Taina, Michael, et al,
When selecting an organization to collect reprographic royalties on your behalf, one of the most important questions you must ask is - how much of the distribution is actually paid to the artists and how much does the organization keep (in order to cover operating costs, educational programs, etc.). It’s similar to entering into an agreement to license your work as stock art.
At least one of the people who runs ASCRL has a history of collecting money from international rights organizations through related organizations, not one penny of which was ever returned directly to artists or photographers. Eugene Mopsik, current CEO of ASCRL, was Executive Director of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) when they received a payout of $1.3 million from international rights organizations (funneled through the Authors Coalition of America, of which ASMP was a member). They kept the payment secret from their own membership for 6 months and only revealed it when the story was about to break in the media. See the bottom of this email for a lengthy exchange between Brad Holland, Cynthia Turner (founders of ASIP), several members of AMI leadership, the ARS leadership, and Linda Feltner, former President of GNSI.
The Artists Rights Society (ARS) is very transparent about where their money comes from and how much will be returned to the artists. According to their contract, they keep 25% of all distributions to cover their operating costs. The rest goes to the artist.
ASCRL, on the other hand, is more vague. I read the ASCRL Agent-Member Agreement and all relevant sections of their website and all I could find was the following two passages. There’s nothing specific about how much of the distribution they keep:
How does ASCRL determine how much money each visual artist and photographer will get?
ASCRL uses a point system to determine how it is to divide up and distribute funds. Points are given to each registrant based on the number of works they have published during a claims period, and based on the frequency of publication. After assigning points to each claimant for their publications, according to the information provided by the member in their registration, the fund pool is divided up and each claimant is eligible to receive funds based on the points assigned to them, and the formulations established by the ASCRL Board of Directors, acting with the advice of the Advisory Board that represents broad cross sections of the photography and other visual arts industries. Maximum and minimum fees may be part of the formulation.
How does ASCRL get paid?
ASCRL receives funding from grants and loans from foreign RROs, CMOs, and trade associations to help ASCRL with operations. As a not-for-profit corporation that is required to operate under strict IRS guidelines, ASCRL also receives funds from the distributions provided by its sister societies in order to pay the costs of administering the organization, its bilateral relationships in foreign countries, and for the business office systems and accounting administration that are required to audit and distribute payments, and to account to the sister societies regarding fund distribution. ASCRL administration fees are paid by the foreign collecting societies, who restrict and strictly limit ASCRL fees to reasonable operating fees.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t join ASCRL. But given these vague terms and the history of some of their leadership, I wouldn’t enter into any agreement without gathering a lot more information. Taina - if you are indeed planning to join their board, hopefully you can gather that information and share with the rest of us.
Personally I’m more comfortable joining ARS because I know the people at ASIP who set up this relationship. I know they've been fighting for decades to get illustrators their rightful share of reprographic royalties. I have already joined ARS and I’m in the process of filling out claim forms for their first distribution of royalties collected in France for the period 1995-2018.
James A. Perkins, MFA, CMI, FAMI
Board Certified Medical Illustrator
Fellow, Association of Medical Illustrators
Professor and Graduate Director
College of Health Sciences & Technology
Rochester Institute of Technology
153 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, NY 14623
[log in to unmask]
Since we're extending this thread, let me add two more cents...
The fact is, our concern is not unfounded. We should be aware of the actors and their backgrounds.
Mopsik promises (at 17:39 https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__livestream.com_uspto_DigitalMarketplace16_videos_143913018&d=DwIF-g&c=Cu5g146wZdoqVuKpTNsYHeFX_rg6kWhlkLF8Eft-wwo&r=AGYZ7-AeerjxzYnIwL-lBLFI3SPYN3BDmku4qGQB4Tg&m=5pVWxQyiUhgD_yLG5dCcZgWeHbb1vbF0shyQr8_luA0&s=9wJVwSIGaBtzhc-eraSQkxzokizRLTRxWTo0gFGdDIE&e= ) that ASCRL will "distribute the revenue directly to rightsholders and their authorized representatives" and "in an open and transparent manner." Yet we know that for more than 10 years, he's been collecting this revenue through the Authors Coalition and not distributing it to rightsholders. The amount is likely a few million dollars. So why now?
We know that in December 2007, he received $1.3 million for ASMP but did not announce it until July 2008, when Photo District News was about to break the story. That article has disappeared, but is archived here:
For easier reference, I'll paste the copy I had saved. It's worth reading.
ASMP Considers How to Spend $1.3 Million Windfall
Aug 6, 2008
By Daryl Lang
The American Society of Media Photographers received a massive $1.3 million payout in December 2007 and is trying to decide how to spend it.
The money came from royalty payments collected by governments outside the U.S. and designated for visual artists. Through a combination of luck and smart maneuvering, ASMP was in the right place at the right time to collect this unusually large sum on behalf of all pro photographers in the U.S.
"Nothing like this has ever come the way of ASMP in its history," says ASMP executive director Eugene Mopsik. "The opportunities that it makes possible are staggering."
The $1.3 million haul is about equal to ASMP's annual budget, but the money cannot be used for operating expenses. It must be spent in a way that benefits photographers in general, such as education and advocacy. Until ASMP decides what to do with the money, it is being held in a separate bank account, Mopsik says.
PDN learned about the payment this week from a photographer who was critical of ASMP for failing to disclose the windfall to its members. Informed that this story was being prepared, ASMP announced the news to its members Wednesday.
ASMP received the payout from a complex, international system that collects and distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in fees each year. What follows is a brief explanation of how the money ended up in the ASMP's hands, based on interviews and information from the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organizations, or IFRRO.
Some countries, particularly those in Europe, levy a tax on photocopying and use it to compensate publishers and creators. The U.S. has no comparable system.
Countries distribute these funds through a worldwide network of reproduction rights organizations, or RROs. These organizations are overseen by the IFRRO, which is based in Belgium.
The best-known RRO in the U.S. is the Copyright Clearance Center, or CCC. Set up mainly to deal with the licensing of printed works like textbooks and academic articles, it has been criticized for representing the interests of publishers rather than individual creators. Several photographers waged an unsuccessful lawsuit against the CCC that was tossed out of court in 2006.
RRO fees are sometimes designated for a specific title – like a textbook, which can be tracked using its ISBN numbers. In some countries, licensees such as schools keep careful records of articles and chapters copied for course packets. But other times records are vague and fees are non-title-specific – not linked to any work or author. These fees are handled differently depending on each country's laws.
Some countries require that these fees be used to benefit creators, rather than publishers. For this reason, countries such as Norway send this money to American RROs other than the CCC.
One such RRO is the Authors Coalition of America, which was formed in 1994 as an alternative to the CCC. The ACA is based in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan, and has a staff of one. But it represents 20 writer and artist groups with a total of 120,000 members. This is where the ASMP enters the picture.
ASMP joined the ACA about four years ago. In 2007 it was the only photographers' association in the ACA. (Recently the Advertising Photographers of America became the second photo group to join. Other ACA members that represent visual artists include the Graphic Artists Guild, the Society of Illustrators and the Artists Rights Society.)
In a typical year, the ASMP collects $15,000 or $30,000 from the ACA, Mopsik says. But last year, an unusually large amount of money earmarked for visual artists came through.
According to ACA administrator Marianne Shock, 2007 was a big year for visual artists payments because Switzerland and Australia paid several years' worth of fees at once. The ACA collected $6.1 million last year, of which $1.3 million was designated for photographers, according to Shock. This year the amount is likely to be less, she says.
Organizations can join the ACA if they meet specific requirements designed ensure the group represents professional creators and has a national reach. "It's our desire to bring in as many author groups as we can," Shock says.
The ASMP was founded in 1944 and has a long history of advocacy on behalf of publication photographers. It now claims over 5,000 members and offers legal resources, business publications and educational programs.
While a huge boon to ASMP, the $1.3 million is also a political minefield. The photo community is famously difficult to organize, and there are several national organizations that represent the interests of professional photographers. At least one, the Professional Photographers of America, has more members than ASMP.
Earlier this year, ASMP faced criticism from other artists' organizations over its lobbing strategy against the orphan works act, a copyright bill being considered in Congress. ( Related story.)
(PDN's Custom Media division has a business relationship with ASMP to publish its newsletter.)
In 2012, Mopsik was asked about it again in an online radio interview (which has also disappeared, but the transcript is archived). Richard Kelly (RK) is the interviewer. Scroll down to the last question:
Richard, why did the Board withhold information about the receipt of the $1.3 million from the Author’s Coalition — and at the same time, ask for a dues increase
RK: I think it would be important at this point to find out a little more about what the Author’s Coalition really is, so maybe Gene you could give us a little background on the relationship and the receipt of these monies.
EM: Sure, Richard. The ACA, the Author’s Coalition of America, receives payments from various entities in Europe and Scandinavia that collect what is referred to as “non title specific” payments for reprographic services. What it means is, if you go into a Xerox place in Scandinavia and some countries of Europe, and you want to copy something, part of the fee you pay for the copying is a payment to the rights holders for the use of that intellectual property. So you’re paying for the images as well as the text. They don’t know exactly whose work was copied, so they collect these fees, which are aggregated and divided up by formula — a certain percentage to visual artists, a certain percentage goes to photographers, to illustrators and to writers. These monies are distributed around the world through groups like the Authors Coalition, and they distribute that money to trade associations for use in advocacy and education. So ASMP has been receiving this money for a few years now; for the first few years it was generally between $18,000 and $25,000–$30,000 a year. This $1.3 million payment was totally unexpected and a real windfall for ASMP and for the other visual arts groups. It's money that has to be used for education and advocacy that benefits the broader trade and cannot be used for operating expenses. There’s no way to know whether in the future we’ll receive additional payments or in fact what size payments we will receive in any given year from the Author’s Coalition.
RK: So it’s safe to say that when this $1.3 million came into ASMP’s possession, it was a little bit of a surprise.
EM: To say the least.
RK: I remember we sat at an Executive Board meeting and discovered we were receiving these monies. There was some uncertainty about how we could use the money.
EM: We weren’t sure what the strings were — what we could do with the money. So it was before the holidays, I recall, and so we put the questions out to the people at the Authors Coalition, and then they had to go back to talk to the grantors. And it was a little like whisper down the lane and took longer than we anticipated.
RK: So from a strategy standpoint, we made a decision that we weren’t going to announce any of this money until we had a plan. We didn’t have a plan of what to do with it at that time.
EM: It also didn’t have any direct effect on our need for a dues increase, because the one thing we did know was that we couldn’t use it for operating expenses, and we were in need of operating expenses.
RK: How are we using the money now?
EM: We’ve made substantial contributions to the PLUS Coalition (Picture Licensing Universal System), we’ve supported educational programming to our chapters and the public, we’ve used it for editing of our new Business Practices guide, for our advocacy in the Google book settlement, and for support for our Orphan Works efforts.
RK: Well, having said all that, we’ve decided that whenever we receive any monies in the future, we will let our members know as soon as we receive them. We’ve been doing that since this $1.3 million.
RK: In closing, I hope this clarifies a number of issues which may have been misunderstood.
Sorry for the length of this, but I think it's important. For years Mopsik has knowingly participated with the other 21 Member Organizations in the Authors Coalition to keep the revenue to themselves. So to me, his lament about creators not receiving compensation for their visual work all this time rings a bit hollow.
One other thing worth noting is how he emphasizes that ASCRL is "the only rightsholder-managed nonprofit CMO in the United States striving to create equity for authors of visual works." (at 17:50 https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__livestream.com_uspto_DigitalMarketplace16_videos_143913018&d=DwIF-g&c=Cu5g146wZdoqVuKpTNsYHeFX_rg6kWhlkLF8Eft-wwo&r=AGYZ7-AeerjxzYnIwL-lBLFI3SPYN3BDmku4qGQB4Tg&m=5pVWxQyiUhgD_yLG5dCcZgWeHbb1vbF0shyQr8_luA0&s=9wJVwSIGaBtzhc-eraSQkxzokizRLTRxWTo0gFGdDIE&e= )
Why make a point of that, when he's been fully aware of ASIP's unfunded, volunteer, tireless efforts (almost all by Brad and Cynthia) towards that goal since 2007? Why haven't they approached us to join them, since they have all this money -- instead of trying to peel off our member organizations so they can say they represent illustrators?
Something to think about.
Dear Brad, and others:
No, I was not watching the USPTO podcast. I am having some dire issues with both my email and computer.
The facts remain as I said at the time of our teleconference, neither I nor anyone from the Guild, to my knowledge, is "part of ASCRL". Others have repeated this in at least three conversations (that I know of) with ASIP representatives. ASCRL has not formally asked the GUILD to endorse them as of yet. What they did ask was for a representative to be on the ASCRL Advisory Board to help them design their distribution mechanism for the funds they already received. After becoming aware of this conflict that appeared to be brewing, I told James Silverberg (via email of 11/21/16) I could not be on their Advisory Board and wanted to remain neutral.
It's really too bad that while Janet and Joe were there at the podcast, they were not able to ask Gene Mopsik personally where his information came from. Perhaps the most direct resource is to ask James or ASCRL.
As a supporter of ASIP's mission to bring foreign licensing revenue to illustrators in the US, the Guild is hoping ASIP can provide a synopsis or review that will help us understand your current plans. We hope that ASIP can find a way through the system to claim some of the revenue that is being distributed, and not be overtaken by any new organizations that spring up in the meantime.
Linda M. Feltner
Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, President
Subscribe to Sciart-L by completing the form at https://listserv.unl.edu/signup-anon
List name is Sciart-L
To unsubscribe, complete form at https://listserv.unl.edu/signup-anon?UNSUB=1
Problems: Email Lana at [log in to unmask]