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Beating a hasty retreat

5 August 2010 - EPUK

The Royal Photographic Society thought supplying free pictures to big business was a good idea. Not now. EPUK’s Andrew Wiard and David Hoffman report on a Royal climb-down.

The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) has announced it is to reconsider the terms of a controversial venture, following an outcry by photographers.

The climb-down came just 24 hours after it announced the launch of The Season Doesn’t End with Summer – a scheme which encouraged RPS members to allow their images to be used free of charge by large commercial enterprises including First Great Western, the Highways Agency, BMI and flyBe as well as local businesses and a major government-funded agency.

The original announcement on the society’s website has been replaced by a brief statement from Director General Stuart Blake.

Malcolm Bassett-Smith of the RPS’s Visual Journalism Group told EPUK “We within the VJ group know all too well the state of the market, it is our livelihood. We also know the realities of life and the truth is no one is getting a bean out of domestic travel pics right now”. This may come as news to many professionals earning a difficult living in this field.

He added “Please look at the bigger picture… we are exposing named and credited RPS members – photographers to a potential market of 11,000 new commercial customers in the southwest”. The contradiction between promoting a free supply of images and the concept of a “market” appears to have eluded the VJ Group organisers.

The declared aims of the society – founded in 1853 – are to promote the Art and Science of Photography, a mission it claims to continue to this day.

The confused thinking behind the venture becomes apparent when in their promotion the RPS encourages its members with “Have you ever seen one of your images on the cover of a magazine? It offers such a buzz the first time it happens and it could happen to you!” Yet in an email to EPUK Bassett-Smith writes “In reality I would be surprised if any more than 2 – 3% of those who take part will have anything published”.

Worse still, members submitting images have to give a perpetual licence to the South West Tourist board to use the photographs in any way they choose, and to pass them on to any other bodies without even the promise of a credit.

The RPS had intended to supply its members work free of charge, replacing paid for use in high-profile areas including displays at motorway service areas, in-flight magazines, national newspapers, specialist magazines and trade shows, web sites both for consumers and commercial partners, as well as poster campaigns at railway stations and on trains.

South West Tourism is a ‘strategic partner’ of the South West Regional Development Agency tasked with promoting creative industries in the South West.

RPS members did not take this lying down – you can read the fury on their forum. This anger was echoed on the (members only) EPUK mailing list and on other websites.

One RPS member summed it up: “You and like minded members of the VJ group obviously don’t see the link between promoting the ego trip for the few and undermining the profession. Possibly Shooting the Visual Journalism in the Foot will be the next VJ project”.

Another pointed out: “The project isn’t dead, rather the terms and conditions are being reviewed. Hopefully a sensible compromise can be reached.”

Indeed, it is not yet dead. But the opportunity to drive a stake through its heart is at hand. Fortuitously the VJ Group’s AGM is less than two week’s away:

Royal Photographic Society Visual Journalism Group AGM and Social

Cost: Free
Date: 17th August 2010
Time: 6:30PM – 9:30PM
Contact: Malcolm Bassett-Smith
Email: vjgroup@rps.org
Phone: 0752 598 4444
Location: Civil Service Club, 13-15 Gt Scotland Yard, London SW1A 2HJ
Type: Other
Group: Visual Journalism
Region: London

© 2010 David Hoffman and Andrew Wiard

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Good article and a welcome result. You’ve got to love PeteJD, from the above RPS forum link, trying to defend this nonsense who then turns out to be “on the Visual Journalism SIG Committee and News Letter editor.” Class!

Comment 1: Alan Chun, 5 August 2010, 02:22 pm

Posted on behalf of Richard Kenward who is having technical problems.

The RPS should be at the forefront of looking after the rights of all photographers rather than getting hoodwinked into a scheme that will only really benefit those organisations having free usage of the many images collected.

We have seen the escalation of photo competitions recently, many created purely to garner the free usage of images and build libraries that really only benefit the organisers and their associates. This gives the mistaken impression to the world that the creativity of photographers and photography is without value.

It is against this background that this scheme put forward by the RPS is so unbelievably short sighted and is to be thoroughly deplored.


Richard Kenward

Comment 2: David Hoffman, 5 August 2010, 08:46 pm

Little wonder the Labour Government was so pleased to have the RPS on board during the “Orphan Works” attack. My MP was completely taken in by the fact that the RPS would be involved in policy and policing. He could not understand that they don’t represent professional photographers.

Comment 3: Derek Simpson, 9 August 2010, 12:13 am

your_ip_is_blacklisted_by sbl.spamhaus.org

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