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Reuters in negotiations to buy Sipa Press

18 July 2001 - EPUK

A EPUK Exclusive reveals that Sipa Press, the last of the big independent French photo agencies, is under negotiation for sale to Reuters.

Although the terms of the deal – and even its very existence – have been kept as secret as possible, EPUK can reveal that negotiations are at an advanced stage, and an official announcement is believed to be imminent.

If the deal goes through Sipa, founded in Paris in 1973 by Göksin Sipahioglu, will be the third large independent French photo agency to be swallowed up in as many years, following Gamma and Sygma, which were acquired by Hachette and Corbis respectively.

Reuters proposed takeover of Sipa is being interpreted as a direct challenge to Newsroom, the Corbis division which represents Sygma and SABA photographers. Previous to the founding of Newsroom, Reuters had been supplying news material to Corbis. Newsroom was set up as a means of soothing the fears of Sygma and SABA photographers who found themselves in competition with Reuters generated material within the Corbis organisation. The launch of Newsroom effectively cut Reuters out of Corbis news operations: Reuters material was simply dumped in the general Corbis archive, rather than Newsroom, which would be its more natural home.

Hence the proposed deal between Reuters and Sipa. The former, better known as a wire agency, would benefit from Sipa’s reputation as a producer of high quality feature material, and, crucially, the Sipa sales team. One source explained: “Reuters wants control over the aggressive magazine salespeople they think Sipa has.” Sipa would in turn gain access to Reuters financing and technology, and be protected from marauders such as Corbis and Getty. It isn’t hard to predict the terms the official announcement will be couched in:

“With its acquisition of Sipa, Reuters confirms its position as the media market leader. Sipa, long known for its quality news, feature and celebrity photography will retain its separate identity whilst benefiting from Reuters’ global reach and investment in new technology.”

Photographers at both organisations, however, are concerned at the possible ramifications of the deal, not least because they have been kept in the dark. One, approached by EPUK, said: “I had only heard the rumours … thanks for telling me. There hasn’t been any comment on this from the top guys.”

Sipa photographers are particularly worried. Traditionally contributors to the agency have retained the copyright on their work; Reuters, however, in common with other wire services, regularly insist on acquiring contributors’ copyright. Sipa photographers fear that under any new regime they will face either the loss of their copyright, or be forced to look for a new agent.

Ironically Sipa benefited from last year’s Corbis Sygma debacle when a number of photographers quit Sygma and joined Sipa, believing that they had found a safe haven. It now looks as if Sipa contributors may be about to face similar problems to those encountered by photographers whose agencies have been bought by the likes of Corbis and Getty.

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