In 2008 we went to California on holidays. The Better Half is an avid wine lover, and since I’m the perfect driver (as in I don’t drink alcohol, I’m sure my driving isn’t all that perfect 😉 ) it was clear we would drive up to the Californian wine country to visit wineries and to let the Better Half taste all the good stuff. We visited many, she tasted many, and we brought home as much as we could.
Simi Winery was one of them. A beautiful place with lots of history, very nice people and some great experts. We took a tour on the premises, had the expert explain everything and show us around through the production area. Of course I shot a lot of pictures, some good, some better, some just… well… ok…
Lo and behold, about two years later I’m working on a brochure for one of my clients and find that one of my images from the Simi Winery premises was just the image we needed. I made a quick draft of the brochure, put the picture in to show, and everyone agreed that it was a great shot for the page. I did inform the client that I would have to contact the winery, because I didn’t have a property release.
That was all my honesty. The image in itself was so generic, and probably not even recognizable in the way that we were using it (see below for the original and the crop as it was going to be used).
If I would’ve just put it there, I’m quite positive that no one would ever have bothered. But then… I would want other people to inform me if they were planning to use an image of my property, so… Don’t do unto others…
So I started to (try to) get in touch with them. This was about 3-3,5 months ago. First I checked the Simi Winery website. There was the name of a contact, an email address and a phone number. I sent an email to this address explaining who I was, what I wanted and why. A week passed and there was no sign of life. I sent another mail and waited a couple of days still before I called the number on the website. Hmm… That’s funny… The number I called returned with a message on an answering machine, but the lady talking mentioned a different name than the name on the website. I figured I’d try again later (a good number of late nights involved here, since the time difference is about 10 hours).
I tried again later… a couple of hours later… a couple of days later… called the cellphone number this lady said she would be reachable on if she wasn’t at the office… No reply whatsoever. I left messages on the answering machine. In vain. No sign of life, or confirmation that she got my mails or messages. I sent a mail to another contact person mentioned on the site, from a different department, called that person, but it was the same story. I sent an email straight to Simi Winery, I called Simi Winery, but they didn’t answer either.
I was at a loss as to what to do. I had no doubt that they would let me use the image, since the winery and my client don’t have any conflict of interest or anything. There might even be a good chance that my client actually supplied the material in this image. It was just a courtesy thing for me to ask them.
I kept on checking the phone number for the next two-three weeks and the website, until all of a sudden I noticed that the phone number and name of the contact person had changed on the Simi Winery website. I tried again, a little shimmer of hope shining through. But there was no change, save for the name, the email address and the phone numbers. No one replied to either email or phone or messages that I left on the answering machine. About two months had passed since I first started trying to get in touch with these people.
At some point, I can’t even remember why it came to mind, I thought of switching off the number recognition of my phone number. I called again, but now without sending along my caller ID. I’ll never know if this was actually the reason, but the first time I called without sending my caller ID along, the phone was answered. YAY!
This lady appeared to be a marketing person from Constellation Wines U.S., sort of an umbrella organization representing American wineries and wines. She sounded very suspicious when I told her who I was and what I wanted, and there was nothing in her voice that gave me the idea that she had any idea what I was talking about. After I explained who I was, what I did, why I contacted her and how long I had been trying, she all of a sudden remembered that she indeed had seen my mail and forwarded it 16 days ago to their legal department, because she had no authority to decide whether or I could use the image. If I wanted to inquire any further there was one person whom I could contact and she was happy to give me the contact info.
I didn’t waste any time and straight away called the number, again without sending along my caller ID, and promptly got this lady on the phone. I told her I got her contact info through another person from Constellation Wines U.S. and that this other person had forwarded my mail to them, that I didn’t get a reply yet and if she could please have a look at it. As with the other lady she sounded very suspicious and as with the other lady there was nothing in her voice that gave me the idea that she had any idea what I was talking about. That was especially accentuated by the fact that she told me she didn’t know the other person. Of course Constellation Wines U.S. can be such a big enterprise that people don’t know each other, but even when I spelled out my name and email address and the other lady’s name and email address, she couldn’t find my mail. So she kindly requested me to resend the email to this specific address, so that they could process and archive it with a reference number. And so I did. I included the image and for easy and fast processing I also added my property release form for them to sign.
Dear Ms XXX, Following our phone conversation today I'm sending you the request to use the attached image in a corporate brochure of one of my clients. The client is XXXXXXXXX . This image was shot by me on the premises of Simi Winery in California in 2008. I am the rightful copyright holder, but since the Winery is private property I kindly request your permission to use the image in the aforementioned brochure. To speed up the process I've attached a property release form for my archives. If you allow me to use the image, please fill in and sign the form and return it to me. In return I can make available a number of images I shot on the Simi Winery premises for you to use free of charge in promotional material for Simi Winery if credit line © www.arnoenzerink.com is used. Looking forward to your response. If you want to contact me by phone, you can reach me on my cell: 011 358 -- --- ----. Do keep in mind that I'm based in Finland, so it's 10 hours later here. --- Kind regards,
The reply came very fast, totally against my expectations after having to wait and follow-up and try to get people on the phone. The next day I was in for a big SHOCKER. My kind request was denied.
Dear Mr. Enzerink, Thank you for taking the time to contact us at Simi Winery Consumer Relations. We appreciate hearing from you. The information and picture you sent have been reviewed by our team. Thank you for your interest in Simi. However, we respectfully decline your request. If I may be of any assistance in the future, please feel free to contact me at 1-800-XXX-XXXX Ext. 7XXX4, 7:30am - 5:00pm PT Monday - Thursday and 7:30am - 12:00pm PT Friday. Sincerely,
I was dumbfounded. Speechless. I absolutely didn’t see this coming.
There was no reason for the rejection stated, so I sent an email back kindly requesting the reason for rejection. As I mentioned before Simi Winery and my client have no common economical grounds, there’s no competition, no market share, nothing. The image as it was going to be used didn’t refer in any way to Simi Winery, nor could it be recognized by anyone as such, and in the text there wouldn’t be any reference to company or location. I had no clue as to why I wouldn’t be able to use this image.
Days passed. I resent the email to no avail. I called this lady again (I forgot had switched back on the sending of my caller ID), but all I got was the answering machine. A couple of days ago I tried again and remembered to switch off the sending of my caller ID. Of course I will never know if this was actually the reason 😉 but the phone was promptly answered and when I said who I was I could hear the annoyance in the voice of the lady. I told her I sent her an email a couple of times asking a reason for why my request was denied and she said she had forwarded the mail to the legal department three times, only to get a reply that this reference number was already processed. I asked her to once more inquire about it and I think she said “I would” only to get off the phone. I now know the sound of “Good Riddance” in a voice, and it’s not pretty, no matter how friendly it’s brought.
I did, however, promptly got a mail back the next day:
Dear Mr. Enzerink, We thank you again for your continued interest, but again I must reiterate that your request has been denied. If I may be of any assistance in the future, please feel free to contact me at 1-800-XXX-XXXX Ext. 7XXX4, 7:30am - 5:00pm PT Monday - Thursday and 7:30am - 12:00pm PT Friday. Sincerely,
Which was basically a copy-paste from the first mail and STILL didn’t give me a reason for why my request was denied. I sent her a mail again, with exactly that, stating that there still wasn’t a reason for why my request was rejected and kindly suggested that if she didn’t think she would get a different reply from their legal department, she’d pass on their contact info to me so I would call them directly.
I’m not expecting a reply to that anymore and I don’t think I feel like calling her again and listen to that “Shit, it’s that annoying foreigner again” voice.
Moral of the story?
Some day honesty and friendliness will pay off, although it is not this day…