Artists: Beware of Corporate-Level Beggars

Q: To be a beggar, what’s the stigma? To be a panhandler?
To ask for a freebie? A handout? “Please, sir?” Is there any shame?
A: If you’re a businessperson asking creatives for freebies,
the answer is, “No, none.”

You know me, I’m a professional photographer in Colorado. Photography is my life’s work. If you look at my Instagram, it says it right there on my profile. It’s at the top, hard to miss. Even my professional photographer web site link is there.

If you’ve been reading my 6x6Portraits Blog, you also have seen the photo I am going to discuss here, the one of the boy and his dad in front of the barber shop.

It’s a sweet street photograph, made in the town where I live, Longmont Colorado.

So, when I saw this comment posted to the photo on Instagram from Visit Longmont, a local tourist agency, I thought, “Nice, they like the photo enough to want to use it.” That’s a good bonus to a photograph I made for art gallery use and for my Colorado Faces online street gallery, and the request comes during a time when business has been tough due to the pandemic.

Here’s what they wrote.

Beautiful. But there’s a problem. They cannot legally use photographs for promotional or advertising use without signed model releases, and of course I don’t get them as street photographers don’t need releases to use the photographs for art galleries and other artistic endeavors–book monographs, online galleries, other public printed displays. That’s what allows photographers to create and publish photos like the sailor kissing the woman in Times Square on V-J Day by Life Magazine photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt.

Photograph used under Fair Use.

It enables photojournalists to create pictures for documentary use–newspapers, magazines, television–so long as the photo is created in public where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. U.S. law gives the photographer that right under the First Amendment and considers artwork made in public a right of free expression and grants full usage rights for non-commercial documentary purposes.

But not for advertising. No such allowance.

So, there goes that. Maybe we could try and find the man and his son in the photo to get signed releases, but that may not be easily accomplished. Just out of curiosity, I went to Visit Longmont’s site, to see what their “updated Photo Terms and Conditions” are. They have a colorful heading photo.

THE CONTRACTUAL TERMS (AKA COPYRIGHT GRAB)

Here’s what their site says on the page titled, Media Terms and Conditions (complete with an unfinished sentence in the third paragraph), terms that a photographer agrees to just by hashtagging #YesLongmont in their reply to their comment on the Instagram post. (Bold face below is my emphasis.)

By responding and/or submitting via contests and social platforms, or giving any form of permission to our asset requests when prompted, you agree to the terms and conditions described below. The purpose of this request is to allow the use of photograph(s) and/or video(s) to promote visitation and economic vitality for the Longmont region. By accepting these terms and conditions, you are hereby affirming that you are the copyright holder of the photograph(s) and/or video(s), that your release of the photograph(s) and/or video(s) is voluntary, and that you acknowledge you will receive no financial compensation from any of the Advance Longmont partners, including but not limited to the Longmont Area Visitors Association (Visit Longmont), City of Longmont, Longmont Economic Development Partnership, Longmont Area Chamber of Commerce, Longmont Downtown Development Authority, Latino Chamber of Boulder County, or others, herein known as Advance Longmont partners; its any of the contractors or employees of the Advance Longmont partners for use of the photograph(s) to promote the City of Longmont or its economic vitality, the attraction of visitors, talent and industry to Longmont and area amenities, attractions, etc.

(Wow, that’s a lot of companies and departments that get to use my photograph for free.)

You further agree that inclusion of your photograph(s) or video(s) in any, but not limited to, publications, websites, videos, advertisements, or social media produced by the Advance Longmont partners and/or Visit Longmont confers upon you no rights of ownership whatsoever. You release all Advance Longmont partners and Visit Longmont, their officers, members, contractors, employees, representatives, and agents from liability for any claims by you or any third party in connection with your participation. Advance Longmont partners and Visit Longmont will not sell released photos to third parties.

(Wow, that’s a lot of usage and I maintain no rights of ownership at all. Whatsoever!)

By accepting these terms and conditions, you are assigning Advance Longmont partners and Visit Longmont the right to royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual use of the photograph(s) and/or video(s) in any future, including but not limited to, publication, advertisement or promotion, whether in print, video, or digital format as the Advance Longmont partners and Visit Longmont sees fit. The

(Wow, royalty-free, non-exclusive and that’s a long time–perpetuity.)

Advance Longmont partners and Visit Longmont may request a high-resolution or original, version of the requested photograph. In providing the requested photograph(s), you agree to these same terms and conditions.

(Wow, that sure sounds like a full rights-grab right there. All done with a quick reply, #YesLongmont).

But wait, they’re promoting Longmont and working with taxpayer money to support businesses in town. I’m a business in town. So, they should be supporting me. But it’s not working when they’re asking for photographs for free.

CORPORATE-LEVEL BEGGING

Many people turn their nose up and ignore a beggar asking for a handout. You couldn’t get most people to even so much as ask for a discount at a garage sale. Asking for a freebie is impossible. Shameful. Beneath them. Undignified. Embarrassing. Taboo. Except when it comes to art. (And politicians asking for campaign contributions, which is what an aid in D.C. once said they spend the majority of their time doing.)

To photographers, musicians, artists of all types, getting asked for free work happens all day long. (Electricians, repairmen, all the non-“glamorous” service jobs, not so much, but you–you’re an artist, you’re having so much fun! Why should you get paid, too?)

Somehow, asking for art without pay doesn’t make the business feel bad that they’re asking for a handout. Even though they themselves are getting paid and they are being paid to run an agency that has a budget, and that budget should ideally be used to create the best results for their stated goal–generating tourism. So to do that, you are tasked to create the best marketing materials, the highest quality art that will sell the town and accomplish the goal. They must have a budget for photography. The only way they wouldn’t have a budget for art is if they didn’t assign money for it, figuring they could get it for free. A marketing agency runs on three things, words, pictures and videos, and you would think would have a budget for them.

WHO WORKS FOR FREE?

Besides photographers and artists, who else is asked
to give away their work for no payment?

I replied with this comment. I wanted to respond professionally and respectfully.

I hope they understand. I would really like to add them to my client list and make high-quality photographs for them but they need to have a budget to do it. I know it might come as a surprise to some, but being a professional photographer doesn’t grant me a rent-free house. Or free groceries or car insurance or anything else. Does no one realize artists have bills too?

I suppose their business model is to get free photos from non-professionals who don’t care about their copyright, many who may not even read the terms and conditions. That means as a tourist agency they’re at the mercy of photos they find online that they deem good enough, not ones that are made as part of any plan or commissioned for any specific use. The number one quality they’re looking for in a photo is that it’s free.

That doesn’t sound like a strong business strategy for any kind of advertising/promotion agency whose main communication medium is essentially photography and video. But getting free photos from the public doesn’t seem to be a problem. When I do a search for #YesLongmont on Instagram there are 1922 results–I wonder how many of those have signed model releases.

I wrote this post not to only blast this agency–it’s not just them. This happens in every town in every part of the country and world, and what professional photographers who are in business, working to support themselves and their families, have to deal with constantly. Because asking for a photograph for free, an actor or model to be in your advertisement for no pay, a musician to play in your restaurant for tips only, there’s no stigma against it. There’s no shame.

BEGGING HIDDEN, BURIED DEEP IN LEGALESE

I wish that the people asking the creatives for a handout could see that they are essentially corporate-level beggars, and they only feel comfortable doing it because it’s not overt–out in the open and noticed by the public–but hidden buried deep in legalese on a Terms and Conditions page, with copyrights being given away with a simple hashtag reply.

I hope that by writing posts like this I shine a little light on their requests, and that maybe someday asking for a freebie from an artist will feel as shameful to them as if they were told to go panhandling on the street with a sign, “Anything helps.”

Ain’t it hard when you discover that
He really wasn’t where it’s at
After he took from you everything he could steal

Bob Dylan, Like a Rolling Stone

Want to support my shows? You can, just visit this link at Paypal, or go to SupportKenneth.com to add your monthly contribution to keep the lights on!

Check out my YouTube Channel of Photography Talks: my 6×6 Portraits Blog (you’re here) and my Daily Photography Podcast. Thanks!

7 thoughts on “Artists: Beware of Corporate-Level Beggars

Add yours

  1. I don’t make a living from my photography. (I make a living as a software engineer.) I don’t mind when people ask to use my work like this and frequently say yes. What does bother me, a lot, is when profit-making entities use my work without asking. It happens a handful of times each year. I had to go after one particular Web site this year for using at least 40 of my photographs without permission!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But my concern is if you let them use it for free, you may also be giving away the copyright just by permission to use it, and now you no longer own the rights to that photograph. Copyright is probably the most valuable thing a photographer has, and it’s one thing to allow an entity to use it, it’s a different thing to give it to them rights and all. And I doubt most people who let them use their photograph reads the terms and conditions.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I would think you would read the terms, but I bet there are many people who just post the #Yes hashtag and are done with it. I’ve seen it often with tourist agencies holding contests and all the submissions win or lose become their property. The town of Durango Colorado had the same contest terms and I called them on it, and they said most people don’t care, the photos aren’t anything they care about owning. Which I found sad. Thanks for your comment, Jim.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ah, legalese, “including but not limited to”. Art is a business? I guess you can be an amateur and/or a professional photographer/artist? The distinction must be whether money is exchanged for the photograph/art?

    Liked by 1 person

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