Local photographers flex their legal muscles.

Posted: May 12, 2009 in Investigative articles
Tags: ,
©Astrid Stark

©Astrid Stark

©Astrid Stark

First published in The Callsheet, May ‘o9

Traditional media and its contributors have been battling with copyright issues for as long as they have been in existence.  A relatively new addition to the fracas is the explosion of New Media such as twitter, facebook, ning, and blogging, and the ever increasing footprint of the World Wide Web; which in turn is leading to a dramatic shift of who is in charge of information. 

On 16 April, founder of The Association of Professional Photographers – Africa APP(A), Deryck van Steenderen, invited interested bodies to a talk on photographers’ intellectual property rights by Intellectual Property Attorney John Spicer.

During the talk, Deryck raised concerns about certain South African media companies that are browbeating photographers into signing unjust contracts; which effectively takes away the photographers international rights to fair remuneration. These contracts often give media companies the right to syndicate the photographers images with scant or no financial reward to the author of the work.


Deryck used the Media 24 contract to illustrate his point and says that he has been working with Media 24 in revising the current contract; which many photographers feel is disempowering. He explains that much unhappiness has arisen when APPA discovered that Media 24 is selling images on to Gallo Images; claiming ownership of the photographs. 

Deryck says they are appreciative of the fact that Media 24 is acknowledging their concerns, however it is apparent that they are willing to talk only because Gallo Images are refusing to sell the photos internationally until an amicable conclusion has been reached.

The Copyright Act No. 98 of 1978 (with amendments) stipulates that under South African copyright law a photographer that has been commissioned to produce a set of images do not own the rights to those images within the borders of South Africa, unless otherwise agreed.

This law is only applicable within South Africa.  It is also important to note that the commissioned images may only be used for the originally requested purpose.

It then stands to reason that if an organisation wishes to use commissioned images for any purpose, other than what the original agreement, such as selling them to international image banks, the organisation should get permission from, and award remuneration to, the photographer.

John Spicer, Intellectual Property Attorney, Dr Gerntholtz Inc explained that according to the Berne Convention, which South Africa accepted in 1928, authors of literary and artistic works (which includes photography) whose work is protected by the convention has the right of authorising the reproduction of their work.

Furthermore, South Africa photographers, as part of the World Trade Organisation WTO, which includes the Trade Related Agreement on Intellectual Property Rights TRIPPS, and the Berne Convention, should have their work protected on international soil. 

There are of course exceptions to this rule, depending on the countries involved.

A valuable resource for South African photographers can be found at www.c21.za.org which is the brainchild of veteran photographer Geof Kirby.

Geof has created the site for photographers so that they may empower themselves and rally together as a community against unjust contracts and practises.  His free site contains detailed information on the South African Copyright Law, discussion on the pros and cons of contracts, licensing uses, sample contracts, rates and more.

He is an ardent supporter of intellectual property rights and he notes that apart from local and international legislation laws which much be complied with, moral rights also apply to protect the work of photographers.  These moral rights allow photographers to claim ownership of their work and object to undue mutilation, distortion or modification of their images. 

Geof says that our Copyright Act 1978 still has to catch up to international agreements and he feels strongly that our photographers have every right to benefit financially for work used outside our borders.

Deryck concluded the evening’s talks by urging photographers to empower themselves by knowing and exercising their rights and stand together as a community of photographers.

His website, www.appa.org.za, like Geof’ C21, is another free resource which serves as an information forum.  The APP(A) site was founded with the purpose of informing and educating professional photographers and their clients, in Africa. There is to strive for the presentation of excellent photographic work within a mutually beneficial environment.


  1. Garg Unzola says:

    I’m in two minds over copyright. On one hand, it stands to reason that you should own the rights of your own produce (whether it was commissioned or not). On the other hand, there’s much to be said for collaborative efforts like the open source community has shown. And copyright is what is killing the music industry at this stage.


  2. astridstark1 says:

    I think the thorny issue is more about the way that certain large media companies are paying a minimal once off fee to photographers, then without the photogs permission, they take these photos and sell them onto international image banks and keep making masses of money from it without any of it going to the photographer. What the photogs are asking is a fair remuneration system. The legality of it all comes into contest when the media company bought the photo for the purpose of using it as an editorial, and then sell it on as advertorial (image banks etc).


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