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ASMP Considers How to Spend $1.3 Million Windfall

Aug 6, 2008

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By Daryl Lang


The American Society of Media Photographers received a massive $1.3 million payout in December 2007 and is trying to decide how to spend it.

The money came from royalty payments collected by governments outside the U.S. and designated for visual artists. Through a combination of luck and smart maneuvering, ASMP was in the right place at the right time to collect this unusually large sum on behalf of all pro photographers in the U.S.

"Nothing like this has ever come the way of ASMP in its history," says ASMP executive director Eugene Mopsik. "The opportunities that it makes possible are staggering."

The $1.3 million haul is about equal to ASMP's annual budget, but the money cannot be used for operating expenses. It must be spent in a way that benefits photographers in general, such as education and advocacy. Until ASMP decides what to do with the money, it is being held in a separate bank account, Mopsik says.

PDN learned about the payment this week from a photographer who was critical of ASMP for failing to disclose the windfall to its members. Informed that this story was being prepared, ASMP announced the news to its members Wednesday.

ASMP received the payout from a complex, international system that collects and distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in fees each year. What follows is a brief explanation of how the money ended up in the ASMP's hands, based on interviews and information from the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations, or IFRRO.

Some countries, particularly those in Europe, levy a tax on photocopying and use it to compensate publishers and creators. The U.S. has no comparable system.

Countries distribute these funds through a worldwide network of reproduction rights organizations, or RROs. These organizations are overseen by the IFRRO, which is based in Belgium.

The best-known RRO in the U.S. is the Copyright Clearance Center, or CCC. Set up mainly to deal with the licensing of printed works like textbooks and academic articles, it has been criticized for representing the interests of publishers rather than individual creators. Several photographers waged an unsuccessful lawsuit against the CCC that was tossed out of court in 2006.

RRO fees are sometimes designated for a specific title – like a textbook, which can be tracked using its ISBN numbers. In some countries, licensees such as schools keep careful records of articles and chapters copied for course packets. But other times records are vague and fees are non-title-specific – not linked to any work or author. These fees are handled differently depending on each country's laws.

Some countries require that these fees be used to benefit creators, rather than publishers. For this reason, countries such as Norway send this money to American RROs other than the CCC.

One such RRO is the Authors Coalition of America, which was formed in 1994 as an alternative to the CCC. The ACA is based in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, and has a staff of one. But it represents 20 writer and artist groups with a total of 120,000 members. This is where the ASMP enters the picture.

ASMP joined the ACA about four years ago. In 2007 it was the only photographers' association in the ACA. (Recently the Advertising Photographers of America became the second photo group to join. Other ACA members that represent visual artists include the Graphic Artists Guild, the Society of Illustrators and the Artists Rights Society.)

In a typical year, the ASMP collects $15,000 or $30,000 from the ACA, Mopsik says. But last year, an unusually large amount of money earmarked for visual artists came through.

According to ACA administrator Marianne Shock, 2007 was a big year for visual artists payments because Switzerland and Australia paid several years' worth of fees at once. The ACA collected $6.1 million last year, of which $1.3 million was designated for photographers, according to Shock. This year the amount is likely to be less, she says.

Organizations can join the ACA if they meet specific requirements designed ensure the group represents professional creators and has a national reach. "It's our desire to bring in as many author groups as we can," Shock says.

The ASMP was founded in 1944 and has a long history of advocacy on behalf of publication photographers. It now claims over 5,000 members and offers legal resources, business publications and educational programs.

While a huge boon to ASMP, the $1.3 million is also a political minefield. The photo community is famously difficult to organize, and there are several national organizations that represent the interests of professional photographers. At least one, the Professional Photographers of America, has more members than ASMP.

Earlier this year, ASMP faced criticism from other artists' organizations over its lobbing strategy against the orphan works act, a copyright bill being considered in Congress. ( Related story.)

(PDN's Custom Media division has a business relationship with ASMP to publish its newsletter.)

ASMP Considers How to Spend $1.3 Million Windfall

Aug 6, 2008

By By Daryl Lang


The American Society of Media Photographers received a massive $1.3 million payout in December 2007 and is trying to decide how to spend it.

The money came from royalty payments collected by governments outside the U.S. and designated for visual artists. Through a combination of luck and smart maneuvering, ASMP was in the right place at the right time to collect this unusually large sum on behalf of all pro photographers in the U.S.

"Nothing like this has ever come the way of ASMP in its history," says ASMP executive director Eugene Mopsik. "The opportunities that it makes possible are staggering."

The $1.3 million haul is about equal to ASMP's annual budget, but the money cannot be used for operating expenses. It must be spent in a way that benefits photographers in general, such as education and advocacy. Until ASMP decides what to do with the money, it is being held in a separate bank account, Mopsik says.

PDN learned about the payment this week from a photographer who was critical of ASMP for failing to disclose the windfall to its members. Informed that this story was being prepared, ASMP announced the news to its members Wednesday.

ASMP received the payout from a complex, international system that collects and distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in fees each year. What follows is a brief explanation of how the money ended up in the ASMP's hands, based on interviews and information from the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations, or IFRRO.

Some countries, particularly those in Europe, levy a tax on photocopying and use it to compensate publishers and creators. The U.S. has no comparable system.

Countries distribute these funds through a worldwide network of reproduction rights organizations, or RROs. These organizations are overseen by the IFRRO, which is based in Belgium.

The best-known RRO in the U.S. is the Copyright Clearance Center, or CCC. Set up mainly to deal with the licensing of printed works like textbooks and academic articles, it has been criticized for representing the interests of publishers rather than individual creators. Several photographers waged an unsuccessful lawsuit against the CCC that was tossed out of court in 2006.

RRO fees are sometimes designated for a specific title – like a textbook, which can be tracked using its ISBN numbers. In some countries, licensees such as schools keep careful records of articles and chapters copied for course packets. But other times records are vague and fees are non-title-specific – not linked to any work or author. These fees are handled differently depending on each country's laws.

Some countries require that these fees be used to benefit creators, rather than publishers. For this reason, countries such as Norway send this money to American RROs other than the CCC.

One such RRO is the Authors Coalition of America, which was formed in 1994 as an alternative to the CCC. The ACA is based in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, and has a staff of one. But it represents 20 writer and artist groups with a total of 120,000 members. This is where the ASMP enters the picture.

ASMP joined the ACA about four years ago. In 2007 it was the only photographers' association in the ACA. (Recently the Advertising Photographers of America became the second photo group to join. Other ACA members that represent visual artists include the Graphic Artists Guild, the Society of Illustrators and the Artists Rights Society.)

In a typical year, the ASMP collects $15,000 or $30,000 from the ACA, Mopsik says. But last year, an unusually large amount of money earmarked for visual artists came through.

According to ACA administrator Marianne Shock, 2007 was a big year for visual artists payments because Switzerland and Australia paid several years' worth of fees at once. The ACA collected $6.1 million last year, of which $1.3 million was designated for photographers, according to Shock. This year the amount is likely to be less, she says.

Organizations can join the ACA if they meet specific requirements designed ensure the group represents professional creators and has a national reach. "It's our desire to bring in as many author groups as we can," Shock says.

The ASMP was founded in 1944 and has a long history of advocacy on behalf of publication photographers. It now claims over 5,000 members and offers legal resources, business publications and educational programs.

While a huge boon to ASMP, the $1.3 million is also a political minefield. The photo community is famously difficult to organize, and there are several national organizations that represent the interests of professional photographers. At least one, the Professional Photographers of America, has more members than ASMP.

Earlier this year, ASMP faced criticism from other artists' organizations over its lobbing strategy against the orphan works act, a copyright bill being considered in Congress. (Related story.)

(PDN's Custom Media division has a business relationship with ASMP to publish its newsletter.)
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