November will be the last issue of this grand old foodie mag published by the good folks at Conde Nasty. In the 90′s (that is, last century), Gourmet was one of my best clients. Their jobs were like a rich dessert: you stayed at the best hotels, ate at the best restaurants, and were treated like a king by everyone from chefs to PR folks.
Irwin Glusker was the AD and he always made you look good in the spreads with big pictures and pages and pages per story. Ah the good old days.
Then came the internet, and with it, the corporate lawyers who decided that locking up “content” was the way to go to preserve Gourmet and Conde Nasty. So, overnight, the contract went from what was then the normal “one time use” to the following, now famous, bit of legalese:
“For these considerations, you hereby grant Conde Nast the copyright to these photographs in this or any other medium, now in existence, or hereinafter developed, throughout the universe…..”
The galaxy wasn’t enough for these guys, noooooo, they had to lock up your work throughout the universe. So just in case Gourmet launched an edition on say, the planet Rigel VII, they still wouldn’t have to pay you, the “content provider,” another nickel over the old “one-time use” Earth dayrate.
Set your phasers on stun, and hit the jump to find out how we handled those odious snippets of legalese.
It was simple, in the beginning. We just crossed out those phrases and put in “one time rights.” Irwin was down with that, and he was as offended by the concept as were his photographers. That went fine, for about two more assignments. And then he got “the list” from legal. On it were the names of photographers who would not sign the contract as is, and were thereby forbidden to work for the magazine.
My name was there, as were several other shooters, including Annie Leibovitz. Only trouble was, while they’d make an exception for her, the rest of us journeymen didn’t have that rep and clout, and so we were simply blacklisted by Conde Naste corporate legal department.
Irwin was about to retire, and I knew that whoever the new AD was, I’d probably be out in the cold anyway (one of the truisms of the magazine biz? When there’s a change of editors, ADs, or picture editors at a magazine, you almost always go overnight from being a “longtime esteemed contributor,” to a “running dog lackey of the previous regime.”). So I was prepared to take a stand and lose a client (and maybe a few pounds as well!).
Fast forward to the next century. Boy, did they really capitalize on owning all that content! Their web page still looks like it’s the early 90s and they couldn’t figure out how to monetize any of the content they stole (but by god, at least they prevented their writers and photographers from doing so in the bargain). And the upshot of all that legal wrangling and corporate decision-making?
As of November, all those talented editors, writers, ADs, photographers, stylists will be out of work.
The only ones who will still have jobs, and probably even get a bonus or two, are those very same corporate lawyers and execs whose harebrained decisions resulted in the folding of this elegant and highly-esteemed publication. Ah yes, it’s just like the banking industry—-lose money, disembowel a franchise, destroy lives….and get a nice big reward.
And you thought the financial industry was the only place where we are “through the looking glass?” Nope, the Mad Hatters are in charge of the publishing asylum too….and at night, they all jump back out of the rabbithole and go home to their nice penthouses on the upper East Side!