|John Rutter, Manager in charge of Text Syndication and Image Sales for the National Geographic Society was kind enough to respond to our Email. If you want to see the National Geographic Website go to the LINKS PAGE. Here is what he wrote:|
Thank you for your questions and your interest in educating students about copyright. Copyright has become an increasing important (and confusing) legal topic. The first thing people need to realize is that everything that can be created and published art, music, writing, photographs is owned by somebody. Most pieces of work created since 1978 are likely to be owned by the person or persons who created the work. However, sometimes the writer, artist, or photographer works for a publication as a staff person, which usually means that the publisher owns their work, and sometimes freelance people transfer the rights to a piece of work to the publisher that hired them. If the freelance creator keeps the rights to their work, they often ask an agent to represent them and make decisions regarding the publication and republication of their work.
When you look at National Geographic magazine, you are looking at the product of many people. Behind the scenes, a lot of work is done by people on our staff to develop story ideas, to work with the writer and photographer to get the best story and select the best pictures, and to design the most attractive article possible for publication. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, some of the writers and photographers that get published in our magazine are National Geographic Society staff people, and the Society owns the work they do for us and we publish. Most of the articles and photographs are the work of freelance people. In those cases, the Society purchases the right to publish their material in specific magazines and/or for specific periods of time. Then, the freelance writer or photographer gets the copyright to his or her work returned, and she or he is free to sell the same material to other publications. Often, an agent handles this work for the freelance person, which allows the photographer or writer to spend more time taking pictures or researching a story. Permission to reprint these items must then be obtained from the agent.
The National Geographic Society Image Sales office has people who act as agents for a wide selection of photographers and authors who are published in National Geographic magazine both staff people and freelance. If we receive a request from someone to reprint material for a photographer or author that we do not represent, then we refer that person directly to the agent or person who can handle the request.
If we represent the photographer or author, we typically sell their material for them we do not generally release material for free. It is our responsibility to work for the creators to ensure that their livelihood and the rights to their material is protected. This does not mean that we never work with educators for we do. Our Image Sales office reviews every request individually and has a little flexibility in its decisions. Other offices of the Society work more directly with educators and create special products for their needs. It is also important to recognize that there is a "fair use" clause in the copyright law that applies primarily to educational use of copyrighted material, so the needs of educators is also protected.
Since our photographers are doing editorial work, they do not generally obtain "model releases" from the people that appear in their photographs. However, if a photograph of a person is to be used in a commercial product or advertisement, then permission from that person in the form of a model release is needed. If an advertising agency comes to use to re--use a photograph that we can release, we do seek out any people in the picture and ask them to sign a release.
We do get a lot of requests, almost more than we can handle. We get requests from publishers and designers all over the world, from people writing their first books or their memoirs, from Web site developers, and from students interested in using a photo in a school report. School use of material by a student is almost always allowed. However, we do not usually release photographs or other copyrighted material for reproduction on the Web, even for school projects, unless we collect a payment for the use for the photographer or creator. Material on the Web is still not protected very well, and law makers are still struggling with the balance between protecting the rights of copyright holders and educators.
We do not have statistics on the number or breakdown of the type of requests we receive on copyright issues. We do have staff here at the Society (such as me) that handle these requests. For students seeking information or guidance on using a copyrighted piece in a school project, I would suggest speaking with a school librarian or a librarian at a community library. They are very conscientious about copyright laws and a great resource that is close at hand. If they cannot answer the specific question, they should be able to help determine from the credits or acknowledgments in the book or magazine who holds the copyright. If neither of these work, the next step would probably be to contact the publisher.
I hope this information is helpful, and I wish you the best on your project.