I’ve been biting my tongue and hold back a lot lately but I feel as if I have to have some self respect and value the work I produce and the efforts I put in to the desires of each and everyone of my clients, even if I do not in return receive the respect I deserve.
Now I normally wouldn’t say anything publicly but I feel as if me not saying anything these past few months might have gave off the wrong impression and that what has been done to me, can and will continue to happen to other fellow freelancers, not just in photography. Whether they admit it, some loathsome characters deal with freelancers merely because they believe these smaller independent businesses would have little recourse should they not hold up their end of the bargain. They think that once we have taken the time to complete the work and deliver it, that they have all the power to control the outcome of the business transaction. But now more than ever, this is not the case, (smashing magazine.) So here is my long over due experience (that I am still currently dealing with,) of a client of mine who does not respect the work that I do as a photographer and refuses to pay me for all my time and effort. Even though I have been more then accommodating with him throughout these last few months; through miss communications, breached contracts on many occasions, and unpaid invoices way past due. But now, upon licensing usage being up on my images and a handful of emails and phone calls that have continued to not be responded to on his behalf, and remaining balances still unpaid I am finally coming forward with this depute publicly.
Earlier this summer, I was hired to shoot a summer look book for a local Chicago eye wear designer, Malachi Artese’s web store. I’ve worked with Malachi Artese once before on a futuristic series I was working on earlier in the year, so I was all for shooting his designs again. Malachi Artese first contacted me in regards to this project on facebook. I quoted Malachi based around many factors; the job itself, us working together before, him being an up and coming designer, me being credited on all images that appeared on his website, etc. Upon finalizing the estimate and contract designed around the specific project layout I sent him the estimate and contract as an attachment on facebook, (where he originally contacted me,) as well as in an email where I prefer to talk about business. The estimate and contract clearly layed out all the estimates based upon the job description he had given me, the usage of the images, that a 50% deposit was needed to book my services, full payment was due on the day of the shoot, and no images would be given to the client until the invoice is paid in full. Malachi read over the contract, reviewed all the details and then signed the contract and told me a deposit would not be needed as the shoot would be paid in full in cash on the day of the shoot, not a problem. Working with him before and thinking he was good for it, I let it go and I proceeded onto shoot preparation and the actual shoot. On the day of the shoot, Malachi paid me less then the deposit that was suppose to be due upon booking my services. He clearly did not read the estimate and contract, in which I asked him to look over, let me know if he had any questions or concerns, and then sign prior to the shoot. On set we then discussed payments and his misunderstandings and we verbally discussed setting up some sort of payment plan since he didn’t have the money at the moment. I then went through with him in person the numbers and descriptions, contract and estimate in hand the day of the shoot. After the shoot I wrote up an invoice stating that it is payable upon receipt and he had 30 days since the day the invoice was sent to pay before a late charge of of the grand total per month would be added on. The invoice clearly stated that license usage rights are transferred upon full payment of this invoice. Failure to make payments voids any license granted and constitutes copyright infringement. Again, making it clear how the usage and licensing would work. He agreed.
After I finished editing all the images from the shoot I emailed Malachi to let him know that the images were ready and that I would release the photographs to him upon receipt of the remaining balance, which was clearly stated on the original estimate and contract in which he signed. He responded to that by saying he needed the images prior to payment for the release and launching of his new line and would be able to pay the remaining balance after his launch party on July 17th. Against my regulations and our initial contract, I kindly sent him the images early so he could get his website in order for the launch. Malachi Artese launched his website in July showcasing off my images from our shoot in June. Against what was agreed upon in contract, Malachi did not credit me at all for any of the photographs. He also edited and altered some of my images and used them without my permission and without further licensing in a promo for his launch party and as a banner on his website. I followed up with Malachi after his website launch with the updated invoice with the updated remaining balance that was stated on the original contract he signed that stated that if credit was not given on the image that usage was payable upon full rate. Because of the updated invoice, Malachi flipped accusing me of changing what was originally agreed upon, added rules and additional fees and then stated that he will not be paying me ANY of the remaining balance which was about 75% of the total still left unpaid even though I had followed up with my end of the bargain, producing amazing pictures, going above and beyond, and busting my ass to edit all the beauty shots within the small time frame between the shoot and his website launch all before receiving anymore of the balance that should have been paid in full on the day of the shoot. Upon responding to his email and providing him in detail with answers to all his questions backing up everything with past emails, contracts, and conversations. He then agreed upon paying me the remaining of the Invoice and giving me full credit on his website.
With late fees adding up each month, more emails going unnoticed on his part, and being deleted off of various social networking sites, only to have my photography skills be talked about in terms of “not being worth it,” I finally received partial payment of the remaining balance on the Invoice in September and promised that the invoice will be completely paid off before the usage of the images end on October 15th. One of the last emails I received from Malachi was in the beginning of September stating, “Please do not email me again about this situation or I will have your email blocked. The next email I send you will be either with a payment or payment update.” Which is totally uncalled for as he still owes me money and I have done nothing wrong. He is deliberately ignoring me.
As October approached I noticed that the credit of my images were no longer shown upon his website along side my images like they did. Breaching contract once again, I contacted him given him the option to fix the uncredited images before the fee would be added. With no response, I sent over the updated remaining balance. A handful of emails later with no response from him, October 17th approached – the day usage ended. I sent him an email clearly stating that usage has ended and that my images will need to be removed within 24 hours And that payment needs to be paid in full by the end of the month. I ended the message that if I did not hear back from him by tomorrow afternoon I would follow up by phone the following day and if I do not hear back from him after that I would be forced to file a claim at small claims court. Of course he did not answer my email or phone call or call me back and this was a few days ago although I know he received them as he has taken the images down from his website to refrain anymore fees. Still not fully unpaid, I am now forced to file a report against him to receive the final remaining balance that is owed to me for all my time and effort.
I honestly wish I never took this job. Not only did I do the job for much less then what it was worth, I have spent way more time and effort on constantly trying to get in contact with Malachi, dealing with unprofessional acts months after months on his part, and trying to be paid for the work I have done. And now I have to take more time out of my life to file a report and take this depute to small claims court because he not only refuses to pay me what was agreed upon, he’s breached the contract multiple times, and now he has gone out of his way to ignore any contact I try to make with him. But it is what I have to do.
My advice to any of you:
1. Be aware of who you work with.
2. Don’t trust anyone.
3. Contracts are key!
4. Get a deposit and be paid up front (if you can!)
5. Never give your work to your clients until the Invoice is paid in full.
The only good thing that has came from doing this shoot with Malachi Artese was that I got my first cover (& feature editorial) in the October Issue of Linger Magazine ONLY because I did not want all my hard work to go unnoticed.