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£1,474 pictures of Hill is only the tip of the problem

Star front pageAnother angry splash in the Evening Star today. Andrea Hill again, and this time it is about a £1,474 bill for a photographic session. As the Star says: “In these days of economic hardship, no-one will buy into the council’s programme of change if they see public money being spent this way.”

Dig down in the paper’s report (unfortunately only a small part online) and this becomes a much more serious issue than an extravagant, vain, insensitive smoothing of the wrinkles of our £218,000 a year county council chief executive.

It took the Star four Freedom of Information requests to wheedle the details out of the council. This is what a spokesman told them:

Suffolk county council has been asked a number of questions about photography since October. In all cases, every effort was made to provide as much information as possible.

Due to changes in staffing, it would appear that some information was not provided in the earlier responses. We’ve now fully rectified the situation.

It is not clear whether the last sentence means the staffing problems have been solved or that all the information has now been provided. But here we have an admission that the council has not met its obligations under the FoI Act. That is not a surprise as over the past few weeks I have heard several complaints and suspicions that the council’s information office was being less than forthcoming.

Photo of Andrea Hill by Robert Johns as seen in the Evening Star

Photo of Andrea Hill by Robert Johns as seen in the Evening Star

The Star started its quest in the middle of October last year, The response came back on bonfire night that there has been no direct commissioning of photography of the chief execuutive since September 2008. A second request revelealed that the photographer Robert Johns had been paid £7.706.50 by the county council. The next request elicited the information that this was for work on the “Suffolk Story and Cookbook” and a further £1,474.76 for pictures of Hill. The final request related to the photographs of other council directors (the council could not answer) and about a delay in paying Johns.

The failure to meet legal obligations under the the FoI act requires a detailed investigation and explanation. But unfortunately, I fear it will take several information requests to discover the extent of the problem.

Another aspect of the the picture portfolio story is the doubts it casts on the council’s procurement systems. The photographer was paid £1,474 for the snaps but the council failed to purchase the copyright. The Evening Star has to pay the photograper directly for the use of the pictures.

For thirty years it has been important when commissioning pictures for communications purposes to ensure that phhotographer passes all rights to the purchaser. If whoever commissioned the pictures did not know that they should not be spending council tax-payers’ money.

This underlines the concerns about whether the council is capable of managing the arrangements which will result from the New Strategic Direction which aims to make Suffolk an “enabling” council.

Portrait of Nelson Mandela with which Robert Johns won the 2006 portrait prize in the 2006 Press Photographer of the Year awards

 

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  1. An explanation from Robert Johns about Andrea Hill pictures says

    […] to Robert Johns, the photographer whose pictures of Andrea Hill have been causing a stir, for his comment on my post. He writes: The pictures were originally licensed to Suffolk County Council for their […]

  2. Robert Johns says

    The pictures were originally licensed to Suffolk County Council for their editorial PR use. They were never licensed to the Evening Star for stock use to be used at will for any story about Andrea Hill. Absolutely, the correct position is that if the Evening Star want to use that set of pictures to illustrate their stories then they have to pay for them. The Evening Star and other publications need to understand and respect copyright. It is the cornerstone of our profession and is necessary for our survival.

  3. Nick McGowan-Lowe says

    The three previous commentors are entirely correct. Aside from the wrong dates (are you thinking of the 1988 Copyright Designs and Patents Act ?) it is an utter nonsense to say ‘for thirty years it has been important when commissioning pictures for communications purposes to ensure that phhotographer passes all rights to the purchaser.’

    In 2010, the British Photographic Council asked in its annual survey of professional photographers: “do you routinely hand over copyright to those who commission you ?” Nine out of ten did not – and those that did were significantly less financially successful that the majority who did now.

  4. Simon Crofts says

    Just to confirm what the other two are saying. It is ill-informed nonsense to claim that it is normal for photographers to assign copyright as part of a commission. Where do you get such misleading information?

  5. Graham Trott says

    ‘For thirty years it has been important when commissioning pictures for communications purposes to ensure that phhotographer passes all rights to the purchaser.’

    Not so. For PR a broad usage licence is all that is required to make full use of the work. It should also be noted, that the fee was not for photography of Ms Hill only, but a wide ranging commission of several other council portraits and other work over two separate days plus post production work.

    Whatever people may feel about the use of council funds for such vanity projects, the whole story is very misleading and inaccurate.

  6. Paul Rich says

    “For thirty years it has been important when commissioning pictures for communications purposes to ensure that phhotographer passes all rights to the purchaser. ”

    Who Wrote this Garbage, net you think you buy the band when you buy a CD as well or own a slice of Hollywood when you rent a film.
    Copyright licensing is whats protects those who can from those who can not just stealing it from the talented. Looking at the pictures they are obviously very high end work of a creative professional, the price was very reasonable.