Visual journalist’s everywhere should watch with interest the outcome of a class action suit filed by various photographers and organizations, including American Society of Media Photographers and Professional Photographers of America, against behemoth Google Inc. In a nutshell, Google has been in the process of creating a massive digital library by digitizing millions of books. The problem is that the contents of those books, photographs especially, do NOT belong to Google and are the intellectual property of the individual copyright holder. That said, ASMP and others are taking the giant search engine to court in violation of copyright law claiming that digitizing the contents without licenses from the copyright holders is illegal.
Google, however is no different than the countless others who think images are free. There is a general belief that photographs are not a valuable commodity. Why? There’s a myriad of reasons why this belief has taken hold, but I think a portion of it is the prevalence of photo sharing sites and the willingness for young, naive and amateur photographers to just give their images away. In the past month or two I have had multiple requests for images of mine to be used by others. Sadly unsurprising is that each request is accompanied by a plea for the image to be given to them free of cost. As an example, pay attention to how many news organizations prominently feature a link to “send us your photos or videos”. This is a huge scam illustrating how far society has come in devaluing photographic work. The news organizations in recent years always had to pay a license fee to the photographer/videographer. That’s not the case anymore (read the fine print on the websites before uploading and you’ll see that it stipulates no fee will be paid).
As a further example, here’s a excerpt from a real email I received yesterday from a company selling a product: “Unfortunately, being a startup, we’re quite short on cash these days and are not able to afford the photo….. Is there anything we can do?”
Sure, allocate some of your start-up money to marketing and use that to acquire a legal license for an image. Simple!
There are many variations on this but all center around the same theme that “we don’t want to pay for the image but want to use it anyway.” One of the most common is the non-profit request which always indicates that their is no budget and therefore the image (s) should be given to them. I discount, often times quite heavily, for non-profits but the truth is that the image is being used to promote the non-profit’s work so that the non-profit can receive funding through donations, grants etc. Using my image to promote your company (non-profit or for profit) is reason enough to pay a fee. To put it in another perspective, would a representative of a company walk into my store in a mall, pick up a photograph, proceed to the check out counter and ask to have it for free?
My images are not FREE. Creative input and the expenses involved in creating intellectual property [images] make it necessary to recoup the costs. Do you know any other business that can afford to give away their inventory yet stay viable? I don’t…….
Remember, images are protected under the US Copyright Law. Google, and any other company large and small, need to understand that photographers have a need AND a legal right to charge a fee to use their image. I don’t behoove Google Inc from digitizing millions of books, but like any other publication, if you do so without first obtaining a legal license from me, you’ll be sued the same as if you stuffed my photograph under your coat and left my store without paying. You’re shoplifting! It’s no different…….