ethics

Zenpix and some self-styled ‘syndication’…

How a photographer boldly sold someone’s personal photos on story that didn’t ‘belong’ to him…

ethics Zenpix, Manchester, took photos of a Featureworld interviewee for one newspaper. They then appeared in other newspapers and websites – along with my lifted copy – without mine or the interviewee’s consent.

A look a some sharp practice I believe as an industry we should be stamping out… 

It’s a Saturday night, I am about to – finally – put my feet up at the end of a very busy week. I sit down and ping goes my text – it is an interviewee and she is wondering why her story has appeared word for word with her personal collect photos to boot – on a national newspaper website she did not agree for her story to go on.

I look and there it is! My story on a national newspaper website I never sold her story to – my copy with someone else’s byline on it –  and most extraordinary it has my interviewee’s personal photos copyrighted to her plastered all over it.

For most of the time – and I do turn over tens of stories at a time – there is no issue on any story whatsoever.  I happily gain multiple deals for the very many interviewees who sell their story through Featureworld and the only issue is juggling all those very many deals for them.

But occasionally something does happen and as with this case I believe it is serious enough to warrant a blog on this website.

Such an incident is this one where a photographer at Zenpix had been commissioned by the original newspaper to take photos of the interviewee and copy her own personal ones as well. It goes without saying that he is not permitted by myself nor the publication to sell Featureworld photos on without consent, let alone the personal ones that belong to the interviewee.

But clearly not content with just his fee for the commission, as it later transpires, incredibly he had then taken it upon himself to sell the photos on.

Selling photos on in this way allows other websites to simply lift copy under fair usage rules and get over having to pay the interviewee a fee (because they are not paid.) It is a way of cutting out the original writer who has sourced, marketed and written the story  –  in effect, publications only have to pay for the photos and therefore get a story cheaply. It is also a way of getting the story when you don’t have it and a rival publication does.

It’s the sort of thing that happened in the past with regularity – but these days, post Leveson and working in such a litigious age, such practice has become very rare.

But as this blog demonstrates, it still does go on. And in my view it is immoral, unethical and frankly nasty, not only to the journalist whose story it is, but to the interviewee who sees their personal photos appearing all over the place without their consent and control.

And I am in the business of ensuring proper practice and ensuring care is taken over precious personal photos.

So over to Zenpix.

Firstly, let me say I have thought very hard about writing this blog at all. And had the photographer concerned even attempted to explain or apologise then I would not be writing it.

Needless to say I have put all of these allegations to the photographer concerned at Zenpix – an outfit conveniently very difficult to contact that it doesn’t even have a website, has no contact numbers listed anywhere, and is not, as far as I could find, affiliated with any professional organisation such as the National Association of Press Agencies (NAPA) which ensures good practice of its members – and asked for an explanation. I have told him I am quite happy to put what he has to say on this blog. I would like to know exactly what he does have to say. So would the interviewee who is very distressed.

Which is why I won’t tolerate it and why I believe it is in the public interest to highlight this issue. The truth is I’m afraid, many UK journalists are far too worried about upsetting the apple cart in the industry. They do not have the confidence to challenge issues such as this. They would rather let things go by without saying anything than stand up for what is right and put a stop to poor practice.

It’s why I have gone to the trouble to post this blog and why, in future, other photographers who take advantage in this way, will get a taste of their own medicine – and find they too will end up starring in their very own feature – without their consent.

UPDATE: The publication concerned which ran the story without agreement from Featureworld, confirmed in writing they acquired the photos from Zenpix in good faith. They accept Zenpix did not have the proper consents to sell the photos and as such have removed the whole page from their website. The publication which commissioned the original photos and myself I have told Zenpix to pay back all the money made out of selling her personal photos without consent to the interviewee.

Zenpix claim in a ‘Without Prejudice’ email they only sold photos to one newspaper website, it was an oversight and they do apologise. Featureworld, the exclusive licensee of the photos and the interviewee, who is the copyright owner, are now seeking compensation.

Have you been the victim of sharp practice in the industry? To raise an issue on this blog, contact me in confidence…

Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website Featureworld.co.uk, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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