On 08 July, five former Sygma photographers announced their intention to sue Corbis for alleged misuse of corporate assets and of filing fraudulent bankruptcy claims, as revealed by Michel Puech of La Lettre de la Photographie and confirmed by BJP.
The five photographers - Dominique Aubert, Derek Hudson, Philippe Ledru, Moshe Milner and Michel Philippot - are accusing Corbis of misusing corporate assets for transferring Sygma's assets to its US-based corporation without financial compensation for its France-based organisation - Corbis France. Corbis bought Sygma in 1999 before declaring it bankrupt more than years later. Furthermore, the photographers are claiming that Corbis asked Sygma's contributors to transfer their rights to Corbis in the US, again, without compensating Corbis France.
The claims came after Corbis announced that its Sygma division would file for bankruptcy as the agency was unable to pay a €1.5m fine for using without payment and misplacing some of Aubert's images. The French photographer had worked for Sygma from 1987 until 1995. BJP understands that Aubert found out that Corbis had used some of his images for commercial purposes without informing or remunerating him. He also, subsquently, found out that 750 of his images had gone missing from the 250,000 he had shot while at Sygma. Under French law, a photographer retains his rights on all of his images, including when he works for a press agency.
Now, Corbis tells BJP that it will fight the photographers' allegations. "My understanding is that this complaint has not been filed officially," says the agency's CEO Gary Shenk. "I don't think that there is merit to that complaint. We're reviewing it right now, but we consider the matter of Sygma's liquidation closed. That's all I want to say at this time."
For more on the photographers' claims, read Photographers sue Corbis over Sygma's closure.
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