Are We Being Too Lenient With Our Artist’s Rights?

With the advent of the digital age the vast possibilities for exposure to the entire world and the sharing of information through the World Wide Web is something that I cannot imagine living without.  If I have a question, all I have to do these days is plug it into Google – “Google it!” – and voila! there it is, all the answers arranged for me (mostly) in order of relevance.  No more poring through reference books and taking 3 hours to find the one answer I need.

This led me to thinking about the legal sharing of information and that led to thinking about our photography, which, like most photographers these days, we have available for viewing through our website, blog, facebook and all sorts of other online applications.  Dylan and I are quite diligent with watermarking and reducing the size of our uploaded images, partly because we don’t want viewers sitting there waiting for 5 gigabytes worth of images to come up on screen, but more importantly, to protect ourselves and our copyrights to those images.  However, no matter how careful you are, there are always programs (and people) that will find ways to remove any trace of whom those images belonged to.  This saddened me a little, thinking about it, because the Internet is such a powerful tool to say to the world, “Hey! Look, I wanted to share this with you because it makes me happy, so here it is!”  But in order to do so, you need to have a certain acceptance that you are risking your art, because there is no way you can be sure that someone else hasn’t downloaded your image and is passing it off for their own, or not giving you credit for its use, or any of the myriad of other discourteous ways of using something that isn’t of their own creation.

Now I am literally speaking about photographic image files as ‘art’, as this is what I am primarily concerned with in this particular post.  (Yes, I think photography is art, and there’s a topic for another blog post!)  There are plenty more things that should command respect where it’s due.  For example, if one sees a composition of a subject, and it has proven to be a source of inspiration for one to take a very similar image, one should really give credit to whomever it was who thought of that composition in the first place.  There aren’t any ‘but’s about it.  Fair enough if the two images share the subject but otherwise look nothing alike in terms of composition angle, lighting, etc., but seriously – credit where it’s due, please.

West Beach Dawn

West Beach Dawn

Okay so speaking of credits.  When should you ask for a physical gain (i.e. payment) for use of your images, and when should you just be happy with a credit line?  This is not for assignments or commissions.  This is for images you’ve taken (for the fun of it), and they’re on show on Flickr or your website, or YouTube, or whatever.  Someone has come along, and looked at your photos, and you get an email: “Your images are great!  I was wondering if I could have permission to use it [in a book/on my website/on my company’s website/in a flyer]?”  Alright, fantastic news!  Someone wants to use your photos!  So… what do you do now?  Tell them they can license your image(s) if they wish, or just ask for a credit line?  Let me clarify that this is coming from an amateur photographer point of view here, that income from photography itself is not substantial and that it is funded in large part – if not solely – by a day job. 

I am a strong believer in licensing images for use.  One of the reasons is this; if I agree to just a credit line and no monetary payment, how does that impact on the thousands of professional photographers who rely on photography for their income?  What am I saying?  “Well, sure, you can just credit me, I’ll be happy with that – then you won’t have to pay [such and such] for almost the same image!”  And because for me photography is really just a hobby, and I have a professional day job that provides me with the funds for this rather expensive pastime, should I not care that I am basically doing someone else out of a small part of their income?

Another reason that I believe images should be licensed is this; if I try to ‘get my foot in the door’, and start off being very generous with the use of my photography (i.e. credit line only), when and where can I say, “Okay, well now I’d like you to pay me for my image(s)”?  Don’t get me wrong, if it’s for charity or other worthy causes, non-profit organisations, sure, I have no qualms with just a credit line.  But if there is a benefit in using my image, then I honestly think that I should have a share in it too!  What if it was my image on the front cover that sold that book?  Or my image that lured people to a website that results in business for that company?

West Beach Sunrise

West Beach Sunrise

I have to admit, this post has been partly brought about by requests that we have received in the past few months enquiring about the use of our images.  In each case, I politely replied that our images were available for licensing, and if they could provide me with more information, I would send them an approximate pricing for the image(s) in question.  No one emailed back. 

I felt a bit silly – after all, I’m not a professional photographer – and wondered several times if I should just go back grovelling and say, “No no, here, you can have it, I just want to be published, you don’t need to pay me at all!”  But no.  I shall not.  Because what does that ultimately mean?  That I don’t place a value on my images?  That just anyone can use them for the sake of exposure?  That they’re second best just because they were free?  No.  There IS a value on my images, even if it’s just in my head.  I had the artistic vision to take that image.  If no one is prepared to pay for it, that’s okay, I will continue on my merry way and know that it IS good enough, because they bothered to enquire about it.  I invested time and money in making that image – and whilst that wasn’t something that I consciously thought about when I took the photo – it’s the truth. 

I have had a few enquiries on DeviantArt to use a certain leopard photo that shot to fame as a Daily Deviation some months ago.  Many people asked if they could use the photo as a reference for their own art.  I was more than happy to supply them with a web-resolution copy of the image.  I simply asked for a credit line, because they weren’t USING the image, they were REFERENCING from it.  They will produce their OWN art based on it.  That’s a big difference. 

DeviantArt artists asked if they could reference this image

DeviantArt artists asked if they could reference this image

So to all of you reading this post, I hope I have given you some things to think about, whether it is you the artist trying to make your way in this world, or you the publisher who is looking for material for your next book.  Don’t forget, these are just MY opinions, and no one has to agree with me.  I just thought I’d put it out there, and hopefully I’ve made some valid points, and shown that it isn’t just about the money – there are a lot more deeper issues than that.



Posted on August 7, 2009, in Photography, Random Musings and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I use to think as you do….as long as my work is getting seen by the masses, I didnt care……then, when a friend of mine started seeing several of my photos popping up on different websites with someone elses name attached.

    Anymore they can start buying a print or just do without.
    If you post a small picture of your work, by the time enlarge it, all the quality is gone.


  2. People think that because it is on the Internet it is free… Music, Movies, Photographic art.. ect. There is a generation who think like this! When as photographers we spend big dollars on high end photo gear… We should not be made to feel bad about asking for payment! Mainstream media is to blame too, getting people to send in images for there newspaper or magazine.. Photojournalism is now becoming free citizen journalism.

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