Credit as a copywriter?
June 7, 2016 3:43 PM   Subscribe

My photographer client does not want to credit me for my accompanying copy or provide me with a testimonial for my work. Suck it up or cut him loose?

I am a part-time copywriter and have been producing copy for a major UK photographer client for a number of years now. My work has accompanied his images in books, exhibitions and press for much of this time. The majority of my work is evocative and insightful in the area of his subject matter, something he knows little about but has a passion for. I recently asked him for a testimonial to include on my new website, just a dozen words to reflect his thoughts and appreciation of our working relationship and contribution to his success. He has refused, something I am disappointed by but accept his right to do so. He says he would rather attribution to my words, which have played a significant role in supporting and providing context for his work, remain unacknowledged and our relationship remain strictly anonymous. I can only assume he wishes to take credit for the words (which have been met with some acclaim) himself. He has an exhibition in my home town next month and has asked me to provide more copy for his work, something I am now uncomfortable doing given his lack of enthusiasm for supporting my own writing business. I am minded to request any further work supplied is credited to me in the exhibition PR, signage and brochures. Failing that I'm happy not to provide any more work (the money isn't that great). Or should I just get over myself and give him my words without credit going forward? Advice welcome.
posted by Caskeum to Work & Money (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like your rates just went up. Way up.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:59 PM on June 7, 2016 [44 favorites]

I would absolutely not continue to ghostwrite for him under these circumstances. I would either raise my rates to enough that you don't mind not being credited, or quit working for him if he insists on using your copy without attribution.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 4:01 PM on June 7, 2016 [12 favorites]

posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 4:05 PM on June 7, 2016 [19 favorites]

You have to decide what makes you happy. My business philosophy has always been, you pay me and I will make you look good. I don't need credit, but I get paid. If you don't need the work, then going forward I think I would raise rates and tell him he was getting a good rate because you were hoping to use him as a reference for future work. If he's cheap like a lot of clients, he'll probably give you a testimonial.
posted by iscavenger at 4:16 PM on June 7, 2016 [6 favorites]

Perhaps ask to use a few of his photos as your own work?

Just to get the point across.

But was the copyrighting "work for hire"? Unless you have a locked in contract write some really great copy, drooling good copy, but don't email it, bring it on hardcopy with a contract that allows usage for six months. Continued use to be negotiated later.
posted by sammyo at 4:18 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you're in the US, and you didn't explicitly specify "work for hire" in your contract, you likely own the copyright to that text and can at least reproduce it on your marketing materials.
posted by amtho at 4:20 PM on June 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

Unfortunately, he probably got to be a "major UK photographer," when many other, also very talented photographers are not so lucky, because of his willingness to step on people and to put his ambition first.
He probably would never soul-search for the right thing to do the way you are. Don't give him your work without credit or proper payment,
posted by flourpot at 4:34 PM on June 7, 2016 [5 favorites]

Perhaps ask to use a few of his photos as your own work?

Just to get the point across.

This is not the way to get the point across. Beside the OP already got his/her point across: s/he explicitly requested credit for copy, and an endorsement. The photographer refused. There's no more points to be made, really.

You could try raising your rates, but if he refuses, if the money isn't very good and the photographer doesn't value the relationship, then why are you doing this exactly? Why are you letting the photog use your house?
posted by My Dad at 4:41 PM on June 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

My experience when working as a copywriter is that it's very unusual to get credit. That's the whole point of copywriting, and why you don't see writers credits listed on brochures, Web pages etcetera.

That said I acknowledge that artist statements are one area where you sometimes do see acknowledgment.

I guess what I'm saying is that, whatever your feelings, in my experience of this type of work, the credit you want is quite unusual, that's why you are getting paid as a copywriter.

Whether you feel this crosses a line is up to you, and I can understand why you might feel that way. But credit is uncommon in professional copywriting, at least here in Australia, so it will come up again I expect. I would be wary taking advice here from people that have not worked in this field.

It the money isn't great, charging more or asking for a little quid pro quo is completely reasonable I think, but again make sure your client understands the value you are giving him before asking for a change of terms. But credit on signage... I have never seen such a thing.
posted by smoke at 5:55 PM on June 7, 2016 [7 favorites]

Do you have a portfolio/site? You could post it there.

Because, unless you've signed a contract that says you can't, I *really* don't think you need his permission to show your own work on your own site. But do give him credit, of course.

I've never really gotten permission, and I do work for huge, NDA-wielding corporate clients with scary lawyers. If it's published and I haven't signed anything, it's fair game. If it's pitch work, spec, or under NDA, then obviously no.

I just post pics/screengrabs of the work and under it I write out attributions, like:

Role: Copywriter
Art Director: Milly V. Nilly
Photographer: A. Hole

But yeah, other than that, you just got real expensive.

(I am not a lawyer. I'm opposite of a lawyer.)
posted by functionequalsform at 6:15 PM on June 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you're asking if it would make you a jerk to say "Sorry, I don't want to work with you again," then the answer is no barring some explicit agreement you don't mention here.

That said, if he is respected/powerful and also vindictive, he might be able to make things hard for you if he feels hard done by even if you didn't do anything wrong. That's something only you can assess. (Also, I agree with smoke, actual credit as a copywriter would be bizarre. A testimonial would be nice, but then again, if he's built a career on the idea that he can create the perfect blend of word and image, asking him to effectively admit that he knows nothing about the word side isn't that realistic, sadly.)
posted by No-sword at 6:21 PM on June 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

He has an exhibition in my home town next month and has asked me to provide more copy for his work, something I am now uncomfortable doing given his lack of enthusiasm for supporting my own writing business.

But he is supporting you. He's paying you, on what is clearly a work-for-hire basis. If you're not happy, bail!
posted by DarlingBri at 7:06 PM on June 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

You're allowed to simply ask for credit for this new project. You're allowed to say: "I will do this if I get public credit for my writing in the documentation for this show." And he's allowed to take it or leave it under these conditions.

While it's true that for advertising, corporate stuff, or any third party work the copywriting is anonymous, for the Contemporary Fine Arts world it's a little different. It's not always described as "copywriting" (even though it is, in a way) and everyone is usually open about the attributions for texts accompanying images.
posted by ovvl at 4:58 AM on June 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

It doesn't matter if it's unusual to get credit in your situation or not, what matters is whether you feel you are being paid fairly under the circumstances. If not getting credit for your work (or, it sounds more like, letting him take the credit and acclaim for your work by allowing others to assume he did it himself) doesn't feel fair to you, you have the right to negotiate around that or, barring a successful negotiation, stop working for him.

You are totally within your rights to say "I want X specific form of credit for the work I am doing for you, or $Y additional money, or I walk." This is a business relationship, and if you don't feel you're benefiting from the current agreement then you can re-negotiate or seek work elsewhere. You have to be willing to walk though, if you don't get to an agreement that you are happy with.

Your leverage here comes from the fact that you provide a product he cannot create himself, involving specialized knowledge of his subject matter which he himself lacks, and that you have a proven track record of turning out quality work that makes him look good and gets his work positive attention. You probably would not be easy for him to replace, especially if he's been quietly passing off your work as his own, because even if he found someone who fit his needs equally well (which doesn't sound easy) there would be a change in "his" writing style that others might notice.

So I think you're in a strong position here, though he may not realize that since it sounds like he may be the kind of person who thinks all their success is due to their own personal talent and nothing else. You may need to sell yourself a little bit, put the benefits of your relationship in a positive light and make him see how valuable you are to him. There is a threat implied there (that you may leave him and deny him access to your valuable and difficult-to-replace services) but you should let it remain implicit except as a last resort. If you get to a point where you're on the verge of just leaving then you might show a little steel and paint him a picture of how much his success might suffer without your help, but he could very well react badly to that so you don't want to go there unless you're totally comfortable leaving if you don't get the result you want.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:34 AM on June 8, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you have a contract? Does the contract specify if you retain or relinquish copyright? Does it mention attribution? Does it require you to remain anonymous?
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 8:28 AM on June 8, 2016

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