Some members have been checking their email over the last week or so, or catching the occasional tweet or Facebook post from their friends, and seeing for the first time that their membership dues to the NPPA are increasing by $35 starting January 1.
As NPPA treasurer, I am responsible for keeping track of our finances, and I want to explain why we are raising dues.
The NPPA has expenses for programs and staff, but the most important thing NPPA does is our advocacy work. There are countless situations where the NPPA works to influence legal issues related to photojournalists. A recent example is an amicus brief we filed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which will impact how much a photographer can get when suing for multiple infringements by the same company. Another example is the massive ongoing efforts by the NPPA that influenced the FAA to implement regulations to allow commercial drone operation by photojournalists.
This is in addition to NPPA’s work advocating for the creation of a small claims court system for copyright disputes that could save our members tens of thousands of dollars when pursuing damages for unauthorized use of their work. This effort alone has been ongoing for half a decade or longer.
Unfortunately, advocacy is also the hardest thing to place a tangible value on for individuals. While members reach out to Mickey Osterreicher all the time for advice and guidance on specific legal questions - something that would cost them a full year's worth of membership in hourly legal billing rate alone - the majority of photojournalists benefit from the work our attorneys do whether they’re members or not.
All this work has been funded largely by outside revenue from the Authors Coalition of America for the better part of a decade. The ACA—which collects and distributes overseas royalties that are designated to benefit authors through groups like NPPA—has provided funds to the NPPA that supported short grants, scholarships to our workshops and all of our advocacy efforts. That allowed the organization to focus our operating budget specifically on other member benefits - programming, education, contests and administrative expenses. But the future of ACA funding is unpredictable due to everything from the fluctuating value of the dollar to changes in overseas copyright law.
The ACA’s funding can get a bit complicated but hang with me...
In different countries across the world, governments collect a statutory licensing fee for certain copying, such as photocopying. Taxes are paid to the reprographic rights organizations (RROs) in their country. In some circumstances, the copyright holder is identified, and the fee is distributed directly to them, and in others, the money is distributed to organizations, that must use the funds to benefit authors, including photographers. In the case of money directed to organizations in the U.S., it is distributed through the ACA to groups such as the NPPA, the American Society of Media Photographers, the Authors Guild, The Graphic Artists Guild and others.
Funding distributed by the ACA can vary wildly year-to-year. In some years, the NPPA has received enough to fund our advocacy efforts two or three times over, leaving us plenty of funding for other exciting programs. But this is not consistent. A couple of years ago the total ACA distribution amounted to significantly less than our advocacy budget - despite those amounts remaining mostly fixed. The difference must be made up by funds from the operating budget - and most of that revenue comes from your membership dues.
To ensure we can continue this important work, we need our advocacy funding to be more reliable. To do that, we’re shifting the cost of our advocacy work to our operating budget. This will not only ensure we can continue the work we’re doing but that we can use the ACA funds we do receive each year to again fund other programs for our members.
I know you’re still thinking, “Ok, but am I getting $145 in value?”
I can’t help you answer that – unless you’ve gone to any of the NPPA’s workshops where registration is usually discounted for members at a rate close to the cost of membership. Or if you’ve bought a product from Apple using the NPPA’s discounts, which for a new computer can more than cover the total cost of your dues. Or if you’ve signed up for the insurance or telemedicine programs the NPPA offers, which are discounted for members. I’d also imagine if you’ve ever received advice from either of our counselors, Mickey Osterreicher or Alicia Calzada, you’ve experienced that value firsthand.
So, after more than a decade at $110, your dues are going up. I respect the financial pressures every one of our members' faces, whether freelance, retired, staff or student, and I want to make sure this increase impacts everyone as little as possible. That’s why we’re encouraging members to renew early at the current rate before January 1. This will also be the last year employees who itemize their taxes can deduct the cost of their membership dues, due to changes in the new tax law passed just before Christmas. NPPA is also changing the way our payment system works to make monthly payments easier for everyone and lower that hit to the bank account when more than $100 comes out at once.
Photojournalism needs the NPPA. We’re fighting harder than any organization to protect your rights in the face of rapidly changing legislation and evolving business models. But, we can’t keep doing that without our members.
Kyle Grantham is treasurer of the NPPA.
You can renew your membership at nppa.org either from your profile page or join for the first time at nppa.org/join.