I’ve photographed celebrities and top models the world over, from Amy Adams to Coco Rocha, but I don't feel comfortable writing this under my own name. Such is the tenuous position of any independent contractor working in an industry where nobody needs to give a reason to simply stop hiring you.
Currently, there is no legislation that protects the rights of freelance artists from vendor/agent non-payment and/or fraud. The only way to recoup any monies owed (if it's more than $5000) is to sue in civil court, which is a prohibitively expensive endeavor for most. Unfortunately, I’ve learned this first hand.
"When I approached my former agent about these “irregularities in accounting,” my agency refused to open up their books."
My former agent defrauded my studio by withholding buyout purchase orders as well as payments. (All photographs have certain stipulations and rights including timeframe, territories, usage, and a “buyout” is when a client decides to buy a picture for usage that goes beyond the initial agreement.)
I learned of the buyout amounts (well over $10,000) directly from the client. When I approached my former agent about these “irregularities in accounting,” my agency refused to open up their books. By suing them in civil court, I found out that not only were they withholding these particular buyouts, but they had also booked me for jobs at my full rate while telling me that the client would only pay half my day rate, and pocketed the difference. I presented my case in court and received a plaintiff’s judgment.
"I found out that not only were they withholding these particular buyouts, but they had also booked me for jobs at my full rate while telling me that the client would only pay half my day rate, and pocked the difference."
A U.S. magazine client I’ve worked for is now 16 months late in paying me. I’ve asked my current agent to collect against this client, but my agent has refused to do so for fear of ruining the agency’s relationship with this client, even though this client owes my agency several thousand dollars in fees for multiple projects. I am currently considering a lawsuit against this client for non-payment through the small claims court system ($5000 or less) so that hopefully I can retrieve some funds at minimal cost.
On the behalf of myself, other photographers and all my friends working freelance in fashion, I urge the New York State Senate to pass the Freelancer Payment Protection Act so that independent workers who have been victims of nonpayment will have some legal recourse via the Department of Labor to recoup their fees.
This post is part of a series highlighting the difficulties fashion industry freelancers, including photographers, can have with getting paid for their work. The Model Alliance supports the Freelancer Payment Protection Act, which would help protect freelancers from deadbeat clients and from wage theft. For more information about this series, the FPPA, and how to get involved, read Model Alliance founder Sara Ziff's introduction.