Editor's note: the following is a tongue-in-cheek, often irreverent, question and answer column published in the ASMP News solely for the entertainment of our readers. It does not necessarily reflect the views of ASMP, the local chapter or other ASMP members. All opinions and answers are solely those of the author, and he is welcome to them.

Readers' questions about any aspect of photography, or life in general, are welcome and Dr. Photography will answer them in future columns, if he happens to feel like it. Send mail to:
Dear Dr. Photography

Dear Dr. Photography,

In the last several years, stock photography has become one of the most complicated and difficult aspects of the entire business of photography today. Where do you see it headed in the years to come?

Baffled in San Francisco


DP: Stock photography has indeed become a more complex aspect of every professional photographer's business, as millions of new images are created and hundreds of new players enter the market each year. With this massive expansion, the stock photography business has created a number of problems in the industry ranging from a decline in new assignment photography to copyright infringement battles, pricing conflicts and past uniform capitalization requirements by the IRS. What a mess!

While in Washington, DC a few months ago, I had an opportunity to meet with Congressional leaders who revealed to me a plan for yet another massive series of changes in the Copyright Law due to go in effect in the year 2000.

The new law will require that all works of art (including photography) be created on temporary media (such as film) with a total life not to exceed one year. At the end of this one year period, the media upon which the artwork was created would disintegrate (sort of like Mission Impossible). In the case of film photography, select images could be preserved beyond this one year limit with reproduction onto registered and licensed archival film. The trade off would be that any image thus saved would automatically enter into the public domain. This would allow for the preservation of the finest photographs and works of the masters for the benefit of all.

This new law is expected to result in massive solutions to the numerous problems professional photographers are currently facing.

First of all, photographers and stock agencies would no longer have the difficulty and expense of maintaining massive photo files as the material they actually owned would be limited to only what they'd created in the past year.

Clients would be assured of a constant flow of fresh, new images and photographers would be kept continuously busy shooting repeated assignments for

clients who needed use of a particular image for longer than one year. Assignment photography in general would get a whole new shot in the arm because most assignment photographers would no longer be competing with stock files.

Photographers would easily be able to charge large fees to clients who chose to hold images -- their clients would essentially be buying a significant percentage of the life of each image they held onto before making a decision.

Copyright infringement suits would be drastically reduced (along with associated legal fees) as no photo copyright would last more than the one year life of the image. (Currently, it takes at least that long just to get to court.) After that period, the image would cease being a photograph and continue only as a memory or idea -- and of course, ideas cannot be copyrighted.

The new regulation would simplify negotiations of rights between photographers and their clients. Work for hire would become a less important issue with the decreased time value of each image. Photographers would establish their retirement funds based on their new increased day-rate earnings rather than their stock libraries.

Uniform capitalization of expenses related to shooting stock would never again pose a threat since the life and income potential of any image would only be one year anyway.

Finally, photographers would be encouraged to spend more of their time in the studio or field being creative and doing what they love most -- shooting photographs, in order to satisfy the ever increasing demand for new images. And we would all be on a more equal level competitively in the marketplace since we would have minimized our competition with huge stock libraries. It would also eliminate the question "But what have you done recently " from portfolio presentations, as only work shot within the past year would still exist.

And of course, we should not forget that the new regulations might mean that we would never again be subject to endless hours of watching old slides and home movies at family gatherings. Such things would no longer exist after their one year life span. That alone might be enough to pass such a law.

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©1991 Scott Highton
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