Visa pour l’image. I guess that shows you what a few well placed sponsorships and grants will get you during tough times.

  7. Leighton says:

    Getty sponsoring visa. Like letting the fox look after the duckrabbit house.

  8. nicolas pascarel says:

    Pourquoi perdre son temps avec ses gens là!! this is the question. aujourd’hui chaque photographe (reporter..) doit inventer chaque jour quelque chose pour vivre! l’important pour nous (photographes) est de continuer notre Vie, notre espoir, notre solitude dans les chambres d’hotels le plus souvent miteux, nos folies… et d’arriver si bien que mal à en vivre et, a volte, faire vivre une famille! un point c’est tout.

  9. Shagging Kim Jong-il…

    Car thiefs with gonorrhea…

    It truly doesn’t get much better than this does it?

    I believe that the greatest problem that confronts the photo industry is not whether we agree with large multi-national media companies being opportunistic (after all mining/banking/chemical companies do it all the time) or not, or the lack of forward thinking on the part of those media companies in terms of keeping themselves relevant and solvent, but in the fact that its the grasping for the elitist dollar that comes with being at the ‘top’ of the pile in photojournalism/fashion/art photography for which we as an industry are willing to sell our souls.

    EVERYONE out there is a photographer. Mr Leroy, David Alan Harvey, Magnum et al are all aware of this.

    The person that is going to make money out of this industry either ascribes to one of two positions, that of the hack photojournalist who gets a regular wage for shooting for the Getty’s or AFP of this world or that of the ‘prized’ and awarded photojournalist who will leave a legacy… That legacy being the price that can be earnt from selling an original print..

    Sorry if thats cynical, but photography is the new aspirational career… Digital has done to photography what Hollywood has done to actors… Many are called but few are chosen and the few command huge fees.

    It is in the interests of Mr Leroy and friends to keep photography divisive and at one end of the scale elitist. Prizes for the chosen, denigration as non-professional for using a social networking site to distribute photographs. Lordy, we wouldn’t want some non-branded upstart getting in the way of established corporations would we?

    The writing has been firmly on the wall for many years in our industry… The rise and rise of the ‘super star photographer’ is beneficial to those that would make a living out of spruiking them and the rest of us are merely ciphers in the mechanics of money making for the multinational agencies.

    So until we, as photographers, think more about the community of photojournalists rather than the individual, this is pretty much ‘the way its going to be forever…’ (… with much love to Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel)

  10. Mason says:

    Thanks for this post, really fantastic take on the issue.

    Very clearly Leroy has a conflict of interest here. He’s in a position where, no matter what he truly thinks deep down, he has to defend AFP and Getty out of his personal stake in Visa Pour L’Image. They’re much more important to him as clients than individual photographers. Perhaps he just made a cost-benefit analysis of which side to take – and the corporations that fund his festival are more important than public opinion (and falling so blatantly on the wrong side of the issue).

  11. I get really tired of reading that the internet (or social media) is the province and domain of the young, and that people who don’t understand it are old and or stupid any anyway about to die.

    Thanks Benjamin, for all this. I’ve seen it in my feeds but been too busy to comment. We love you, but you know that.

    • duckrabbit says:

      Hi Brenda,

      I totally agree and had this conversation last night. Research has shown that it is total MYTH that young people are more capable at getting their heads round new media than older people.

      People like Leroy though exist in a publicly funded bubble which means that there is no imperative for them to reach out to audiences through the internet. He seems to only sees it as a threat to many of the organizations that fund is work. But the business model he seeks to force on others is like promoting the Dodo for Sunday roast.

      Thanks again for your comments Brenda. Its really, really important we don’t exclude ‘older’.


  12. “He seems to only sees it as a threat to many of the organizations that fund is work.”

    Good job it is, then. Keep up the good work. 🙂

  13. ksyssoyeva says:

    Thanks for the clarity, and insightful parsing of the issues. LeRoy’s entire piece is a sophistic smoke screen (pardon the mixed metaphor, hard not to mix things up after reading Le Roy) for defending the rights of large corporations to plunder at will. If a king sends out his tax collectors to squeeze some additional money from the peasantry, are the peasants’ at fault for not constructing a moat around their property?

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