“Great photograph/video. Could I use it if I credit you?”
I see this constantly on social media–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
Please learn why it’s important to say NO!
There are working pros–photojournalists–who make photos and videos as their living to feed their families and they don’t get paid when you give away your photos and videos for free.
You might say, “I have another job, I don’t need the money for my work.” But that’s still killing the photography industry and eventually there will be no working pros as these requests put them out of business.
I know first hand. There were media companies asking me for photographs of the 2013 flood in Lyons Colorado. The flood was so severe it took out all the roads in and out of town. There was no way for any media to get in for two days. But I lived there, and I was able to get photographs out and sell them to the Associated Press (AP) which distributed them to newspapers around the country.
CBS News in Denver saw the photos in the Denver Post and called asking if, since I “shared” them with them, would I share them with CBS News. I said, “I sold them to the Denver Post via AP, and I’ll sell them to you.” They said never mind, they’ll wait until someone sends in free photos from their phone. That’s the coverage CBS News was willing to give to its viewers–lesser quality because they didn’t want to pay, and knew they often didn’t have to.
You do know they run paid ads during their TV broadcast which they charge big money for, right?
A couple months later Boulder Magazine called, said they wanted to do a full feature story on the flood and could they get photos. I asked, “What’s your budget?” They said they didn’t have one because people usually give them pictures. I explained that I am a working photojournalist and I charge for usage and they said they still don’t have a budget for photography.
So, I explained to them, as I see it, they work in the business of words and pictures in a printed magazine. Yet they don’t have a budget for photographs. I said, “You’re not the victim of some overlord that won’t give you a photography budget, it’s you. You’re the one that doesn’t think they need to budget for photos because you can get them for free.“
All the while, they have luxury car and jewelry and real estate ads throughout their magazine, paid ads that cost a lot to run in print.
But they have no budget for photography?
So, when you see a photo in the magazine and it says (in tiny letters that most people never read), “Courtesy of…” and some person’s name or chamber of commerce, those are all code words for, “We didn’t pay for this art.”
I said to Boulder Magazine, “Okay, I’ll tell you what, I’ll work with you for your story and get you photographs in exchange for ad space in the magazine. Their reply, “Oh, we can’t give you ad space in Boulder Magazine. We can give you ad space Home and Garden Magazine.” I said I don’t want Home and Garden Magazine, I want Boulder Magazine.
Flat out “no,” They never did get photos from me. Probably looked around on social media for some they could get for free.
“Great photograph. Can I publish it and pay you?” That’s what they should be asking.
Here’s their ad rate:
At the very least, if you’re going to give them the photos, charge for your work. If they want it, and it’s a for-profit business with advertising, they are making money on it and if they’re making money, you should be making money.
It doesn’t matter that you have another job. They’re playing on your vanity to want to be published that they will ask for work without offering to pay for it.
As an analogy, a local music festival has food trucks inside their showgrounds for festival-goers to get lunch and dinner. Imagine if I were to set up a free hot dog and soda cart outside their entrance, offering to give away food and drink because I don’t need the money, I have another job, and I just do it because I like to. How long do you think I’d last out there? It’s stepping on other businesses’ livelihoods when you give it away with no concern for who you’re putting out.
By asking for it for free, you are witnessing a beggar at work–a rights grab when they ask if they can use it for credit. Because by saying yes, you give them the irrevocable right for perpetuity to use your work at no cost.
And you kill the photojournalism industry. When there are no more photojournalists, it will be because of these free handouts.
The same is happening when tourist agencies ask for people to submit their best photos: Rights grab! Or contests where you can win prizes? Read the fine print: Rights grab! This one by VisitLongmont claims rights for themselves and any of their business partners forever if you simply respond or submit.
Alternatively, a different publisher that prints a Longmont tourist guide seeks work from professionals and here are their rates.
Look, there are budgets for photography. And they are for one-time use, not a perpetuity rights grab.
But as more media turn to the public for freebies, the photographers will stop making work they know they can’t sell. Eventually, people will realize that they aren’t getting the best quality and then these media will also lose their readership. It’s a lose-lose situation except for the quick ego stroke of being published.
If there were a stigma against begging for free art (or musicians, or actors, or any other talent), to the extent that it was shameful–that the person asking would be seen as a pariah preying on creatives that don’t know any better–it would stop.
If we were to only support eateries that pay their musicians and not make them work for tips (which was started after slavery ended so that white business owners could get Blacks to work but not have to pay them a wage), musicians wouldn’t be asked to play for free.
If we were only to support those media companies that pay for their work, we would find that we’re getting better quality and not supporting publishers that sell expensive ads yet never pay for the art that drives viewers to those ads.
So, go on, get published. But do it for a price. These companies are preying on your lack of knowledge that there are budgets for this work if you knew to ask for it.
Nobody in the media who’s calling is working for free. Why should you?
And the next time you see someone asking, whether it’s media, a tourist agency, a marketing company, or even an individual business, remember this article. Share it with anyone who is approached.
Courtesy of bylines have to stop. They are damaging the publication’s quality and also our neighbors who rely on that work as their livelihood.
Excellent article, Ken. I am sharing to my Facebook photography page and to my local area camera club Facebook group.
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Thank you, Mike!
Excellent post!!! In addition to photography I also do life drawing and I sell quite a bit of those, I can’t tell you how many people see them and ask for one and when I say my price, they thought I would give one to them for free!!! I do let the model choose one drawing for “free” as a thank you for posing!!!
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