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Composite Photo

I’ve had some problems with this post after comments have been added. This is a re-post. Apologies to those of you who have read this already and/or commented.

Foreign Policy magazine, a publication that features some good photography and thoughtful treaments of serious subjects, made a composite image using one of my photographs and one from the Associated Press and printed it on their cover and inside. It’s a complicated picture to explain, but my original was a view of lower Manhattan from the Staten Island Ferry taken about two weeks after 9/11/01 and I’m holding, in the shot, a postcard picture of the Twin Towers. The “picture” on FP’s cover replaced the postcard image with a photo of the Towers by the AP. The cover is heavily cropped from my original, wide horizontal and bears little resemblance to it. However, twice inside the issue they reproduced my photo full-frame, albeit with the AP shot dropped in.

The AP photo is very similar to the shot in the original postcard and in full-frame version, the effect seems to be to an attempt to mimic my original as closely as possible. It looks very, very similar and even to me appears to be a complete original photograph. I didn’t know of any of this until I got my copy in the mail (I happen to subscribe). The magazine never called me and they didn’t tell Corbis which sold the picture. Lesson learned for those of us who own the rights to our pictures but sell them ourselves or through agencies: unless we make stipulations against this kind of thing happening (which Corbis has since been happy to do), we are vulnerable to having our work compromised without, most likely, any legal recourse. Edit Delete by David Butow Sat Sep 09 04:59:21 UTC 2006 (ed. 10-09-06) | Los Angeles, United States |

David, Im not 100% sure on this but the whole issue might have evolved around not wanting to infringe the copyright on the post card that you were holding in the frame and hence they replaced it with an image that they had clearence for. If they clearly state that the image is a composite and you havent stipulated in a licence agreement that no image manipulation is allowed then it looks to me that they were being careful and infact trying quite hard to avoid infringing on another photographers copyright. Just a thought. by Nathan Shanahan Sat Sep 09 06:53:01 UTC 2006 | Tokyo, Japan |

Butow wrote: I should add that I spoke with the art director and the managing editor of the magazine this week. They did not mention any copyright issue with the postcard. I think that because the postcard was a picture within a picture-like photographing a mural in a street scene or a photo of someone looking at a painting or photograph in a museum-there would not have been a secondary copyright issue. But I’m no legal expert.

The magazine told me the reason for the change was that on enlargement, the postcard image (Twin Towers) was not sharp enough to meet the magazine’s standards for a cover. This was my guess all along because with the big enlargement, my hand is somewhat blurry in the frame (as the postcard would also be in the original), but the AP photo, being a real file, and not a photo of a photo, is sharp on reproduction. On the cover, the inconsistent sharpness/fuzziness looks weird and almost gives it away as a composite. Inside however, the full -frame composite photo looks totally normal to me, and I don’t think I would have noticed what had been done had I not seen the cover.

Both the people at the magazine I spoke with said the technical shortcomings with the original applied to the cover image and were not relevant to the inside use. I don’t want to go into the details of my conversations, but it is still unclear to me after speaking with them precisely why they ran the composite on the inside instead of the original. My main point is that if a picture of mine doesn’t work for some reason, or does not meet standards of a publication-particularly one that deals with serious issues and uses photojournalism in this context-instead of grossly changing it to “fix” the problem, I hope it would not published it at all.

by [an unverified member] at 2006-09-18 05:50:21 UTC (ed. Mar 12 2008 ) Los Angeles , United States | Bookmark | | Report spam→

David, sorry to hear of your problem, what steps has Corbis taken to prevent this from happening in the future?

by [former member] | 18 Sep 2006 14:09 | way down yonder, new orleans, United States | | Report spam→
Dear David,

It is good to be in touch with you. I have tried and failed
to get a direct e-mail from the agency.

Anyhow, it is rather worrisome because you might take the
blame for the composite image if it were considered an
accurate photojournalistic photograph (not altering the
facts and limited to “normal darkroom techniques” modifications).
All control was taken away from you without your foreknowledge.
To say the least, that is not an ideal situation.

I would be concerned as well. Anyhow, as you know, I
enjoy keeping an eye on your work. Good to be in touch.


James Whitlow Delano.

by [former member] | 18 Sep 2006 14:09 | Tokyo, Japan | | Report spam→
Hey Andy,

I made a phone call to Samantha Vingeur (not sure of her name spelling) at Corbis and she simply added another usage restriction for Corbis’ clients about not altering the picture in any substantial way. She was able to add that to all my pictures in their files and also mentioned that very few photos in their archive have anything like that, and the ones that do are mostly “fine art” pictures. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the post on Lightstalkers because in my Corbis contract, it says that Corbis can’t do any manipulation like that, and I sort of assumed that translated to the client as well, but of course that is not the case. But it’s no problem to add it.



by [unverified member] | 25 Sep 2006 06:09 | Los Angeles, United States | | Report spam→

Interesting case. Good thing for you Corbis was able to fix it in the future. I had a somewhat similar Corbis experience, with a very different outcome. I had a stock image of a bunch of Chicago policemen on a raid sold to a publisher for a book cover by Corbis. The published cropped down so that three officers were recognizable, then place the photo on the cover of a book along with a photo of a pile of cocaine and a wad of hundred dollar bills. The subject of the book? Corruption in the Chicago police force.

Long story short, the cops saw the book, sued everyone involved, including ME. I called Corbis and told them what has happened (they had sold the photo after all) and they told me to go blow! In their eyes I was on my own, even though I was being sued for defamation for a photo THEY sold. Fortunately I have good insurance (ASMP Pro-surance) and they got me a lawyer and took care of it and eventually the publisher settled and I was dropped from the case. BUT, there were some tense moments for me and absolutely NO help or evey sympathy from Corbis. So, beware. They may sell it and someone else may publish it, but if the shit hits the fan, Corbis will be no help at all.

Ralf-Finn Hestoft

by Ralf-Finn Hestoft | 26 Sep 2006 02:09 | Chicago, United States | | Report spam→

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David Butow, David Butow
Los Angeles , United States
Ralf-Finn Hestoft, Ralf-Finn Hestoft
Chicago , United States


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