Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why I'm not charging for my photographs, or anything else here. Unless someone offers, in which case I wouldn't say no...

Lizzie, who I've not heard from before, left a comment a couple of posts back about the photo that the woman from the  Regional Council asked for from my Flickr account, to the effect that I should insist on a credit for it (I had asked for that), and ought really to ask for some payment for it (I hadn't and wouldn't).  She raised the whole question of organisations and companies getting photos for free from the internet, and where it leaves people who are trying to take them for a living.  I started answering her comment and found I had quite a lot of ideas about it, so thought perhaps I'd air it in another post.  Then I talked with Tom about it, and it turned out he agreed quite vociferously with Lizzie, and I realised that my thinking was clouded and cluttered with some fairly woolly notions. So this isn't any kind of cogent essay on the matter, just kite-flying.

The matter of how the internet and all the free stuff available thereon has changed the whole landscape of copyright and intellectual property, and its effect on how people make a living and how information and images are transmitted, is hardly a new area of debate, but I suppose this is the first time it's impinged on me directly.  I remember a while back Dave saying in effect, he was abandoning all attempt to prevent anyone from reproducing anything of his anywhere, that all he could do was ask them please and nicely to acknowledge him for it - or I seem to remember that's the gist of what he said, correct me if I'm wrong. (Please, anyone, any time, correct me if I'm wrong. I don't like it but I need it...)

I have to say I was inclined to take the old, morally lackadasickal, and sometimes indefensible, line, that if I didn't do it, someone else would.  Had I said no, you can't have my photo, unless you pay me, or go and find a professional photographer and pay them properly, they would presumably have replied that they didn't have a budget to do that, and would simply pick up another free image elsewhere, from someone who would be happy just to see their work recognised.  And at least they were good enough to ask - it seems to me once you put a photo into the public domain, not watermarked or otherwise protected, you are effectively making it fair game.  I upload small, here and on Flickr, mostly to save time and space, but that's all.

Mostly, I guess, it's a question of vanity; of all the wealth of material being circulated freely on the web, having something of mine singled out for notice or considered useful by anyone is an ego-boost.  If I get a poem accepted at Qarrtsiluni, say, (which is about the only place I submit them), it's an unequivocal honour as far as I'm concerned;  plenty of serious, established writers have been published there for no fee, and I'm gratified to be alongside them.  And a poem takes a good deal more effort and skill than a snapshot. 

Also, I've had so much for free from the internet - from photo-editing tools to English teaching worksheets to dear friendship, that I don't mind giving something away on it myself from time to time.  I quite like the idea that we can all live on a bit less because things are being shared round so generously. That said, if I was continually being peremptorily asked to spend time ferreting around on my back-ups for high-res images for no pay and little thanks, I might get a bit pissed off and tell them to be likewise.  I know too that I'm in a privileged, dilettantish position to be able to be above needing to make money.

So on the matter of people like photographers losing a living frorm people like me giving stuff away, which is the thorny part of the matter, I'm not sure.  It's a truism to say that photography has changed, irreversibly.  Among my photography books is one by a very successful commercial photographer who started his career in pre-digital times.  His photography is beautiful, staggering in its proficiency, sunny and bright and eye-catching.  I find it a little lacking in depth, but perhaps that's just sour grapes.  His creative tips are sound and interesting, but I just got slightly fed-up with his continual self-congratulation about how much money he'd made on the sale of his pictures to advertising stock agencies, and how if I was as clever as him I might even be able to do the same.  I found myself entertaining a degree of petty-minded shadenfreude that, to some extent, his glory days must be at an end with the availability of huge numbers of free images on the web, and with the fact that one no longer has to have complicated mastery of the technicalities of photography to produce a reasonable picture.  People have lost their jobs in film factories with the advent of digital photography, as they always do when technologies change, which is regrettable, but then all those dusty piles of mediocre prints clogging up cupboards, drawers and albums being a thing of the past is no bad thing, to my mind.

Having said that, when it comes to the area of people's voluntary journalism, photography or reporting, taking the place of the paid kind, it's a different matter.  If we want proper information about what's going on in the world, we need people who are contracted to work full-time at it, to undertake risk and boredom and legwork if necessary and to be paid properly to get hold of it, relying on people to do it out of love or public-spiritedness or vanity  is not enough.  Which isn't to say that the kind of spontaneous, on-the-spot recording and commenting on events that takes place thanks to camera phones, networks etc aren't invaluable.  But we also need people whose job it is to seek it and sort it, because there's just too much of it otherwise, and to be able to find it in visible and accessible places, rather than buried in a welter of less reliable and important other information and noise on the web.  So being a professional now doesn't only involve getting the stuff yourself, it means finding it elsewhere, knowing where and selecting it.  At one time the Conseil Regionale would have commissioned a photographer to go around the region taking pictures, now they employ Cindy, who also takes very good reportage photos herself, I checked her out on Flickr, not only to do that but also to look around for other people's work, like mine, to supplement it.

On the other hand, in employing a special group of people to acquire, select and and transmit our information for us, we are engaging in an act of trust of which those people are not necessarily always worthy.  Free public journalism, blogging, twittering and the rest can be a tool to redress this.

There are, of course, things you just can't experience fully from the web anyway, though it can help you to access them.  With music, downloading, legal or not, has changed the way its made and consumed, and it appears that the days of the few millionnaire rock stars with their enormous sales and recording contracts, are over (is that so bad?), but the attendance at live performances is increasing.  Photography may be something that has become so ubiquitous and democratised/commonplace that professionals are finding it hard to make a living, but other forms of visual art - painting, sculpture, printmaking, mosaic, embroidery, whatever, seem to do quite well from the internet; they can't easily be stolen or replicated  (though I suppose imitation might be a problem), they can be viewed by and sold to a wider public, techniques and materials can be shared, but nothing takes the place of the real thing in your hands or in front of your eyes, and that will always ahve a value. Even the commercial photographer I mentioned earlier has adapted; he writes books, and does on-line and other courses; his work will always have the stamp of virtuosity that all his years of technical training and experience have brought to it, and he still had something to teach those who want to get beyond the Intelligent Auto and other pre-programmed settings on their cameras which are my main area of operations.

And many writers, whose life is writing, write on-line too, and blog, and draw more readers than ever, and aren't grudging about sharing their talent for free, but rather welcome the opportunity to do more of what they love to do, and to be available to their readers in a more direct way, which astonishes and delights me as someone who benefits from it.  And I often end up buying the book anyway, because, again, there's nothing like being able to hold it in your hands and carry it off with you.

Coming back to my defending my decision to give the photo away, I was inclined to say that I might feel rather differently about a commercial concern wanting a free image from me than I did about a public body like the Regional Council.  We have a good quality of life in this region, and I'm not averse to studying and promoting it, so I didn't begrudge someone else doing the same, for a living.   And yet I felt slightly disgruntled, firstly that their manner of asking, though correct according to the formalities, was brusque and impersonal, and secondly that I felt they chose an image which, on its own, was not particularly original or interesting, that they could have found in a number of places, and I suppose I rather thought that, of all the images of local interest I've produced, they could have chosen better.

However, by a pleasing stroke of coincidence there was a further development: a comment left on a November post from someone called Claude, asking me to e-mail his friend who was the skipper of the Aztec Lady, about the pictures I'd taken, mostly abstract and of the rust and peeling paint on the hull of said vessel while she was being refurbished in the boatyard at Granville.  I seem to have made some new friends; Pierre, said skipper, asked me if he could have the pictures to put on the website and even perhaps to print and hang in the boat's cabins, and invited us to look in if we were passing Granville, and maybe I'd be interested in an exhibition of drawings and photos some other friends were putting on at the boatyard... 

I was pleased beyond measure at this, more than happy to think it might help them to sell voyages to magical places on their beautiful ship, because their approach was warm and friendly and personal, and because they are clearly enthusiasts who do what they do for love as well as a living.  From the point of view of gratifying my vanity, I was charmed by how they were charmed images which were odd and abstract and not what anyone else had thought of taking.  They haven't so far offered me a free trip to Norway on the Aztec Lady, but I'm quite glad really because it would be difficult to refuse and I don't know how I'd square it with my other commitments...I urge you though to go and look at the slide show of photos of the boat at the Esprit Grand Large website.  It's something to dream into.

Well, all this seems a lot of words about one small photograph, but it raised some questions, all of which I am aware have been raised before and discussed at greater depth.  I'm not unreservedly singing the praises of the internet and all the changes it has brought, I know about the evils of it too.  However, I found myself wanting toget my tuppence-worth in anyway, because this space is here for me to do that.  I appreciate that too.

21 comments:

Lesley said...

I loved those photographs of the Aztec Lady when I first saw them. I've just looked at them again and still love them.

I was contacted a while ago about one of my Flickr photos and gladly gave permission for it to be used in abook about food in Europe. The book was published recently and I was given full credit for my photograph which is one of thousands and about the size of a postage stamp. I was sent a free copy of the (enormous) book to boot. I don't feel that I deserved any more than that.

Lucy said...

Thanks Lesley. I remember those magnificent tragic boeufs! What a shame it was only the size of a postage stamp, but how nice to get the book.

I've just been watching 'The Virtual Revolution: The Cost of Free' on bbc2, and wondered if I'm not being hopelessly naive and rose-tinted here, but I think where the photos are concerned we're all much the same, happy to be appreciated and feeling that a credit and perhaps some nice contacts arising are payment enough.

Zhoen said...

Miniature portraitists aren't making much money these days, either. Markets change, some professions become obsolete, others emerge.

Trading credit for contacts is a fair exchange, a barter system. It's going to change no matter what you do, you are one voice in a sea of change.

Lots of evidence that music file sharing benefits musicians, but not large record companies.

marja-leena said...

Very interesting post, Lucy, on some very relevant questions! It really depends on the situation, doesn't it? In one case, I was asked by an editor/publisher of a book if they could use some of my images. I agreed when they were willing to pay a small amount as well as credit me and include the link to my site in the publication, and give me two copies of the book. I used my status as a professional artist, so maybe that helped but I think we were both happy with the outcome.

marja-leena said...

Oh, I should have said photographs. If they were my original prints, I'd probably expect more.

Dale said...

Have you seen the discussion launched by Beth at Phoenicia Publishing? Very interesting, very intelligent stuff, both hers and the commenters.

I guess where I come down is, when the material conditions change, you just have to roll with it. As you say, you demanding payment doesn't mean a professional gets the money; it just means some other amateur gets their photo published. Trying to artificially maintain an obsolete scarcity isn't going to help anyone. The problem of ensuring quality used to be in the hands of a variety of editors, gallery owners, etc. It's escaping those hands, for better and for worse. Structures will arise for ensuring it, or promoting it anyway, and that's what we need to pay attention to -- making sure they're good ones. Propping up the old structures is not, I think, a very good strategy: it just means we'll be on the sidelines while the new ones are getting hammered out.

christopher said...

Lucy, I love it when you decide to go on like this. You circle in the updrafts and soar, gliding on the currents of "on the other hand" so well. All relevant stuff. We really do hurt the money train, but not so much, I think, because we steal paying customers. Instead we are changing broad cultural expectations. I thought about it and decided 1) I am good enough if I wanted to I could be demanding professional status somehow, 2) I don't want to, and 3) I don't have to.

I decided to submit once. I succeeded. I appeared in a quarterly. I didn't get much from the experience. Poets don't make much money anyway. I know people are reading me. Feedjit says so. I don't care if they take stuff. I don't even bring copyright up.

I admit I am one side of the case. I do feel sad for others but I think this is a case of the whole thing changing. It's like being sad for the horse and buggy industries. It doesn't in the end matter how sad you or I feel.

We have incredible talent out here in blogland, and most of these people would never have published in any other way, I think. I know I wouldn't.

Plutarch said...

You are I think quite right not to expect a fee in most instances, but I do wonder about a strictly commercial enterprise using "free" material for a product from which it makes a profit. No fee and no credit for work that has been lifted in that way would seem to be unjust.

Isabelle said...

It's an interesting question. I don't know what I think. (I would never make a politician.)

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

Tom's point was like Plutarch's, that he didn't like the idea of unscrupulous people making profits out of the generosity, or lack of self-worth, of people giving their things away. I'm inclined to think that unscrupulous people probably wouldn't ask for it anyway, but would simply pinch what they wanted, so I hope that perhaps uploading in small format would be a discouragement to that.

The debate over at Phoenicia is very good, as Dale says, and a much sharper analysis of related questions than I've made here. It did make me feel a little unhappy with my dilettantism, but I daresay I'll get over myself about that!

With regard to poems, Christopher, it's almost certain that you get more readers on your blog than you ever would from print, but check out Beth's piece and the comments. She rather suggests we shouldn't all be quite so willing to give everything away so readily, or to see our blogs as the only place to publish.

I don't know enough about the situation with music to say much; I don't use an MP3 and if I want music I still buy it on CD. Sometimes I burn discs, like I used to record tapes. I get the impression it's a little like photography: more people producing it but getting less out of it, save the satisfaction, and like poetry and many other forms of art, that perhaps the majority of people doing it can no longer expect to make any money out of it, but must supplement with other activities, related or unrelated to the art form they are practising.

Isabelle - I know how you feel...

Rouchswalwe said...

Lucy, I have read this all with great interest. Folks around here tend towards the mindset of: my time is money but I want you to give me a discount. Friends and I have often discussed what it means "to get ahead" and "to make a profit." When I began brewing ales, the first questions were mostly about costs and about how I could start making money, but in the next breath, the person would tell me to bring my beer to his next party ~ oh, and bring along what you want to eat, too because the only thing there will be nuts and chips. I'm not a professional brewster or a professional photographer or blogger, so I found myself nodding as you, Lucy, wrote that the way the request is made is important. I want to share my ale or my pictures with others, but courtesy is important. The only reason I have a little copyright symbol at the very bottom of my blog is in the hope that folks with whom I haven't formed a relationship will be urged to contact me and make the request. We'll take it from there then. I know it makes me sound childlike, but for me it all comes down to sharing and asking nicely.

Jan said...

Your posting was incredible, raised stuff that lurks at backs of minds but clearly needs airing...this was proved in all the above comments.

Barrett Bonden said...

I still await the ultimate compliment - theft of any or all of my beginner's verse. Once, when I was still working, one of my magazine leaders was stolen and reproduced in toto without attribution. I read the result with mixed feelings. I often feel that your longer posts deserve stealing or exchanging for gold. Or perhaps this has already happened.

Rosie said...

the internet has certainly changed the music industry out of all recognition. I still feel that the net has given me more than it has taken away!
I too have been following with interest the bbc2 series about the internet. I would rather have all these services for free and ignore adverts...

Anil P said...

It's a dilemma for sure. Availability of pictures widely has definitely affected practitioners of the art and craft of photography.

Yet I would imagine that requirements for documentary photography (as in news, events, incidents, human documentaries etc.) would in all probability still be routed through professional photographers who have the time and inclination to deliver the effort such photography requires.

But free content on the Internet, specially those put out by news organisations may not be sustainable in the long run.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I had a lot of poems published pre my blogs and mostly received no payment while one small journal paid £2 per poem but didn't give out contributors copies and the journal cost £3.50 that was actually a loss making enterprise. When I started blogging I put lots of poems on my blog before I put them anywhere else (mostly in response to Poetry Thursday prompts etc). Now I don't do that, I try to get published somewhere else first. I still rarely get paid. I won a competition recently - the prize was three books. There's no money in poetry.

Doing things for free can be a way in to getting paid. There sounds like there's lots of potential for your boat photos!

Lucy said...

Thanks again.

R - what a bloody cheek about your beer! If you were near here I'd give a party in honour of your beer, and make sure everyone brought some good food to complement - and to compliment - it.

Jan - As I'd hoped , the responses are really of more interest than the post!

Rosie - No, I can't honestly say, despite the attempts of the programme to make things look as baleful and sinister as possible, that there was anything I didn't know or which caused me inordinate worry. I actually quite like Amazon recommendations, I don't feel that they constrain me into being a demographic stereotype or anything like that, and as I am not a witless teenager posting photos of myself drunk on Facebook for all the world to see until the end of time, I 'm not too bothered about that either. I think one has a responsibility to use it safely, take what you want and ignore the rest. It's all got to be paid for somehow, and I don't see that targetted advertsing is any more annoying than the old indiscriminate kind.

Anil - yes, I think proper paid reporters and photographers are needed, but perhaps their job will also involve seeking out and ssupplememting with amateur work too.

CGP - I don't think there's ever been much money in poetry, at least not since Tennyson! Congratulations on the prize. I'd strongly recommend you read Beth's piece at Phoenicia if you haven't already. I'll try to find a link to it later.

Barrett Bonden said...

When I was still a working journalist I was disinclined to do freelance even for money and used to price myself out of the work. One supplicant met my request and then still detected reluctance in my voice. "Suppose we paid you in wine?" he asked. I gave in at that one since I'd never have spent that much on wine. Now, in much reduced circumstances, I wait, trembling, for someone to steal one of my bits of amateur verse.

Avus said...

I tend to agree with you, Lucy. As I enjoy making images and am not in it commercially, then I am flattered if anyone wants to use them.
But I think if it was a request from someone who was going to make money themselves from using them, I would require some recompense - even in kind. (I like BB's idea of payment in wine - I would even take gin!)

P. M. Doolan said...

In his book "The Cult of the Amateur: How Today's Internet is Killing Our Culture and Assaulting our Economy" (London, 2007)Andrew Keen, an Internet insider, has written: "The pasting, remixing, mashing, borrowing, copying - the stealing - of intellectual property has become the single most pervasive activity on the Internet ... The breadth of today's mass kleptocracy is mind-boggling."

marly youmans said...

The post is interesting and so are the comments. (Oh, and the boat saga is lovely--hope you go back!) I'm afraid that I avoid considering many of these things.

One thing that does bother me is how younger people will become established in the arts when so many of the old ways of marketing have collapsed and yet the new ways are not yet developed...

Certainly publishers have always picked the books they thought would sell and pushed only those--so perhaps this new world will level the field a bit more. Or else drown it. Or something...