Copyright and Movies

There’s a great post (here) from A.E. Vogler a screenplay writer in Hollywood. Here’s a couple highlights:

Residuals, along with larger up front fees, are what we writers receive to compensate us for the fact that the studios retain legal copyright (i.e., authorship) over our work. What does that mean? It means that once we turn in our scripts, the studios can do whatever they want to them.


This means that each and every creative decision that’s made becomes not about what’s right for the film, what’s fresh and new and exciting and truthful – but about what the boss is going to say. That’s pretty much the sole criterion in the development process: anticipating the reaction of the big kahuna. And since most bosses are as unpredictable and impatient as they are shrewd and successful, everyone under them tends to default to playing it safe. Avoid anything untried. Do what’s worked before. Stick with proven formulas. And what happens? Anything new and original is weeded out. And everything turns to shit.


We have to retain copyright. Not because we’re smarter or more capable of shepherding scripts to greatness, but because WE WORK ALONE. Film is a collaborative medium. But writing isn’t. Writing is solitary art, born not of a system, but of a single mind.

and the kicker

in ten years filmmakers won’t need studios at all.

I’m watching all these mediums evolve for clues about what will happen to photography next.

There Are 18 Comments On This Article.

  1. I was talking to one of the pros who lives near me who’s done a lot of stuff and now seems to have the stock market cornered. She indicated that photography was moving toward images that weren’t still anymore. She said that cameras like one built by a joint venture of a company called RED and Oakley were gonna be in the fore, at least in the stock field. Part of me thought it sounded a little like the people who predicted that digital would be the death knell of film, but I’m not really in a position to know.

    Can someone enlighten me?

  2. scott Rex Ely

    Might I suggest a book that addresses part of the dilemma by looking at how user (amateur) generated free content is taking over the media industry:
    “The Cult of the Amateur” how the internet is killing our culture
    By Andrew Keen
    Here is quote from the summary on Google:
    “Worse, Keen claims, our “cut-and-paste” online culture—in which intellectual property is freely swapped, downloaded, remashed, and aggregated—threatens over 200 years of copyright protection and intellectual property rights, robbing artists, authors, journalists, musicians, editors, and producers of the fruits of their creative labors.”
    Check it out….

  3. Where will film/photography be in 10 years; an important question. Film/video is a medium, though, that may well have been improved with electronic distribution and found a new outlet in postage stamp web inserts. Can the same be said about photography? Even the sunday magazine section reproduction provides a better experience than the screen for viewing images. As/if magazines keep loosing readership and shifting to on-line advertising strategies, budgets and quality of content will surely suffer, whether it is the availability of low quality imagery or simply the inability to support better work.

    Will still photography find new outlets? I’m guessing the demise of print is overplayed, but there are certainly some changes ahead.

  4. There is no question that the technologies are converging. “The writer’s strike is vital to survival of creativity in the internet age.” This statement sounds apocalyptic but I’m not sure it’s all that overstated.

    The need for imagery is rising. As screen resolutions increase, there should be a push for higher quality still images but under our present compensation paradigms, still photographers receive very little for internet use. This needs to change.

  5. The most interesting quote of his, and the one I believe to be the most true is that in ten years filmmakers won’t need studios.

    A good example of this is one of my favorite shows from the last year, Clark and Michael, which was aired only on the information super highway.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the implications from this for the photo industry, but my gut feeling is that this most closely relates to new stock photo options like the Photoshelter Collection, or DRR’s Marketplace.

    Ultimately, because of the internet serious barriers of entry from yesteryear are being torn down and the winner – just as before – will be those that own their own content.

    And on another note, in response to @2, cinematic technology – like Red – will probably only affect photojournalists if any photographers.

    That said, I strongly believe that shooting for still photos, and shooting for motion are two ENTIRELY different beasts that will never (or maybe should never?) be the same creatively. The best still photographs will be conceived and shot, as still photographs, and the same for motion picture. When it comes down to it, motion picture has been around for almost a century – it is not a new medium.

  6. Where photography will be in ten years as a medium is a separate question from where publishing/content distribution will be in ten years.

    Photography itself is undergoing a phenomenal boom right now, and I think is very healthy and will stay healthy and vital for many years, decades even. I say that because it still has it’s vernacular uses, the memory functions, events, documentation, mementos, etc, it is a part of everyday life to make photographs. When you look at other arts like music, painting, opera, you can see what I mean. For example, music was once more of a vernacular medium, and then that darn player-piano came along, and recorded music, which reduced greatly the need for individuals to make their own music. Where you see this acutely is in jazz/broadway, which to me are dead forms, like opera, dedicated now to the recreation of an experience and not the making of new experience in the everyday. “Live jazz” is the oxymoron, it has never been dead-er, the fact that seeing jazz is now a “destination” instead of the background music of going out and enjoying ourselves. Broadway is the same, ticket prices used to be less than going to a movie, there was a show on PBS about Broadway and Jerry Orbach talked about this, how it was a regular thing to go to a show and see A-list actors from a few feet away. It had a currency in culture that is now reversed and it is more about making currency if you know what I mean.
    So photography itself is alive and kicking and I believe it will continue to be mainly because it is in our daily lives as companion and utility object.

    What is being upended is the publishing/patronage model, what used to be was magazines and advertising provided form of patronage to many photographers like Friedlander, Winogrand, Arbus, Gibson, Kertesz, etc, through the 70’s anyway, and by patronage I mean they earned a living this way, as in food on the table, and not how it is now, where you are expected to leverage the notoriety of magazine work to get actual paying work. None of these artists would have bothered to go through that funnel, they really didn’t care about the magazine work in the way that they cared about their own work, and we have their work as the result. This was before photographs as art/prints sold in the way they do now, no one except Edward Weston and Ansel Adams made a living off selling prints, and neither really had to. So the patronage model was absolutely necessary, unless you went the teaching route.

    If a society creates a patronage model where only a few can sustain a creative life, and I am overstating the case, we all suffer. But what is being challenged is how do we pay for creativity?-I have many more options for distributing content now and none of them generate income, an embarrassment of riches and a paucity of returns. So even though I am a content producer, I am largely a consumer, a consumer of internet fees, buying and paying for creating books, computers, art supplies, in effect paying others to distribute my work. And when you look at magazine work, as it is I am paying them to distribute my work. The balance of what I receive compared to what the magazine gets is entirely tipped to their favour. So another model of patronage has to emerge that is more pedestrian, more vernacular to take the place of editorial work, or editorial tastes have to change which I don’t believe will happen.

    Where publishing/content distribution will be in ten years is probably more of more of what we have now, more online, where media has been careful to deny additional fees, more targeted to devices like phones and other small screens, and probably more video because it is cheaper and easier to produce than photography (hell, anything is watch-able like a car crash, which you can’t say about photography, holding interest in still photographs is more challenging I would opine). Maybe it relieves photography of the selling function which might be a good thing, leaving photographs to tell stories and convey intelligence instead of selling crap.

  7. I do believe that technology like the red camera will change some( how much?) of the landscape of commercial photography from cheap stock to high end fashion advertising. At more and more fashion advertising shoots there is someone hired to film. Not a behind the scene’s thing but web and retail content. When the motion camera’s start shooting high enough quality to match the stills. Why would a company pay 2 people to generate the same content. Oh and how many high level still shooters do you see also directing.

  8. @9 Jesse:

    Problem is, I think it’ll be the Film Guys that’ll win. Since they’re shooting sound, they will be deemed most important, and the agencies will probably lift still frames from their Red cameras, and not even assign a Still Shoot.

    In my eyes, it’s all headed toward moving imagery. Even the front page of the old grey NYTimes employs moving imagery as their A1 main graphic, from time to time, and in my opinion, it’s MUCH stronger than a simple still frame.

  9. @8 Robert: I totally agree. I’m a middle man. You create and I distribute while taking (no me personally) as much profit as possible. When advertisers figure out how much we rip them off is when the system breaks.

  10. Here is a redacted version of a mail a friend received today. Seems to fit in nicely with @8’s comment.

    From: Emma Williams
    Date: 04 Dec 2007 19:01:09 +0000
    Subject: [Flickr] Schmap: Helsinki Photo Short-list
    To: [XXXXXXX]

    You’ve been sent a Flickr Mail from Emma J. Williams:


    :: Schmap: Helsinki Photo Short-list

    Hi [XXXXX],

    I am writing to let you know that one of your photos has
    been short-listed for inclusion in the fourth edition of
    our Schmap Helsinki Guide, to be published mid-December

    Clicking this link will take you to a page where you can:
    i) See which of your photos has been short-listed.
    ii) Submit or withdraw your photo from our final selection
    iii) Learn how we credit photos in our Schmap Guides.
    iv) Browse online or download the second edition of our
    Schmap Helsinki Guide.

    While we offer no payment for publication, many
    photographers are pleased to submit their photos, as Schmap
    Guides give their work recognition and wide exposure, and
    are free of charge to readers. Photos are published at a
    maximum width of 150 pixels, are clearly attributed, and
    link to high-resolution originals at Flickr.

    Our submission deadline is Sunday, December 9. If you
    happen to be reading this message after this date, please
    still click on the link above (our Schmap Guides are
    updated frequently – photos submitted after this deadline
    will be considered for later releases).

    Best regards,

    Emma Williams,
    Managing Editor, Schmap Guides


  11. yes advertising rates/circulation rates are inflated, but there is a market and the market tends to create a realistic value for exchange, at least amongst similar players. So advertisers and media are same sized entities, they have about as much leverage over each other so it tends to equal out. They need each other about as much.

    Where the market breaks down is amongst different sized players, photogs vs. media. This is why the writers strike is interesting, writers and photographers are similar players, except for the fact that they are unionized and we are forbidden from unionizing (it’s called price fixing if photographers do it for some reason).

    The difference between film and photography is that major actors campaigned for unions in the 40’s and 50’s to keep them alive, but you will never find an A-list photographer sticking his or her neck out for anyone but numero-uno…

  12. At one point most media outlets were having trouble figuring out how to make money on line. They still try to state that they don’t make money on line, at least to writers and photographers, while stating publicly that on line business models are the future.

    The good ones are making money on line. The local papers may be having trouble, but many of the larger media outlets have figured out how to make a lot of money on line, and other outlets (blogs, on line only news outlets, etc.) are taking the place of many local papers. Either the local papers will figure it out or they’ll disappear.

    The same will happen, and in the case of music, is happening with other industries as well. There’s a local girl who makes myspace web templates and gives them away, yet she’s got a multi million dollar company at this point. She doesn’t sell anything.

    I’m not suggesting photographers (or any creative) give away their work, I’m simply suggesting that business models will most likely have to change in the future. There are already more business models for photographers now than there were 25 years ago even if some of them sound repugnant to most of us.

    It’s not magazines or corporations duty to pay us fairly, but it is our duty to figure out a business model that allows us to be profitable.