No – You Cannot Use My Photographs for Free, part 86

I am going to start documenting all the requests I get from people wanting to use my photographs for free, and their responses. This is a fairly regular occurrence – usually a dozen1or so times a year – every year – I’ll get an email, mostly via Flickr. Nearly always the request starts with the same basic initial thought: “I’m so and so, and I’m working on a book or some other project, and I want to have your photograph, for free, even though I plan on selling the finished project. I’ll give you a photo credit though.”

Yesterday I got this request:

I am currently working with several photographers, manipulating their images digitally to create artistic representations for a deck of cards that I am creating & publishing. I would very much love to use this image of yours in my deck. Would you please consider granting me permission to use the image? Full credit will be given to each photographer who’s work I feature in the deck, and this deck will be sold and distributed globally to card-readers, students and collectors.

If you’d like to see the progress of the deck so far, you can do so on my Facebook Page: [REDACTED]2

Anchor Baby

Anchor Baby – the photo in question

I responded:

if you are planning on selling your deck, we’ll need to work out some sort of compensation arrangement, or royalty agreement. I’ve gone as low as $800 (U.S.) in the past.

Should I send you an invoice?

I actually have gone much lower – especially if the project is good or interesting, or the requestor is polite. Occasionally I have even given away one time usage of my photograph for free, but I don’t do that often. If this is a commercial endeavor, I should be compensated for all the time I took to snap the photograph, manipulate the photograph in my digital darkroom, upload to the web, etc. not to mention my equipment, computer, software, camera, lens, and so on. Again, not to be a jerk, but if you think your work is worthy enough to sell, well then, so should mine be worthy enough. I may not make my living as a professional photographer, but I’m not independently wealthy. I like having coins in my pocket.

The requester responded, rather snottily:

None of the other photographers are asking for royalties. Credit and getting their name attached to this global project was all that was required.

No, sorry, i am not willing to pay. I have other options, many other photographs, many other photographers who want recognition… 🙂

Well, isn’t that peachy.

I couldn’t help myself, and emailed back:

Hard to pay my landlord with photo credits, thanks for understanding.

Ideally, by documenting this reoccurring request, I’ll hone my responses so they are a little wittier. I really should create a form letter that I could work off of.

  1.  which is where I figured out that this is request number 89. It probably isn’t, but if I’ve been a member of Flickr for 8 years, well you do the math []
  2. if you really want to know, I’ll tell you privately []

10 thoughts on “No – You Cannot Use My Photographs for Free, part 86

  1. Noah says:

    Someone did make a form letter: “Reasons Why Professional Photographers Cannot Work for Free” (it applies to non-pro photographers too, of course.)

  2. John Cutting says:

    I have to agree with you on understanding your own boundaries and setting your own terms. It’s one thing to admire your pictures as they appear on the internet. It’s another thing entirely to anticipate profiting by them in some fashion, inform you of that expectation, and slap you with a completely naïve remark about what all the other photographers are lending out for free this year.

    Stand your ground. Know your value. Be honest with yourself about what you’re willing to get mixed up in – or not get mixed up in. If you decide to branch out, or to sell a part of your portfolio – definitely approach it from a legally protected perspective. (You know – that particular image is awesome. It really would make a good card deck. Interesting. It’s a deck of cards I would purchase – but NOT if I knew some artistic soul somewhere got screwed in its making.)

    I once got mixed up in some patent stuff. The USPatent & Trademark Office, lawyers, a patent of my very own, and an infringer. Drat, and double drat. Scandalous, scandalous stuff. Your collections and your inspiration are things that you have a right to protect. As an artist, your inspiration alone is worth bucks and is definitely a part of your being-ness that you have a right to protect. I’m really glad you have the hutspa (spelling?) to not let someone else’s deck of cards ruin that for you. I’m running up against my own ignorance here, and projecting some due to my past patent efforts and stuff, but I think I’m qualified to understand that the artist inside you deserves to have someone believe in him, and protect his work.

    I say, good for you! Way to head off that troublesome relationship at the pass. ….And they’re not the only one who has lots of other options. I’m sure you have plenty of your own, if you ever wish to pursue them. Meanwhile, you have something that is unique and hard won by your efforts, your time, your creativity, your passion, it goes on and on. Yes? …..Good for you.

    Hey – you should write an article about it – and sell it to a Chicago newspaper. Keep your portfolio in tact, but maybe make a sale on the story. …….what do you think? (Does one call the “City Desk” and inquire about such a thing? I don’t really know.)

    I hope you get lots of comments about this, and tons of input from colleagues, and whomever. I remember when personal computers didn’t exist. I worked at a paper company, and an artist came in regularly to get bargain deals on vellum or laid finish or some such thing – and turned those into consignment stuff at boutiques and other places. (As greeting cards, for example.) …Remember when life was easier that way?

  3. John Cutting says:

    I can’t help myself. I have to add a second comment. …I dislike predatory behaviors (as a general rule), and it’s just not cool to imagine this person trolling your collection for just the right image. Buttering you up with superficial flattery. And trying to sneak this past you. It’s a childish expectation, with a guilt salad and a side of attitude. It reaches beyond mere money. You simply deserve a better arrangement. Predators! Did I mention I dislike ’em? Stand your ground. Find your better arrangement. ….peace, out.

  4. John Cutting says:

    Hi Seth. Your email suggests you might share privately with me, the “real progress” listed at Facebook – remember the deck of cards? ….if you have the time to offer me the FB address, I think I’d be interested in taking a look at that page. I promise to not publicly comment!! I think I am interested in seeing how their FB page is laid out, and how one lists such details of progress on a FB page. ……this is up to your discretion. I won’t hold it against you if you (oops) neglect to share the info with me. …your call. And thanks. …J.

  5. I will – with the condition you don’t mention me.

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