How much do strangers abroad get paid when their photos are used in American ad campaigns?
July 26, 2005 9:49 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine has a question about how (and how much) people in so-called third world and developing countries get paid when their images are used in American ad campaigns.

My friend's question stems from a two-page ad that appeared in a weekly national magazine. The ad, for a well-known computer/electronics company, features a large photo of a small latin boy (probably about 10 years old) in worn clothes and jeans with big holes in the knees. The kid is wearing a great smile but the condition of his clothes leads my friend to believe it was just some kid out playing on the street--not something like a model in a studio.

There are four much smaller photos as well, all featuring people in an outdoor setting (ex: a man selling papayas, three woman seen from behind queuing at a ticket window). The clothing and colors in all of the photos would suggest they were taken somewhere in Central or South America.

My friend is wondering if the boy or his family were fairly compensated (and what is seen as "fair") for the photo. Or is this something akin to the idea of "Well, since you guys were outside you had no expectation of privacy in the photography sense" -- hence no payment?

In situations like this, does the photographer have to get these people to sign releases? For the photo of the boy would the photographer have to get the boys parents to sign a release? Do the people get paid? Any idea of the range? Do they get paid more if their photo is featured in a big ad campaign?

My friend has sent the company several emails over the course of a couple of months. The gist of the couple of replies he's gotten is that:
- the photographer was a contractor for the company
- the company does not give out information about it's contractors
- (just received last night, after a couple of more emails) the company contacted their ad agency who contacted the photographer who said the boys family were "more than fairly compensated for his appearance in the ad"

I suppose he did get an answer although it's kinda vague. Anyway, his question got the question planted in my mind too so... any ideas/thoughts?

(I'm posting this from an internet cafe just before they close so I won't be able to read answers or reply until tomorrow. Oh, and, I'll be sending my friend the URL and he'll probably be checking it every couple of days until the 30-day lock-out so please, even if the question is a couple of weeks old, if you have an answer to add please do so; it'll still be both read and appreciated.)

(oh, and sorry if this is a bit lengthy)
posted by blueberry to Work & Money (6 answers total)
Disclaimer: I'm not a photographer and I've never sold a photograph...

But I did take a lot of pictures on a trip to Ghana (Africa) a couple of years ago. My impression was that people are not well compensated for appearing in pictures. This is based on two things:

First, most people wanted money if you took their pictures, but were generally satisfied with what amounted to about $0.25 Canadian. Since we weren't planning to make any money from our pictures, we didn't feel badly about the poor price, but the subjects had no way of knowing that.

Second, a lot of people didn't want us to take pictures of particular areas and/or people. I got the impression that this was because the people felt that we would exploit the images to portray their country and people in a way that they had no control over. When I mentioned this to a professor who had done fieldwork in Nigeria, she agreed with my interpretation.

I'm sure that there are good photographers who pay fair prices for images from the third world. I'm also pretty sure that there is nothing to ensure that they do so, and not much recourse for people who are, in fact, exploited. Kudos to you and your friend for putting the company to the test.
posted by carmen at 10:41 AM on July 26, 2005

I don't know about the particular case that you are talking about (obviously!) but in general the legal position in most Common Law countries is that the copyright belongs to the photographer (or the agency). There is little expectation of privacy in a public place. In some US states the subject of a photograph has rights in the image (aka publicity rights).

In practice the photographer is likely to have paid as little as was possible and a poor South American kid is unlikely to have much in the way of recourse to international law firms to pursue any claim. Sorry just being a realist.
posted by Ugandan Discussions at 2:39 PM on July 26, 2005

Yeah, it's likely that the subjects were paid nothing, or perhaps in the very best case a crisp American dollar bill.

"the company contacted their ad agency who contacted the photographer who said the boys family were "more than fairly compensated for his appearance in the ad"

That is probably a lie.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:25 PM on July 26, 2005

Technically, if a photographer does not get a model release form from the subject, the photographed party can sue. perhaps a search of such court cases would help?
posted by clord at 6:06 PM on July 26, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far.
My friend has a couple of followup questions:

"Do you happen to know of any organisation that focuses on the issue of commercial exploitation of indigenous people in latin america?

Do you know of any newspapers or magazines that are sensitive to these issues, and might want to write about this specific case?

Do you know of any legal body that might have an interest in this?"
posted by blueberry at 3:17 AM on July 28, 2005

Global Exchange, a global justice organization that does fair trade stuff, might be a good place to start.
posted by carmen at 7:49 AM on July 28, 2005

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