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.

5 Responses to A Photographer Brings Deadbeat Clients And Shady Agents Into Focus

  1. JC Cavanaugh says:

    I am trying to claim money owed to me as well and am shocked that the government doesn’t make it easier for less expensive claims to be filed in a timely and cost effective manner.

    It is sad that this will likely never change as the court system is already backed up with criminals.

    Great to hear I am not alone.

    JC Cavanaugh
    click

  2. We started ZenCash to solve this problem specifically. We just left NYC where we met with friends at the Freelancers Union and others and we are committed to helping the little guys get their money.

    Please call me directly or visit our site if you need help. My direct line is 214-580 two thousand and ten.

    Thank you for bringing up this issue amongst the fashion industry.

    brandon cotter – founder, ceo | @txbc
    zencash / @zencash

  3. L says:

    I appreciate the effort being put into bettering the New York freelance community, but what about LA? I have worked as a model in both markets and it seems that things are even worse in LA, at least for models. Not only do we get paid less, but it seems agents and bookers out here never have the model’s best interest in mind… everything is done to preserve the relationship with the client. I have many photographer friends who have had these exact same things happen to them.

    Why is all of the focus in NY?

  4. Paul Norberg says:

    Is there a form of a “Mechanic’s Lien” for intellectual property? A way to have a digital watermark removable from remote? Submit images, but they’re nonusable til the agency has paid. Once paid, your web master can “Turn Off” the watermark? Just a random thought/idea. Freelance contractors of many walks have similar issues. Another thing, perhaps, when establishing a relationship with a particular agency, have as your policy, a transparency clause in the contract. Something with some teeth? There’s gotta be a way to write up a self enforcing fallback. Anyways, I empathize with the problem, I have experienced nonpayment by clients also. For me, it was a robbed feeling that sucked.

  5. I’m working on a plan to stop this from happening to my clients. Far too many retailers think they can order and not pay. “30 days same as whenever”. I’m working with an attorney and industry professionals to create safeguards and a way to legally publicize those stores that attempt this.

    Seth Friedermann

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