This week we would like you to meet Photographer Martin McNeil.
1. What was the inspiration behind becoming a photographer?
Suspecting that I was about to receive a computer present as a Christmas gift at age 15, I was more than a little surprised to find a Canon Sureshot Ace waiting for me. It was a fixed-focus automatic camera with a wide 28mm lens, and I knew nothing about photography. Luckily for me, my high school art department ran a six-week short course on photography which covered composition, perspective, pre-visualization and the entire B&W darkroom process. It wasn’t until many years later when, whilst freelancing as a graphic designer, I cottoned on to the fact that I enjoyed creating photographic works for my clients more than any other part of the process so, in late 2004, I took the plunge of becoming a freelance photographer instead.
2. Can you take us through your process? How long does it take? Does everything you produce make money?
Working mostly as an editorial photographer, I quickly fell into a niche that encompassed arts, celebrity, entertainment and sporting events, specializing in live music and contact sports. This demands that you have professional grade camera equipment that can withstand the rough-and-ready, be appropriately insured but – most of all – you need a time machine. Okay, those don’t exist (as far as I know!) but you can guarantee that, in news and entertainment photography, your clients would like you to file your pictures the day before an event if you could!
From a practical and more realistic standpoint, this means you have to be able to get photographs from camera to client in a lightning-fast, yet factually correct, manner, which often involves captioning each photograph to a set standard. If I’m working directly for a client, fees and timescales will have already been agreed upon. But if working with one of my partner agencies, I have no way of knowing what will or won’t earn me royalties until maybe a few days, weeks or months down the line.
3. What do you think is the biggest misconception about your line of work?
In news photography, the common misconception is that all you do is show up, point a camera, press the shutter release button a few times and that’s it – job done; the reality is often far removed as there are often many factors to consider, including variables that may not be at all within your control… which could be anything from the positions that you’re permitted to photograph from through to the time you’re allocated to get the job done, and everything in between.
4. When did you first become aware of copyright and why?
I was always peripherally aware that creative works were protected by copyright since my teenage years but I also naively imagined that IP laws were very strong and always favoured the creator. As a designer, I knew that copyright was automatically attached to anything I created but again, it was always with a vague notion of “I know these laws exist, but I don’t think I’ll ever need to rely on them”
5. Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?
The first time I experienced what was a clear infringement of my work was back in 2010; I was on assignment for a client, shooting a sporting event in Abu Dhabi, when I was alerted to the fact that a clothing company had used one of my photographs from the previous day as part of an online advert. They were a sponsor company for one of the competing athletes and were selling t-shirts of a particular design unique to this event. After ignoring my initial attempts at a firm yet amicable solution, I had to engage counsel in the U.S. to tackle the matter for me, which settled in my favour about a year later. Ironically, I also believed that was going to be the first and last time that I would need to have a legal firm represent me in an infringement claim.
6. What do you do when you encounter someone stealing something you’ve invested your intellect, time and money into?
When I find a person or business using my work without permission, I don’t employ a one-size-fits-all approach. Sometimes the best (or only) solution is to send a DMCA takedown notification. Other times, a letter or email from me gets things rolling in the right direction. Often the sole solution is to engage legal representation. The one constant is that I never sit back and take no action because being passive or ignoring the issue won’t make it go away.
7. What is the best advice you’d give other creators about copyright and how to protect themselves?
If I could give just one piece of advice to artists/creators out there today, it would be this: educate yourself as to the scope of your copyrights and, most importantly, learn about the differences in copyright laws in different countries. An example would be that the DMCA is a law that applies within the USA only and, keeping this in mind, I’ve came across a prominent website in Australia whose owners have DMCA contact information for rightsholders to ask for their work to be removed. U.S. laws, to the best of my knowledge, don’t stretch all the way to Canberra.
Oh, and partner up with a good, specialist copyright lawyer or law firm in your country; they are often wonderful people, and it’s far less expensive to protect your rights than you may think.
8. What is your biggest copyright-related challenge?
An issue that often frustrates me is seeing artists and creators themselves not respecting the work of artists in different mediums. Over the years, I’ve witnessed photographers butting heads with musicians, musicians arguing with filmmakers, filmmakers battling with designers. it’s disheartening because I’m a vocal advocate for the right of all creators to be paid fairly and in a timely manner, and I would like to see artists and their respective representation societies or organizations hash out codes of conduct that would ensure their members will not infringe on the rights of other artists, or have contract language that massively favours one party to the detriment of all others. It’s a challenging enough world out there without having creators taking swings at each other.
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