How to clear intellectual property; Six Degrees interview

I caught up with Martin Cribbs, president of Six Degrees IP Consulting, a division of Six Degrees Licensing. The company also includes Six Degrees Research Rights & Clearances. I asked him about some fundamental Intellectual Property issues as he introduced the two divisions of Six Degrees to Fast Media Magazine.

What is the most important thing Stock Media Company and advertising agencies need to know about using celebrities and/or properties?

The most important thing to know is: people own the rights to their name, image, and likeness. This is governed by laws which vary from state to state and country by country. A person’s “self” is their own personal property – a “right of personality” – and when an advertiser wants to use a person’s name, their image, or likeness, they need to secure permission to do so. What stock media companies need to know and explain to their clients, whether for advertising, corporate, or editorial use is that the stock agency only has the right to the photo and not the personalities, properties, trade¬marks and copyrights within the photo. Ad agencies must know this first and then understand that it takes time and money to clear rights depending on the usage, media, territory, term.

You have recently started a new rights clearance business; can you walk us through how you got there, what is your career path so far?

The principals at Six Degrees come from extensive intellectual property rights licensing backgrounds. I was with the Andy Warhol estate for 14 years and then with Corbis/GreenLight for 4. Gina Ragusa was with Second Line Search for 14 years and then with Corbis’ Rights & Music Clearances for 6. And George Bartko was the COO at Second Line and Sekani and was briefly at Corbis. Gina and George founded Six Degrees in February of this year as a research and rights & clearances company. A month later, I joined the team and started the Intellectual Property Consulting division which also represents certain properties.

As far as our career paths, we’ve all worked hard and stayed close to our respective expertises. We’ve travelled all over the world and had the great fortune to work on numerous projects with many interesting clients from both advertising agencies and the corporate sector. Its our job to simplify the complex¬ity of rights clearances which allows our clients to unleash their creativity.

What made you interested in rights clearances in the first place?

Like most people, we just fell into it; for each of us, the whole concept of intangible, intellectual rights is fascinating. We know a little about allot of different things and all learn something new almost every day. We’re pop culture junkies and our staff are “experts” in a variety of genres; sports, fine art, personalities, estates, movies, music, etc. Also the opportunity to collaborate with producers, creatives, business managers, attorneys, etc., is exciting. We love seeing our collaborative work come to life on air, in print, on billboards – wherever.

You worked at the leading rights services provider in the industry, Corbis what are the biggest learning’s from that period?

Many of the principals at Six Degrees were instrumental in starting the Rights Services division at Corbis. It did not exist prior to Corbis’ acquisition of Second Line Search in 2002 when Gina Ragusa, Karen Alters, and others came on board. I joined Corbis to manage and run their acquisition of The Roger Richman Agency in 2005. The biggest learning for us was that building a global business for Corbis was a natural progression for each one of us. We all realized how much we knew and how much value we added to the company and that was empowering as we began our own business.

Can you describe a typical clearance process?

We will typically get a call from an ad agency or corporation who has a creative idea that uses some sort of intellectual property – a song, a celebrity, etc. We will advise based on our experience – how much to budget for, how long the clearance might take, whether the rights are available, etc. From there, we tap into our database of contacts or conduct research and then get in touch with rights owners to facilitate the process of clearing the rights between the two parties.

What type of complications do you typically run into?

Clearing rights can be complex on the agency/corporate side because of evolving creative and shifting budgets. On the rights owner side, it can be complicated because they change representatives, object to the creative, demand more money than the budget allows for, etc. Also, deadlines are almost always a critical issue. But all of that really gets to the heart of why Six Degrees exists: to assist in the process, handle those complexities, and make alternative suggestions in case Plan A (or B) falls through. When we’re doing our best work, our clients can do theirs and produce great campaigns.

Are clients always clear from the outset about what they want?

Often times clients are very specific about the song they want to use, the film or TV clip, etc. Other times, a client will only have a concept: famous pairs, greatest achievers, inventors of the 20 century, etc. And still other times, the creative can change many times if their first and second choices aren’t available or if the clip or song just doesn’t work. if this happens, Six Degrees is always available to make alternative suggestions based on the concept(s) they’re trying to achieve.

What about budget expectations, is this always in line with the possibilities and what happens when it’s not?

Budgets are probably the most critical component for a campaign that wants to use iconic intellectual property. There is a reason iconic content is used – it gets consumers’ attention and oftentimes is short¬hand for conveying an emotion or theme. Therefore the fees can run in the six figures or higher depend¬ing on the usage, media, territory, term, etc. Since Six Degrees has been conducting clearances and negotiations for the past 20+ years, clients often utilize us to give them ballpark estimates on properties before they sell the concept or idea to their client so they are not in a position of having to tell their client it’s not available or not within the budget. When this happens, Six Degrees can quickly come up with alternatives properties while still keeping the integrity of the clients concept within their budget.

What can stock media companies and advertising agencies do themselves to make a clearance for a client go smoothly?

For ad agencies, they can plan multiple options.. When an agency comes to us wanting one particular clearance, we’ll oftentimes suggest having a few alternatives in case the first rights owner says no or it’s not within their budget. For stock media companies, they need to make sure their staff is well trained and well versed in speaking with clients upfront regarding the fact that that the content they are licensing does not give them rights to the IP in the content and that there might be multiple layers of rights in a single image or film clip.

In addition, stock media companies must be sure that their license agreement explicitly – and in understandable language – articulates the same. It’s too late once the content is licensed. For example, if a stock media agency has images of Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can, the client will need to license for the use of the photo, license the artworks’ copy¬right from the Warhol Foundation, and the trademarks which are owned by Campbell. It’s not bundled into one license. It can be complex and it’s often the reason an agency will come to Six Degrees to handle the clearance on their behalf.

When do clients have to start thinking of pitfalls?

We prefer to think of “pitfalls” as challenges and an ad agency should understand the potential challenges in using intellectual property at the very beginning of the creative process. Six Degrees spends allot of time with a client in the begin¬ning stages educating them on the process to minimize those challenges. The worst scenario is when a client has produced a spot and then realizes they need clear¬ances at the last minute. Again, that’s why having multiple options lined up well in advance is so vital.

Who are your clients? Is it mostly advertising agencies or do you help Stock Media companies as well?

Our clients are mainly ad agencies and corporations but we do offer comprehensive consultancy services for any client who needs rights expertise, including stock media companies.

Are there many companies doing similar things?

Yes, they range from stock media companies that have a clearance division within the company to stand alone companies dedicated to rights clearances to the freelance researcher. Our competitive advantage is that the Six Degrees business model is built on the simple belief that a client should only pay for our time, expertise and knowledge. Unlike some of our competitors who charge varying percentage mark-ups on licensing, Six Degrees does not. Giving our clients complete transparency enables us to secure the best licensing fee – not what will give us the largest commission. Additionally, for our represented properties, we have a set commission which is the most competitive in the industry and which is also transparent to all parties involved.

How do you see the future of rights services and your position in it?

As there are more platforms for advertising distribution, there will be more need to use pre-existing content and to secure rights for each platform. Because Six Degrees is focused, independent, run by industry veterans, and available to our clients 24/7, we are incredibly well positioned to grow with the industry and its needs.

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Copyright 2009 Fast Media Licensing

Marco | Editor

Editor at large and founder of a bunch of stockphoto businesses

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