FAA says journalists can’t use drones but can buy drone-created photos/video from hobbyists

In what strikes me as a very strange distinction, the FAA has said this week that journalists and media organizations may not use drones for their newsgathering operations without permission, though they may purchase photos and video from hobbyists that they do not employ.

American journalists and media organizations have been pushing the FAA to rule whether or not they can legally use drones for newsgathering for some time now. In March of last year, a judge ruled that commercial drone use is legal in the US, though the FAA appealed the ruling.

A person who wishes to operate a UAS to take pictures or videos or gather other information that would be sold to media outlets would need an FAA authorization for the operation”FAA, Media Use of UAS, May 5, 2015

Now, in a memorandum issued May 5, 2015 (embedded above), the FAA says using a drone specifically for newsgathering, whether it’s a news organization or a freelancer intending to sell the work to a publication, requires FAA permission as does any other “non-hobby” usage of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones). However, if a hobbyist happens to take pictures or video and a media organization wants to license that work for news purposes, the FAA says that is okay because the flight is considered authorized.

Hopefully, there will be legal challenges to this memorandum. Both a Forbes contributor and Vice Motherboard have more coverage of this memorandum, raising concerns about the restrictions this places on the press. The memo makes me think of last year’s controversy over proposed US National Forest regulations regarding photography on public lands.

On this subject, do yourself a favor and check out Tomas van Houtryve‘s Blue Sky Days project, if for some strange reason you haven’t seen it yet. It’s been widely published and awarded, and for good reason. The project is the most creative and insightful investigation of American drone warfare that I’ve seen. I saw him present the work to a small crowd a couple weeks ago at the Magenta Foundation‘s Flash Forward Festival in Boston. If he’s presenting in your area, his presentations are well worth checking out.

Wal-Mart of Photography Entrepreneur facing $90 million in lawsuits

First, sports collectors who bought what they thought were original items from Rogers began crying ‘fake.’ Then a series of people Rogers did business with started suing him over unpaid bills. Finally, the FBI raided his place, and he was tossed out of the business, a receiver appointed to make sense of the mess.”The strange saga of John Rogers…, MinnPost

This remains one of the strangest photography-related stories I’ve run across. In 2013, I first wrote about the Rogers Photo Archive‘s efforts to buy up old newspaper photography archives. Rogers claimed to be making $120,000 per week in a 2012 interview, mostly by selling prints, posters, and original negatives from these archives on eBay. Now the entrepreneur is facing at least $90 million in lawsuits and his operation has basically been shut down. The business was raided by the FBI, Rogers was ousted, and the operation has been placed into receivership, according to a piece published this week by MinnPost.

Screenshot of Rogers Photo Archive website - 17 April 2015
Screenshot of Rogers Photo Archive website – 17 April 2015

Rogers had negotiated the purchase of original negatives of millions of photos from newspaper archives across the US, Australia, and New Zealand, including the McClatchy Company, the St. Petersburg Times, the Denver Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Sydney Morning Herald, and others. The Rogers Photo Archive would then restore damaged negatives, digitize and archive the images, and then both give the original newspapers a digital archive (see “What We Do” section of the homepage) and sell images through eBay and its own licensing firm, Argenta Images (link not work as of this writing).

It’s hard to find evidence of the eBay sales now, though there remain a few eBay stores with names similar to Argenta Images and which are operated by accounts with tens of thousands of transactions. All of these stores have 0 active items as of this writing. I can’t say for certain whether they were run by the Rogers Photo Archive, but I’d bet they were.

According to MinnPost, the entire operation has now come crashing down. There are now “more than a dozen lawsuits” aimed at Rogers, seeking in total more than $90 million. Sports collectors thought they had been buying original items but allege that Rogers was selling reproductions (interestingly, Rogers first made news when he bought a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card in 2008). Then businesses came after the archive for unpaid bills and the business has been taken over in receivership.

One of the lawsuits against the Rogers Archive has been brought by Fairfax Media, a New Zealand newspaper company that sold the photo archives of 72 New Zealand newspapers and a number of Australian papers to Rogers. In May 2013, Fairfax sold the photo archives, approximately 8 million images, but did not receive the digitized archive before the Rogers Photo Archive’s recent troubles. The New Zealand Herald says that the sale of the images to Rogers took place only after the country’s Ministry of Culture and Heritage “granted Fairfax a temporary export permit under the Protected Object Act.” The Ministry told the NZ Herald that it is “concerned” about the fate of this historical archive and that it “reserves the right to take action as appropriate.”

(via a friend on Facebook)

World Fixer creates worldwide, reputation-based database of fixers

WorldFixer.com
WorldFixer.com

If you worked with a fixer, you know how valuable they can be, and also how difficult they can be to find. Typically, one asks for recommendations from others who have worked in a region to find someone to help with translating, transportation, and access. Now, World Fixer aims to create a worldwide database of fixers for media companies to help facilitate their reporting. This is a huge undertaking and one which requires a method to verify safety and reputation on both sides of the equation. Reporters need to know that the prospective fixer knows what they’re doing and won’t sell the reporter to kidnappers, etc. Fixers need to know that people contacting them for work are actual journalists and not just trying to get personal information so they can kill or kidnap the fixer. Columbia Journalism Review has a good backgrounder on some of the issues at play in the fixer-journalist relationship.

I asked Mike Garrod, one of the founders of World Fixer, a bit about how the site works.

It is common that facilitators let their guard down just because an employer is waving a cheque book but it’s important that they know as much as they can find out before engaging on a project.”Mike Garrod, founder of World Fixer

World Fixer started this year to try and help employers (media, NGO’s and Travel operators) find trusted, local fixers, producers and journalists around the world. The key word here is ‘trusted’ and anyone who has had to use local staff in their ventures will know what can go wrong,” Garrod said over email. So they’ve developed a system for verifying and tracking reputation of both fixers and those who would hire them. Members on the site give confidential references to World Fixer who then call and verify their identity and capabilities. Members can also post testimonials and reviews of individuals they work with through World Fixer. But, he acknowledges that there is “no foolproof system” to ensure trust, and encourages users to perform their own due diligence before working with someone found on the site. World Fixer also offers services to conduct background checks and additional verification of fixers.

Fixers can also work with World Fixer to get background information about the companies and journalists that would hire them. The site encourages users to keep all correspondence on the site so that there is a record in case of any disputes. The fixer-journalist relationship can be unbalanced, Garrod said. “It is common that facilitators let their guard down just because an employer is waving a cheque book but it’s important that they know as much as they can find out before engaging on a project.”

Sites like World Fixer require a critical mass of users to be of any value. Having only started this year, I was curious about how big the database is so far. Garrod says that the founders of World Fixer have 25 years in the journalism business so mined their existing contacts to start. There are now nearly 900 fixers listed in the database and 300 employers have signed up, including independent journalists, BBC News desks, Discovery Channel, ABC, and Save the Children and other NGOs.

Take a look around the site yourself. Garrod said that signups are welcome for fixers, journalists, and media companies. “We are keen to create more work for our fixers in whatever form that comes so [photographers and other journalists] are welcome to [sign up],” Garrod said. Of course, new members must provide contact information so they can be verified before having access to fixer information.

And be sure to check out World Fixer’s blog. There are posts including notes from the field, ideas about physical and data security precautions, and explorations of issues affecting fixers.