Be Flexible . . . But Don't be a Pushover

Sometimes, it's really hard to turn down work. Especially when the work sounds interesting. But, there comes a time in every photographer's career where you are faced with a choice.

"Do I go against everything I believe in and sign this shitty contract to make a few bucks or do I politely decline and stick to my guns?"

I recently had the opportunity to politely decline what sounded like an interesting project because the contract was simply bad. The contract was a "work for hire" agreement which requires that I sign over any and all rights, including copyright ownership to the client. Some people will say work for hire is evil and should never ever be considered. I take a more optimistic approach in that each project is different. If I were approached by a client who required a work for hire agreement and understood exactly what it meant and how much it should be worth then I might negotiate a rate that compensates me for handing over my intellectual property. That's the core problem right there though. If I sign a work for hire agreement then I have no opportunity to make money from those images in the future. Technically speaking, I can't even use them in my portfolio. Shitty. If a client is actually willing to pay a fair price for that, then hell yeah I'll sign it, but I don't know that any company exists that is willing to pay a true work for hire cost.

Here's the thing though. They don't need this kind of agreement. They really don't. It's a contract that was crafted by the company lawyers, who in all fairness are just trying to do their job. In their legal minds they only see one side. The client's side. I get it, I really do. However, it locks creative professionals like myself into a contract that doesn't have any flexibility. If I can't negotiate a fair wage based on the end use of the images I create then how do I survive as an image creator?

The client of the agency that contacted me made it clear to the agency that the contract crafted by the company lawyers could not be altered in any way. No changes, nada. It was a really bad contract and I had no options for negotiating changes.

Despite that, I aired my grievances to the Art Director, who quite frankly is put in a tough situation every time she needs to hire creative services. I suggested changes to the language in the contract that would essentially give the client what they need without asking me to give up everything. She was extremely understanding of my position, but despite her best intentions the contract could not be changed. She seemed really nice and I did want to work with her, but we had no way to change the terms of the agreement.

I really feel for agency creatives that are forced to ask other creative professionals to sign these kinds of contracts. It must suck knowing that you are asking photographers to hand over their rights for a nominal fee, without having any alternatives.

The worst part about this whole ordeal is the fact that the next photographer in line probably signed that terrible contract without a second thought. It's a reality of my profession though and I intend to continue to negotiate each and every contract that comes into my inbox. I know for a fact that all parties involved can reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial and respectful to the rights of one another if everyone involved is willing to communicate and be flexible. So that's what I'll do. I'll remain flexible.

BadContract