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It certainly was a first for me. Three different publications requesting the same photograph for its cover. One of the three, of course, asked first. Since the license for the photo was not a “rights managed” license, I am allowed to license it to other people, but if I have knowledge that they are interested in using it I of course try to steer them away from using it if there’s any overlap, even if it means I lose a sale.

Many publications request “first North American rights,” which means they have the first chance to publish an image. Problem is, many editors and art directors often gravitate to the same photos. It’s human nature. Not because they saw it published before, but because frankly some photographs are better than others. Lucky for me, there’s a lot of interest these days in cowboy photography.

Almost a year ago I had a publication call me and wanted to use my photographs in several issues. They too asked for a “royalty free” to use the photographs (frankly, they didn’t have a budget for anything else), which means I am free to license it to other clients without stipulation. I gave them a portfolio of photos to look through and then my photo essay in American Cowboy came out within days of that and they were miffed. They accused me of “pulling the wool over their eyes.” I’m not sure how that was possible since they never told me what photos they wanted to use, and had they done so I would have certainly told them if they had been published before. The two magazines didn’t even cater to the same audience, but that didn’t stop them from being angry.

They later contacted me and asked to start the relationship over again. I declined. I don’t take kindly to being accused of not being straightforward with someone. If you want a rights managed license then you have to pay rights managed pricing. If you are only going to pay for a royalty free license, well, unless you specifically request “first North American rights” I am going to license to whomever I can to make up the difference. Why? Because I have bills to pay, too.

This episode, however, has caused me to break my portfolio into two. I am making one folder of cowboy photographs will contain images that have been previously published before and a second folder will contain images that have yet to be published. Hopefully that will keep everyone happy. Hopefully.

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