Getting the Picture
Several months ago, I got an email from a blogger acquaintance. He had seen several photos that I had taken on a controversial subject and wanted to know whether he could use them for a story that he was planning to write that he hoped a newspaper might pick up.
I said: In principle, yes, though I would prefer to be paid. Trustingly, I waited for him to get back to me with more specific information, such as which newspapers he planned to pitch his story to, so that we could come to an agreement about payment.
What I didn’t know was that he had taken my agreement in principle as agreement in fact, and went ahead and published my photos on his blog, which is carried by a well-known newspaper. He posted my photos without telling me – and, it turned out, without giving me credit either.
A short time later, I learned that my photos had appeared, uncredited, on my acquaintance’s blog at the newspaper. My acquaintance added the credit later – not in a caption but in a talkback, with both my first and last names misspelled – only after being reminded to do so. When I wrote to him, protesting that he had posted the photos without having gotten back to me, he said that I had given him permission to use them. He added that he had thought that I, like him, would consider it more important to get the story out than to be paid.
When I asked the newspaper for payment for the use of my photos, the editor ignored me. Only after I called them repeatedly did the editor’s secretary turn me down in her employer’s name. My protest that I had not agreed to anything specific and that my acquaintance had not told me that he had a blog at the newspaper and intended to post my photos there availed nothing.
Since I felt that pursuing the matter would end up costing me more than the amount that I was owed for the photos, I decided to cut my losses. I also decided that this would be the last time that I allowed anything like this to happen. From that day on, I copyrighted all the photos on my Flickr page, and even sold a few over the next several months.
Fast forward to several days ago, when I received an email from a freelance writer abroad. She had found a photo on my Flickr page that she felt would be perfect for a story she was writing. Would I allow her publication to use my photo in exchange for credit?
I answered that I would be happy to allow the publication of my photo in exchange for a fee, which I named. She replied that she didn’t have a budget for photos, and said that she was sorry that she wouldn’t be able to use my photo for her story.
I’m sorry, too.
I want to make it clear that I have nothing whatsoever against the freelance writer. I’m acquainted with quite a few freelance writers, and I know that they work very hard for very little. My complaint is with the publication that employs her and others like it. They are the ones who make the decisions, and they are the ones who have decided, for whatever reason, that while they are willing to pay those who write for them, they expect to receive photographs for free.
Well, I have no intention of giving my work away for free. If that means I get a bit less exposure, so be it. I have no desire to do what some of my musician friends describe as “dying of exposure” – being persuaded to play a gig for free in the hope that somewhere in the audience is a talent scout or producer or someone else who may one day do what the person in charge of the gig could not be bothered to do: pay the artist for his or her work.
All over the world, as the journalism industry collapses and piracy decimates the music industry, unemployed and underemployed professionals are suddenly struggling to find paid work. People who agree to photograph, write or perform for free (except at charity fundraisers) are undermining others’ livelihoods. We still have to pay for food, rent, clothing. Doctors, plumbers, accountants and schoolteachers expect to be paid for their work.
So do I.