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Photographers protest high fees to cover mas

It’s wrong and unethical
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Maria Nunez

Contrary to popular belief—and, apparently, the belief of Carnival special interest groups—photographers don’t make a lot of money from covering Carnival. This year, Carnival stakeholders—the National Carnival Commission (NCC), the National Carnival Bands Association (NCBA), Pan Trinbago and the Trinbago Unified Calypsonians Organisation (TUCO)—raised the licence fees for Carnival coverage by amateur and freelance photographers. 



Some prominent photographers fear the demand for fees will reduce the coverage the festival gets and the way it is recorded for posterity. In a telephone interview with the T&T Guardian on Monday, independent photographer Maria Nunes said she paid $8,100 in licence fees to the NCC, the NCBA and Pan Trinbago to cover Carnival 2013 events. 


Nunes said the amount a freelance photographer had to pay the NCC and other collaborating bodies depended on the events he or she wished to cover. If a photographer wanted to cover all Carnival events or shows, the licence fees would be enormous. “For me,” she said, “my primary interest is in traditional mas.”


She paid a licence fee to cover the NCC's regional Carnivals, which included stickfighting and Camboulay demonstrations. Included in the $8,100 which Nunes paid was $5,900 to the NCBA to cover some of its events, such as the traditional mas competition in Victoria Square, Port-of-Spain, and the Carnival Kings and Queens prelims, semifinals and finals, as well as the parade of the bands on Carnival Monday. 


“What we are paying for is access to a judging point. That is all we are paying for,” she said. She said the licences allowed her access to the stage for certain events. Despite that, she said, she would not have the right to publish any of the photos taken at those locations unless she had the permission of the people in the photos. 


Meanwhile, some of these locations lack proper arrangements, she said, and amateur photographers could be seen pressed against railings taking photographs although they have not paid the relevant licence fees. Nunes said this year, she considered not paying because of the considerable increase in the fees. She said it was “the love of our cultural heritage and documenting it” that encouraged her to pay. 


She added:  “I see it as an investment in my work. But I am not sure how I feel about it for next year. When I look at how many pictures are actually taken at these judging points and the value of them, I am not sure it makes sense.” She said many captivating photos could be taken in and around Port-of-Spain in areas that are not designated as judging points.


Andrea de Silva, a photographer who works for the international news agency Reuters, said in a telephone interview yesterday she saw the licence fees for coverage of  Carnival as “wrong and unethical.” De Silva said in 2010 she covered the local Carnival events for Reuters and was required to pay an accreditation fee of US$250. In 2011, she paid TT$2,000 to cover Carnival events. 


That was the last year she paid these licence fees. She said paying for coverage of any event is against Reuters’ policy. “It is wrong for any organisation, be it the NCC or anybody else, to charge the media to cover any event,” she said.


De Silva, a former T&T Guardian chief photographer, said she has covered events all over the world and has never been made to pay for such coverage. She said the reason she had paid the licence fees in the past was that she saw the need to promote T&T Carnival on the world stage. This year, she said, she saw a major decrease in the number of photographers during the Carnival season. 


“I am sure this is because of the exorbitant fees. Who is going to benefit from this in the long term? By promoting the festival, we stand to benefit,” she added. She said statistics showed the majority of visitors to Trinidad during the Carnival season were from the T&T diaspora and it was important to allow people to capture the spirit of Carnival through photos in order to attract foreigners to take part in the national festival.


De Silva said the belief that freelance photographers make a lot of money through the use of Carnival pictures was very false, since there was no real market for such photos other than in Carnival magazines. Freelance journalist and photographer at the T&T Guardian Mark Lyndersay said in the 25 years he has been licensing Carnival pictures, he doubts he has made the $16,000 that some freelance photographers would have paid this year alone in licence fees for Carnival coverage. 


He said these high fees would have a “chilling effect” on the coverage of the national festival. He said such an effect had been pervasive since 1995, with the enforcement of the works-of-mas copyright clause which called on media houses to pay if they wanted to publish Carnival souvenir magazines apart from their regular publications. 




During this year’s Carnival season, there was controversy over issues to do with accreditation and licensing for covering major Carnival events. Among them:  
•The failure to ensure there was a broadcast or professional videotaping of the Panorama semifinals 
•The threat of legal action by the T&T Copyright Collection Organisation against three local media houses for not paying copyright fees for mas for 2007-2012. 
•TTCO CEO Richard Cornwall warning the public not to post photos of mas on Facebook because of possible copyright infringement.


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