Learning from Demis Roussos

By Martin Tothill

Martin lives to help and grow others to be the best leaders they can and in turn inspire a future generation of followers to do the very same.

In my years as a professional photographer, one of my biggest thrills was seeing my work being widely used ...

on record sleeves, advertising billboards, corporate brochures and websites.

The biggest frustration was people using my work without my permission.

To get around this, I networked more with experienced photographers in order to glean more wisdom. I’d attend events and gatherings to mingle and generally get a feel for the industry and the people in it.

One standout story came from an event I attended about an independent freelance photographer who’d shot a portrait of Demis Roussos.

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember Demis as a famous Greek pop singer with a string of hits in the 1970s. He had a unique look – tall and wide, with long hair. For a budding photographer, having Demis in your portfolio would’ve been quite a catch and, for a freelancer, a money-maker.

Keen to get photos used, many photographers – myself included – would apply loose image rights on our distributed prints, perhaps a small sticker on the back of the print with our contact details and copyright information. In a pre-digital world, this was standard practice.

Then, like the pigeons of Trafalgar Square, away our images would fly.

For the freelance photographer, requests for permission to use your image would typically come via a phone call, during which the job would be described and a fee negotiated. In the case of the Demis Roussos portrait, this would’ve sufficed.

But things took a dramatic twist. On the morning of Friday, June 14 1985, members of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad hijacked Flight 847 shortly after take-off from Athens, seeking the release of 700 Shi’ite Muslims from Israeli custody. The passengers and crew endured a three-day ordeal (which has been well-documented).

Demis Roussos was on board, one of eight Greek citizens used in an exchange by their government.

The event attracted huge media attention and news agencies were hungry for dramatic images.

One iconic photograph from the event depicted a gun being held to the pilot’s head, which was sticking out of the cockpit. The image was used widely – as was the portrait of Demis Roussos, which saw global distribution.

To any freelancer, this would’ve earned thousands of pounds in reproduction rights – had the correct procedure been followed. But the photographer had failed to put his sticker on the reverse of the print and it was now in public circulation with no originator’s name.

It earned nothing in fees. Not a penny.

Business moves fast and its risks are ever-present. Having effective policies and procedures in place can literally be the difference between being in or going out of business. Getting your people to follow your systems is a crucial part of leadership, but it can feel like an uphill struggle. The more your message resonates, the better. It will connect, if not glue, your people to a cause, a purpose, a system. And their engagement leads to the behaviours you need to make your organisation successful.

Spreadsheets alone rarely change behaviour but a short story about a Greek pop singer on a hijacked plane in the 1980s might. Good luck!



  1. anon
    Nov 25, 2017

    Hi Martin

    I was that photographer - and the story as you tell it is not correct, I'm afraid. The reason I didn't get paid was NOT because of a lack of sticker (mine would always have that) but because of a quirk in UK copyright law which -automatically- transferred rights to the commissioner. That experience lead directly to a change in the law so that UK photographers now have the same rights to their work as all other creators. Please do feel free to contact me mail@image-access.net to find out more of the story!


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