Rumors circulated on Twitter over the weekend that about 10 million archival images from the collection of the defunct French picture agency Sygma were about to be destroyed. The images have been under the control of a liquidation trustee since Corbis, which bought Sygma in 1999, finally got fed up last May with financial losses and lawsuits over missing images, and walked away.

Reports of the impending destruction of the images alarmed photographers and their trade groups, which have been eager to spread word that photographers with images in the collection should claim them. But Corbis spokesperson Dan Perlet says it was “a storm in a tea cup” swirling around a false rumor. “These things get started on a Friday afternoon when everyone is bored and on Twitter,” he says. Perlet says that Stéphane Gorrias, the liquidation trustee, “has always said to us that he had no intention of destroying [the images.]”

The images in question represent about 25 percent of the Sygma collection, and belong to photographers who wouldn’t accept new Corbis contracts–which weren’t as generous as their Sygma contracts–or to photographers who had died or otherwise couldn’t be located by Corbis. The other 75 percent of the Sygma collection remains under Corbis’s care and control. Those images belong to photographers who signed Corbis contracts.

Yesterday, Gorrias told the British Journal of Photography that reports about the impending destruction of the images under his control are “erroneous,” and that “there are currently no plans to destroy any images held in the collections.”

Gorrias may or may not have been backpedaling, in the wake of all the outrage on Twitter. He did not immediately respond to PDN‘s request for an interview. But the rumor about the collection’s demise apparently started on a French photojournalism blog called A l’oeil, maintained by Michel Puech.

Puech reported on February 21 that he periodically asked Gorrias directly what he planned to do with the old Sygma images. Last November, Gorrias reportedly told Puech he wanted to sell them at auction. In early February, when Puech had a chance to ask again, Gorrias reportedly told him that he would soon be forced to destroy the images.

By Perlet’s recounting, “someone” had told Puech that the images would be destroyed, and another blogger–Paul Melcher–picked up Puech’s story (in French), did a “rough” translation, and raised the alarm on Friday, February 25. Twitter then lit up over the weekend with what Perlet says is a false rumor.

But Corbis has no control over what Gorrias does with the images under his control as liquidation trustee. The agency takes Gorrias’s repeated assurances at face value, but Perlet says, “We’re trying to get him to put that in writing.”

As for the statement that Gorrias reportedly made to Puech about how he’ll be forced to destroy the images soon,  Perlet says, “I think maybe Mr. Puech took an off-the-cuff comment by Mr. Gorrias too literally…that’s my guess, but I don’t know.”




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