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Strange journey as a stock photo



The other day, I read about a model in New York who is suing a stock photography agency for selling an image of her to an HIV-rights campaign. Her photo appeared in a local paper beside the legend “I am positive… I have rights.” The model insisted her reputation was irreparably besmirched, as anyone who saw the ad now assumed she was HIV-positive.


The model claims she never signed a release allowing her image to be sold. If that’s true, she has a case. But if, like many other wannabe hacks, she DID knowingly pose for a photographer who sells his work to stock sites, she’s screwed.

Stock photos are images that can be downloaded for a nominal fee, then used commercially without fear of repercussion from the original photographer and/ or model. They’re a great resource for publications who need an image of a pumpkin or a cat or a mermaid with a carrot up her ass. If the publication can’t afford, or doesn’t want to hassle with hiring a photographer to take the photo, they can just go to one of the major stock photography sites and search for an appropriate image there. There are thousands of photographers who make money selling their images to these databases, receiving a small royalty off each download.

Usually, these photographers hire models to pose for their shots, paying them a modest stipend up front, then having them sign away any further rights to the image.

If this was the case with the New York model, then she has no legal standing.

It’s an interesting story, either way, and it really caught my attention, because I shot with a stock photographer once and it’s coming back to bite me in the ass, too.

I made my own Vegas showgirl costume a few years ago in the hopes of securing work as a trade show photo op. I blew $200 on ostrich feathers and spent 20 hours with a hot glue gun. Once finished, I needed some pictures of myself in the costume for marketing purposes so I hit up one of my photographer friends, who at the time had a studio here in town. I knew this guy was rumored to sell his work to stock sites, but I wanted pictures so I signed his release anyway, trading my modeling in exchange for free photos. He didn’t pay me for my time, but instead emailed me a few web-sized images to use for promotional purposes, and I was happy. A couple of them came out really excellent, in particular one where I’m sitting on a toilet with a martini in my hand and a disgusted look on my face. I was able to book two paid gigs off these photos, so it worked out OK.

Fast forward a year or two, and I run into the photographer again and he tells me not to be surprised if I see the photos on a billboard somewhere, because they get downloaded every single day. Wow, I’m famous somewhere. I had no idea where or how these photos were being used, but it was interesting to think that my face was out there, shilling for some bullshit product in some godforsaken corner of the Earth.


A few months ago, there was a photo booth at ex-Mayor Oscar Goodman’s roast, and one of my showgirl images appeared on the border of all the photo booth pictures. I’m not high enough caliber to be one of the real showgirls who make appearances with Oscar, but I guess I’ll do as a photo-op border image.


Then, last month a friend in London happened to be passing through Leicester Square when he spotted my red-sequined ass plastered on the front of what appeared to be a brothel. He took a pic and posted it to my Facebook page, and we all got a good laugh out of it. There’s a little sign in the background reading “18 AND OVER ONLY,” so I assumed it was some kind of strip club or whorehouse or something. Rather than worry about my “reputation,” as the New York model did… I thought it was hilarious. (It turned out not to be a brothel after all, but a casino.)

Finally, the other day another friend emailed me a screen shot from her computer – turns out now my image is being used on the website of a stupid TV game show – a game show for which I auditioned, incidentally, but was not cast for.


I’m not good enough to be on your stupid show, but my ass is OK to be plastered on your website?


You’re damn right I’m pissed off about all this – but not for the same reasons as the New York model. I couldn’t care less about my reputation – it’s already irreparably besmirched, so much so that I’ll never fulfill my girlhood dream of running for governor.

No, what I’m pissed off about is the money. I knew I shouldn’t have signed all my rights away. I could be raking in big, fat royalty checks as we speak.


SARAH JANE WOODALL is a one-woman culture festival. Read more at her blog,