Who owns this photograph?
The Columbia Journalism Review carried an exchange of letters between freelance photographer George Zimbel and the New York Times. The paper paid the photographer for a single use of a picture of John and Jacqueline Kennedy. Forty years later the paper offered the print for sale to collectors for US $4,000. Give it back, it’s mine, said the photographer.
In a letter to the paper Zimbel points out the important distinction between freelance photographers (who sold one-use rights but retained their intellectual property) and staff photographers (paid a salary by the paper which owned the rights to their work).
It’s clear from the correspondence that Zimbel was upset by this business — which is no surprise to me. He wrote to the newspaper’s lawyer:
You get paid when you write letters and I don’t, but sometimes I have to come out of the darkroom and tend to business and ethical issues.
Did the story have a happy ending? Well, the Times did send the print back to Zimbel.