Photographers Applaud ‘USA Today’ Contract

By: Jay DeFoore

(Photo District News) This summer USA Today sent out 700 contracts to its freelance photographers, and so far about half have come back signed. Though they expressed concerns about some of the provisions, many of the photographers who’ve signed the agreement say overall the terms are the best in the newspaper industry.

Like the prior arrangement, the new contract gives USA Today rights for one-time editorial use, and the photographer retains copyright. In the past, the paper had to ask permission each time it wanted to reuse a photo. But under the new terms, the paper can reuse images at its discretion for an additional fee. The paper will pay freelancers $100 each time a picture appears on its Web site or TV programs, and pay the standard space rate for pictures reused in print. In addition, the contract increases day rates from $225 to $275 and the newspaper will pay a $100 transmission fee.

Paul Whyte, the newspaper’s director of photography, said the contract is the paper’s best attempt at formalizing a good working relationship with freelancers. “They’re our lifeblood,” he said. “We rely heavily on freelance photographers and we’ve built a good relationship over the years and this is just an expansion of that.”

Still, having been burned in the past by other newspaper contracts, some freelancers are wary any time they’re asked to sign a formal agreement. Freelancer Leo Sorel said he was a little discouraged when he saw the contract arrive in the mail, but he still plans on signing it. “Generally speaking it’s still bad news, but not as bad as it gets,” he said. “The most important thing is, I retain copyright and can sell the rights to stock agencies.”

Freelancers are most concerned about the paper’s 60-day embargo on images from the date they run in USA Today. The way it’s worded, photographers must send a written request to the paper’s editors if they want to sell images for stock or to another publication. If enforced, the 60-day period could all but kill the value and newsworthiness of some material.

“I have six contracts with newspapers and this one is the best of them all,” said freelancer Jennifer Altman. “Still, I wish they’d take that one point out.”

Whyte has assured Altman and others that the provision is nothing to worry about. If another publication asks to run one of their photos, Whyte said he contacts the freelancer first, and if given permission, he sends the film or digital files to the publication’s editors.

“I’ve been here 20 years and we’ve never held stuff for 60 days,” he said. “Once we’ve run it we’ve run it. Our philosophy as a national newspaper is we depend on freelance photographers and we know if we screw them we screw ourselves.”

A PDF of USA Today‘s freelance agreement is available at

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