Cringing in the trenches; overhead, a battle of wills
Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009
Written by Walter Pierce
I'm lodged between the proverbial rock and hard place or, literally, between Independent Publisher Steve May and a photographer imbued with the media-relation skills of a half-used roll of toilet paper. The first half.
Let me back up: About two months ago we innocently and without malice aforethought used in the LivingIND section of the paper a tiny, postage stamp-size detail - a face, specifically - from a photograph of a musician. We obtained said photo from the musician's MySpace page. MySpace is a social-networking Web site that ran out of cool two years ago. We used the photo to help the kid out - to throw him a bone as it were. The method of obtaining such photos is known technically as lifting, copping or grabbing. Legally it's known as stealing. A quibbling point, I know. But the eagle-eyed shutter bug who took the pic 'bout blew a lens cap. "I expect to be credited and properly compensated for the use of the photo," he snipped in an e-mail that was forwarded to me, a managing editor who failed to fully grasp the exotic range of bull crap he would be managing upon taking the job.
My employer, whose expertise in publishing weekly newspapers is rivaled only by his accuracy in squirting gasoline directly onto fire, was kind enough to answer the frantic photog's missive: "Having exposed us at The Independent for the thieves we obviously are, I'm sure you'll have no trouble confirming my view that this will be the one and only time [your photography] will ever appear in our pages. It will no doubt be a tragic loss to the future of photojournalism in Acadiana." Seriously. That's what he wrote, and he was kind enough to direct future communications from the now-properly and fully inflamed fellow to me.
That next communication was a letter from a law firm in Alexandria. It wasn't threatening a lawsuit exactly, but letters from law firms tend to be portentous and to promote a clinching of that unmentionable area of the midriff. Now I was incensed and clinched, and it was a cinch to write the law firm back: "We suspect our publication is in fact a secondary party to any violation of United States copyright law that may have occurred, in light of the photograph's penultimate origin. However, in the spirit of community relations and best practices, and in consideration of the literal dimensions of the reprint, we are willing to offer $5 for compensation."
All who think a lawyer's going to accept five bucks for his client raise your hand. What's one-third of five dollars? It's sufficient to say the barrister rejected my offer: 50 Washingtons, 10 Lincolns, five Hamiltons or a Franklin after gastric bypass - that was his firm and final offer.
To make a long story 603 words, re-enter the august Mr. May, his wit sharper than a chemist at a hog-calling contest and his willingness to use it celebrated, which hasn't done me any favors so far. Feigning outrage that a photographer of his caliber "places so little value on his work and considerable professional reputation that he would ask for such a paltry sum," our esteemed leader cuts the lawyer a check for $75 - $50 for the egregious use of the photograph and $25 for the photographer's purchase of Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and "some small insight into a professional skill of his that might need just a little tweaking."
I doubt the guy will actually buy the book, but I found it in paperback on amazon.com for $7. I'm ordering a copy. For my boss.