Vice Contract Requires All Rights, Photographers to Pay for Any Losses

Vice Contract Requires All Rights, Photographers to Pay for Any Losses

Be careful what you sign. Recently, a photographer was given a copy of the Vice Media Photographer Agreement and was very taken aback by what it contained. 

We tend not to read legal documents these days. I mean, has anyone ever read the iTunes terms and conditions? Ever? There's a tendency to be blasé and simply sign such documents. I frequently see it with my clients when I hand them a contract, and I often encourage them to read it, because it also makes my life easier when they ask me to do things that are far outside the range of the agreement. One photographer recently revealed the contents of the Vice Media Photographer Agreement sent to them when licensing images, which contains the two following sections:

Photographer grants, transfers and assigns to Vice, its agents, assigns [sic], licensees and successors, in perpetuity for the entire world, all of Photographer’s rights, title and interest in and to the Photographs, including any copyright in the Photographs, and without limitation, the perpetual right [to] make reproductions of the Photographs in any form or media now known or hereinafter created, forever and throughout the world (the “Usage”). Photographer hereby acknowledges that Vice is and will be the sole owner of all rights in and to the Photographs and any reproductions thereof.

So, Vice wanted all rights to the photographer's images; in effect, they would no longer own their own images. While this is a less than stellar scenario, it's not uncommon, sadly. However, the contract also contains the following:

Photographer hereby expressly releases and indemnifies Vice, its agents, assigns [sic], employees, licensees and successors from and against any and all claims, liabilities, demands, actions, causes of action, cost and expenses, whether at law or in equity, which a third party may have or may in the future have for invasion of privacy, commercial exploitation, false light, copyright or trademark infringement, libel, defamation, or any other cause of action arising out of the exploitation of the Photographs or any part thereof or by reason of Photographer’s breach of any representations, warranties or agreements contained herein. Photographer acknowledges that Vice is relying upon the rights granted to it hereunder in entering into this Agreement.

In speaking with Photo District News, Attorney Carolyn Wright notes that legally, this places the burden of compensation for any losses upon the photographer. In other words, according to this contract, the photographer signs away all rights to their own photos, but is still responsible for any misuse of said photos by Vice. It doesn't exactly seem like the most symbiotic relationship. It's a stark reminder that companies will often try to take advantage of our work, and it's important to be vigilant in protecting our rights.

Lead image by Flickr user A. Birkan ÇAGHAN, used under Creative Commons.

[via Photo District News]

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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Kelby Training has a couple of very good classes on copyright Essentials with Jack Reznicki (Photographer) and Ed Greenberg (Intellectual Property). Everyone should watch these classes to understand NEVER sign away your copyright and never indemnify a business. The reason it's more common for these media giants- Vice, Time Inc. etc... to take more and give less is because people sign it without challenge. Read and scratch out anything you don't agree with and be confident sending it back. If it comes down to retaining your dignity or getting the job, choose your dignity and craft. On the flip side, if they are PAYING you for your copyright, then cool, but most of these asshats are trying to get your copyright at your daily work rate.

Having been presented this contract by Vice editorial in the past, when i asked the editor about an alternative, they presented an alternate one-time-use licensing contract on an assignment-by-assignment basis which contained much more favorable language. This blanket contract is seemingly intended for proprietary shoots, such as BTS on their TV/Video content and is similar to the contract signed by the DPs and Cinematographers for those shoots. Bottom line is, read your contracts, ask questions. if its a bad or un-amenable contract choose to walk away, there are other clients out there.

It's a bit strange that given their size, they don't bother to issue appropriately customized contracts.

I think it's pretty typical for lawyers of any employer to use 'boilerplate' rather than draft unique contracts for every transaction.

True, I guess what I mean to say is that if they're using boilerplate documents, they should at least have a more appropriate one ready for this situation, as in the one you received on a second attempt.

It's a damn shame Shane Smith became exactly what he was trying to fight against when he started Vice. Apparently not a great place to work or do work for.

Signing away your copyright is one thing but being held liable for misuse when you don't own the photograph is criminal in my opinion.

They can have my photos if I had a job with them

if I had a job I would't care

This indemnification language is popping up a lot in contracts drafted by in-house lawyers (who have to justify their salaries) at large clients. I always substitute alternative language provided by APA that specifies MUTUAL indemnification and send the draft back for acceptance. If the client won't accept this, I won't sign. So far, all have accepted. It really pays - in the short term and long-term - for all of us to 1) send our own contracts, and 2) mark up client contracts, instead of just giving in to rights grabs and lousy terms.

Anyone surprised...? TIME magazine did this pretty much back in January, which last I heard on photo news about it they were in negotiations with the NPPA, but had no heard anything since... If anyone got any insight on that, that will set the notion of the entire industry of publications following suit, especially of a giant publication does it, other smaller ones will simply follow the leader.