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AOP at 50: Talkin Bout’ Copyright Infringement

With thousands of professional members, including photographers, advertising agencies, design groups, publishers and photo agents, the AOP is one of the most credible photographers’ associations on the planet

Supporting photographers in many and various ways, the association regularly runs competitions, courses and exhibitions, to inspire and find new talent in the industry. In this interview with Seamus McGibbon, Executive Director of the AOP, we raise the specific question of how the association supports its members with image theft online.

PB: Can you tell us a little about the AOP and the aims of the organisation?

SM: The AOP was established in 1968 [then theAssociation of Fashion and Advertising Photographers or ‘AFAP’ as it was known]when a group of leading advertising and fashion photographers met to combat price hikes brought in by Model Agencies. Since then the AOP has grown to become one of the UK’s leading and most respected membership organisations for professional photographers working in the creative industries. Our membership is global and members’ work is seen by millions worldwide in magazines, newspapers, books, advertising campaigns and in major exhibitions.

The Association’s aims remain the same today as they were 50 years ago: to promote and protect the worth and standing of its members, to vigorously defend, educate and lobby for the interests and rights of all photographers, especially in the commercial photographic industry.

Our members include professional and assisting photographers, agents, individuals working in the photographic industry, those starting out in the profession, those in education and anyone with an interest in professional photography. Their clients include advertising agencies, design groups, corporate sector companies, publishing houses, galleries and music publishers.

PB: The AOP is celebrating its 50-year anniversary, first of all, congratulations! How will you be celebrating?

SM: There are many ways we will be celebrating our 50th birthday over the next 12 months, these will include a special conference on the state of our industry, talks, news articles and interviews. We are turning over the Image Magazine area of the AOP website www.the-aop.org to AOP50, the name for our birthday year.

We also have a special exhibition taking place at Canary Wharf in London. AOP50 is a major retrospective exhibition, which runs through until 1st June 2018 at one of the UK’s most iconic buildings, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London. A showcase of over 50 amazing images from the world’s most well-known and respected photographers, gathered together in one place for the first time.

Exhibiting photographers include Nadav Kander, Tessa Traeger and Duffy to name but three. Do drop by and see the work our members have been producing for the last 50 years.

Starting Out provides everything you need to know when starting out on your professional career. Inspirational talks and advice from leading photographers, successful assistants and agents who can advise what to do to get seen and noticed as well as handy tips and useful information on making it in this challenging, but ever so rewarding industry.
Seamus McGibbon, Executive Director, AOP

PB: You also have an AOP conference in the pipeline, tell us a bit about it, and who should consider attending?

SM: Starting Out, which is now in its fourth year, provides everything you need to know when starting out on your professional career. We have inspirational talks and advice from leading photographers, successful assistants and agents who can advise what to do to get seen and noticed as well as handy tips and useful information on making it in this challenging, but ever so rewarding industry. The conference takes place over a day and is designed for graduates, novices and those taking the first steps on their career path.

This year, the event takes place at Direct Digital, sponsors of the conference on 27th June. It is followed in the evening by the presentation party of the AOP Student Awards at Wex Photo Digital, the sister company to our main sponsor, Fixation. The event is also supported by Fujifilm and Flow Photographic, so it’s a real industry affair with lots of photographers and agents present in addition to the finalists, who are the stars of the night.

You can find out more about Starting Out here.

PB: You also run the AOP awards, what kind of rewards and other benefits can photographers expect to achieve from winning?

SM: The AOP Photography Awards is one of the most prestigious competitions in professional photography. Now in its 35th year, the competition gives finalists and winners exposure to some of the leading commissioners, art buyers and photographers in the industry.

Categories include Photography: Commissioned Advertising; Design; Editorial; non-commissioned Portrait; Life; Object; Environment; Fashion & Beauty; and Project, open to AOP Photographer members. The AOP Breakthrough Award; Assisting Photographer members can enter the Photography categories alongside our more established photographers, with the chance of being selected as a breakthrough photographer within that group. The Open category remains open to everyone, members and non-members alike, and includes both Stills and Moving Image categories.

Over 3,500 entries each year are filtered down to 300 finalists by our curators, who are leading names in the industry and experts in each particular category, before being whittled down to our 21 Best in Category Finalists. In addition, we produce 2,000 limited edition Awards books, celebrating the competition, which are given to all 1,000 invited guests as well as buyers and commissioners across the industry.

It really is THE competition for creative professionals and celebrating the success of the UK’s commercial creative photography sector.

PB: You also work to protect the rights of your members and their work. What would you list as being some of the current issues the AOP are working on for photographers?

SM: There are a great many; issues such as copyright infringements, unpaid invoices, rights-grabs, the imminent implementation of the GDPR, complex contracts and agreements, misuse of images and poor working practices make up the workload that the AOP dedicated Business and Legal Adviser, Nick Dunmur, deals with on a daily basis. We offer our members bespoke advice and, where needed, intervention on their behalf either through ourselves or through our partnered intellectual property specialist law firm.

We are seeing a lot of commissioners inadvisedly insisting on copyright ownership of images that are produced. Remember, you should not give away the copyright in your images as they are your creation and your potential income. A licence to use should suffice in all commercial circumstances. Educating commissioners in this is a different matter and takes time and tact.

The great thing is that Nick, the AOP team and our members, through the AOP Forum, are always on hand to advise and support all of our members in dealing with these issues.

PB: Online image theft is a growing concern in the photography community. Does the AOP recognise this concern, and if so, how do you help ensure your member’s images aren’t stolen?

SM: The AOP has always been concerned about image theft [or copyright infringement, as it is more accurately known] and was influential in the creation and implementation of the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act of 1988. We continue to be involved in this serious issue, providing advice on how to deal with copyright infringement and infringers, all the way up to taking the matter through the courts if so required. We are currently members of the British Copyright Council, DACS, the Creative Industries Federation and take part in many roundtable discussions with the Intellectual Property Office of Her Majesty’s Government.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where many individuals have been conditioned to think that there isn’t a problem with copying, recording or using the work of other creators. Using the work of others without permission or payment is no different to stealing other forms of property such as cars, money and possessions. It is a real economic problem for all of us working in the creative industries, from music to fashion to photography. We must continue all the work we do in educating users, the industry, the public and the government that these actions have a real tangible impact on creators and their ability to make a sustainable living from their hard work. Another important aspect to combating this particular issue is that there are several platforms and systems out there that enable photographers to monitor, track and tackle copyright infringements along with our specific, targeted help for our members.

You can find out more about the AOP, membership and events here

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