A reader sent me this story, so that it might instill confidence in young photographers like herself. I think you will find that it does that:
I worked with one of the local college’s ex-students on a shoot for a magazine editorial about a year ago. The ex-student lied about having my permission and gave the image to the college, which then used the image on a billboard advertisement that wraps around a 20 story building on a very busy road in the city. It is a recognizable image of mine, and shows the faces of two models from a local agency. It was actually one of the models who spotted it first and I received a very embarrassing phone call from her agent who asked me how that shoot ended up on a billboard.
I went online and researched some suggestions of how I could handle this, but I couldn’t find much available. Crawling through some forums, I found that a few photographers had their images stolen and placed on a billboard, and they charged $500 for the use. The billboard was already up there for 1.5 months and it was supposed to be up there for 3 months total. I called the model agency and they told me that they ended up with $1500 for each girl for a year’s usage. They said that they knew the figure was low, but at least they would receive some pocket money.
I also consulted with a couple of local creative agencies who also offered some advice. They were helpful at first, although once they started talking to the college they decided to back off. I think they probably thought it wasn’t worth it (despite that I offered them the incentive of a commission). They were perhaps scared of losing a potential client over a nobody photographer like me.
So I spoke with the college directly and they asked me to come in to discuss this and negotiate a pay-out. I didn’t want to go in – I couldn’t see a reason to apart from them using this opportunity to intimidate me. They were a little manipulative over the phone, suggesting that my photograph would potentially be featured there for 12 months and it would be great exposure for me if I didn’t charge too much. I offered them $1500 per month, which they thought was ridiculous (I thought what they paid the model agency was ridiculous!). They told me the billboard space was only costing them $2700 per month. So I said I’d seek further advice and come back with a figure. They were desperate to get me to come in.
After much research, I found that it’s tricky to put a price on usage. I found the best advice to be 10 – 30% of the marketing budget (from small to large scale). In this scenario, they hadn’t commissioned this shoot and it wasn’t just about using my image, it was also the humiliation I went through explaining to my team members (particularly the model agency) how the image got into the advertiser’s hands. It also concerns the disassociation of my image to me (now known as the face of that college and it impacts my professionalism – even the creative agency that I sought advice from assumed I stupidly gave the files to the college (I had given them to the ex-student to use for his portfolio).
So I went with my gut instinct, and ended up charging them a figure that I thought was fair. I wrote them a letter a week later, explaining my situation, the inconvenience this has caused me, my humiliation to those involved, and that I thought after all this the figure was fair. I stuck with this:
2.5 months and they take the image down – $1500 per month = $3750
3 months – $1500 per month, $4500
12 months – $1250 per month, $15000
In the end, they decided they wanted my image for 12 months. After a few emails back and forth, I ended up settling on $9000. That’s ok, it’s a little less than what I was asking for but it’s a little more than 30% of their budget for the billboard space, I didn’t want to pursue this any further so I was happy to settle on that. They even offered me the incentive for future work with them.
After a google search, it seems like this problem occurs often and perhaps many photographers don’t understand the value of usage.