GroundUp article ignores the rights of content creators

One of the few avenues that photojournalists still have to make a living is by working for large global agencies.

By Sibongile Mpama

23 November 2022

Smaller publications are often billed for huge amounts by agencies representing big news organisations for allegedly using their copyrighted photos without permission. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks

On the 15 November 2022, GroundUp published an article by Daniel Steyn slating PicRights – a company established to protect the copyright and intellectual property of photographers around the world. The article was republished by the Daily Maverick.

The behaviour of PicRights was described as “trolling” and predatory. It is unfortunate, although not entirely unexpected that PicRights was not contacted for comment. [We attempted to phone PicRights - GroundUp Editor]

It must be pointed out, that an e-mail address is clearly available on the website, and that GroundUp had, by their own admission, been in contact directly with a PicRights agent in the past. This was done via e-mail.

As a result, the article was extremely one-sided and entirely ignored the rights and plight of photographers, who are also facing the same economic challenges as those companies and organisations that are using their content without compensation.

It is concerning that, while the role that small independent publishers play in townships and rural areas is rightly recognised in GroundUp’s piece, the role that content creators play is ignored. Ever diminishing publishing budgets have resulted in dramatic decreases in job opportunities for photographers over the last 10 to 15 years. Countless award winning South African photojournalists have been forced to leave the industry as a result.

One of the few avenues that photojournalists still have to make a living is by working for large global agencies. If the content they shoot is never licensed, it begs the question as to whether or not it is necessary to cover these events, and employ these photographers in the first place. Since the demise of SAPA publishers have struggled to source comprehensive local photojournalism, and
habitual copyright infringement makes the market unappealing for new entrants.

We appreciate the call for leniency in certain cases, and we believe that the discounts given by PicRights, and cited by GroundUp, speak directly to our commitment to evaluating each use fairly and being accommodating wherever possible. Looking the other way is, however, not an option. We stand unashamedly by photographers and content creators who deserve to be compensated for
their work.

It is possible that a legitimate use is inadvertently flagged as an infringement. In our initial notification mail, we always ask the recipient to notify us if they believe they have been contacted in error.

We welcome AIP’s offer to advise publishers of how to obtain legitimate free content instead of infringing on photographers’ IP. Further to this, publishers can approach stock agencies for cost-effective and compliant images for their use.

The author is the Compliance Manager for PicRights South Africa.