Perpetual and irrevocable
On 16 February contributors to Alamy received notification of "some changes to your Alamy Contributor Contract". "We don't need anything from you but we recommend you keep a copy for your records", the email assured.
So far so bland and not at all scary. That was until EPUK members realised what the changes meant. Many clauses turned out to be extremely disadvantageous to photographers. One clause even gave Alamy perpetual and irrevocable rights in everything they'd ever licensed, even in the unknown but very large number of images downloaded by potential clients yet never licensed. There was plenty more to worry about too.
From their launch in 1999 Alamy had promoted themselves as the photographer-friendly stock agency. Back then they made promises like "It's not like you are entering an arrangement that ties your images up for a lengthy amount of time." Come February 2015 and they are claiming perpetual and irrevocable rights. Alamy had changed and not to the benefit of the many contributors the agency had amassed and who had given Alamy its distinct character.
The updated Contributor Contract was poorly written, parts were ambiguous and other clauses were impenetrable. EPUK was fortunate in having advice from Nicholas Buckland, an IP expert at solicitors Irwin Mitchell LLP.
Buckland’s advice proved invaluable in clarifying the contract, showing us where we needed to press for changes and giving us confidence that we had properly understood just how damaging these new terms were.
A question of trust
Photographers had come to trust Alamy and earlier contract changes had been accepted without significant fuss. EPUK was concerned that the new terms would be accepted as before, perhaps without even being read. After all, Alamy had always played fair. Until now.
Alamy’s 16 February email gave no warning to photographers as to how extensive, permanent and damaging the new contract was. It became imperative that photographers were alerted so EPUK published an open letter condemning the contract.
Alamy responded quickly and EPUK published their response in full. Alamy described the changes as merely reflecting how they work and tidying up language. They denied that it represented a fundamental shift, stating, "We believe the changes we've made are for the benefit of our photographers." Just how a perpetual, irrevocable rights grab was to the benefit of contributors was not explained.
A further EPUK article demolished Alamy's defence and sparked widespread disquiet over the stock agency’s intentions. To their credit, Alamy did take a step back and withdrew the proposed contract offering a far less egregious one in its place.
Although many contributors, who had faced the impossible choice between losing their rights or losing their income, breathed a sigh of relief others decided that this was the last straw.
Alamy's desperate pricing policy together with their assignment of excessively long and wide-ranging licences had long been corroding support for the agency. Perhaps less well known among photographers was Alamy's decision to join with low end agencies such as Stockimo and Snapwire to mutually license each other's work. This unwelcome device meant the distributors kept 75% of the fee while the creator's payout was halved to just 25%.
The great proportion of Alamy suppliers are amateurs with, in many cases, a small number of mundane photographs. They'll not be concerned with the contract. Those who have left the agency will be a far more high- end group whose contributions will be high quality and specialist work.
We'll never know whether Alamy's clients notice the loss but the migration away from “the world’s largest stock photo collection” could be a useful boost for some of the smaller, higher-priced niche agencies who will be picking up the ex-Alamy photographers. Could this be a turning point?
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