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The PRO-Files: Join The Fight For Photographers’ Rights

The rights of photographers are increasingly under assault from every direction. From credentialed photojournalists getting arrested while photographing protests in Ferguson to social media outlets monetizing commercial photographers’ uncredited and unlicensed works, with every passing day photographers’ rights are challenged in new and ever more difficult ways to defend. The most effective way to push back is by joining one of the industry trade groups created explicitly for this purpose.

Along with offering valuable member benefits such as discounted insurance, software and travel services, to networking, customer referral and professional education, the primary benefit national photography organizations provide is their advocacy on behalf of all photographers. Organizations such as APA, ASMP, PPA and NPPA give photographers a voice—when it comes to lobbying Washington legislators on issues of importance to photographers everywhere and when it comes to influencing public opinion, the collective voice produced by photographers banded together in these organizations is infinitely louder than we could ever be on our own. Together, the dynamics change; tens of thousands of photographers together have the influence to bring about positive change.

It’s obvious that activities such as lobbying congress and general advertising cost money. It’s through the collection of dues paid by members that trade organizations can afford to advocate meaningfully on photographers’ behalf. The National Press Photographers’ Association (NPPA), for instance, says on the advocacy page of its website that it sees its primary responsibility as advocating on behalf of photographers in areas including “First Amendment access, drone regulations, copyright, access and credentialing, cameras in court, ‘ag-gag’ laws, unlawful assault on visual journalists” and many other issues that matter not only to professional photographers but also to the public at large.

According to Juliette Wolf-Robin, executive director of American Photographic Artists (APA), advocacy is her organization’s principal duty. She says it’s never been more critical.

“Our copyright laws and their enforcement,” Wolf-Robin says, “have not kept pace with the technology that allows the theft of protected works by the simple click of a button. Couple these factors with the forces of greed, an underfunded Copyright Office, an uninformed public, ill-informed lawmakers and judges and we now have a perfect storm that is causing our nation to lose its way in upholding what the framers of our constitution understood to be a pillar of our nation's strength.”

“APA understands that artists, writers and creators are in the fight of their lives,” she continues, “where numbers make the difference and it requires all hands on deck. That is why, now more than ever, it is imperative that creators of all stripes band together with their colleagues by joining advocacy trade groups such as APA to protect their rights and livelihoods and those of the creators who will follow.”

Wolf-Robin says APA has, over the last several years, partnered with stakeholders from other advocacy organizations not only in the photography world but those from the fields of graphic design, music and publishing in order to protect creators and their livelihoods.

“APA has joined lawsuits, lobbied congress and hired experts,” she says, “to work with the U.S. Copyright Office. We write, publish, share information and organize campaigns. APA has also been working closely with a coalition of visual associations and author groups to support the establishment of a small claims tribunal for copyright and to modernize the Copyright Office. Through ongoing lobbying efforts and face-to-face meetings with key members of congress, we are proud that these efforts are taking the form of a comprehensive copyright reform bill—the first time copyright law has been significantly addressed and updated in roughly a half-century.”

One particularly notable recent addition to APA’s ranks is longtime advertising photographer Norm Clasen, who believes so much in the organization’s mission of advocacy that he’s pledged more than his fair share to the cause. For more than 12 years, Clasen worked on ad agency Leo Burnett’s Marlboro account, photographing the brand’s iconic cowboy for billboards, store displays and magazine pages. He's now embroiled in a case against another artist who re-photographed many of Clasen's images. It’s this erosion of photographers’ rights that most bothers Clasen, so he has decided to come out of retirement to try to engage as many photographers as he can to advocate for changes to an outdated and unfair copyright system.

“I think you need to be part of an organization,” Clasen says, “whichever one you want, whether it’s APA, ASMP or PPA, whatever it happens to be, join that organization, get involved, learn what’s going on. Education is a big part of what I would like to start because a lot of the photographers that I talk to today don’t have any clue how to go about even registering a copyright.”

“The only way it’s going to change is if it’s a collection of people who hang together,” Clasen says. “It cannot be a single person. We all have to work together. We need to have a show of strength and a buildup of numbers, not only amongst the photographers, but also amongst the artists, writers, even the public.”

When the Los Angeles County Museum of Art announced an exhibit of the re-photographed cowboys, Clasen decided to stage his own showing at the same time and at a gallery just a few miles away. A portion of the proceeds from his Titled (Cowboy) exhibit, which shows many of the original cowboy photographs from the Marlboro campaign, will be donated to APA specifically for helping other photographers defend their copyrights in U.S. courts.

“I’m looking at a younger generation of people who are coming along in this profession,” Clasen says, “and I believe if we don’t do something to find some real case law that works in favor of those who have authored work, we’re just going to dig a deeper and deeper hole. Right now is the time to make the effort. But it’s going to take a lot of energy on the part of a lot of organizations working together with their attorneys and with their members and the public to understand what’s going on here. And it’s going to take funding because you can’t do it for nothing. I am really dedicated to trying to work with the various organizations that represent artists to see if we can’t bring this to a head.”

If an issue may impact a photographer’s ability to earn a living, it’s likely that one of the major U.S. photography organizations is working diligently to address it. Here’s a quick look at a few of the most prominent organizations photographers may want to consider joining.

American Photographic Artists (APA)

Founded as the Advertising Photographers of America, APA changed its name in order to underscore its desire to work with and for professional photographers of all kinds in order to “improve the environment for photographic artists and clear the pathways to success in the industry.” Anyone who earns their income from photography is now welcome to join one of the nine APA chapters around the country. APA’s headquarters is in Los Angeles. www.apanational.org

American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP)

Originally organized for editorial photographers (that M was once for “magazine”), ASMP now represents practically any working photographer—from editorial and advertising to corporate and more. Its mission is to create “sustainable information, advocacy and communication systems designed to empower and educate still and motion photographers.” There are 39 local ASMP chapter offices and the national headquarters is in New York. www.asmp.org

Professional Photographers of America (PPA)

Billed as the largest professional photographers’ trade organization in the world, PPA is appropriate for photographers of all types. The organization has its roots in the world of business-to-consumer photography, with a membership especially popular among wedding and family photographers who regularly use PPA certifications as a mark of distinction. Headquartered in Atlanta, PPA has been around for nearly 150 years and boasts more than 30,000 members in 27 chapters nationwide. www.ppa.com

National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)

Organized for visual journalists of all types—including newspaper and magazine photojournalists, TV news photographers, editors and visual journalism students—NPPA strives to “vigorously promote freedom of the press in all its forms.” The organization consists of more than 6,000 members and is based at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. www.nppa.

Norm Clasen’s Titled (Cowboy) is on display through April 21 at M+B Photo Gallery in Los Angeles. More information at www.mbphoto.com.

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