Conditional Generosity is Bullshit


I am working on some stuff for the corporate website, which commonly prompts me to puruse the offerings of various online stock photo repositories such as MorgueFile, stock.xchng, etcetera. The majority of the photographers on these sites allow other people to use their shots in whatever fashion they like, as long as they don’t try to sell the photos themselves (as commodities), and only if such use doesn’t involve something illegal or generally reprehensible.

Some photographers, however, place a certain level of restriction on their photos: Some require attribution (e.g., “photo courtesy Sam Smith”); yet others ask that you contact them beforehand to obtain permission to use their photos.

I have zero problems complying with whatever terms of use the photographer wishes to place on his or her photos; they are, after all, his or her property. But, the common thread here is: By offering photos on sites like these, the photographers are implying that you can use their images (subject to the site terms) without cost.

And, that’s the whole reason I patronize these online repositories. It’s here, it doesn’t completely suck, the design will stand with our without it… and it’s free. Why not?

A Brief, Paraphrased Interaction

Me: Hi. I don’t know if I’ll use your image or not, but I’d like to get your permission to use it on our company’s website just the same. Full attribution with a link to your website will be included on any page(s) where the image is displayed. Thanks.

Him: Normally, I’d say yes. But in your case, I checked out your company website. You guys sell some pretty expensive products, so I think you can afford to pay me to use it. Let me know if you’re interested.

The Rant

There are many websites out there that allow a photographer to collect licensing fees (or a portion thereof) from buyers; iStockPhoto is one. A talented photographer can even utilize various online–not necessarily photographically-oriented–services to peddle their wares. There are even licensing agenciesgasp!–that make millions of dollars off the back of talented photographers every day (Getty anyone?)… and you can be sure those photographers are compensated.

This is the natural order of The Market. If you want to make a little scratch from your efforts behind the lens, this is the route to go. Customers see something they like, check the price, and make a purchase if the two reconcile. It’s quality versus price, you see?

Further, as soon as you place your photo on a “free” sharing website, you are actively and automatically devaluing it. You obviously don’t think the photo is good enough to charge for it. What gave you the idea that someone else would think any differently?

It is beyond my professional capacity to pander to someone who first says, “Hey! Here they are! Use my photos for free!” (on a website claiming to be “the leading FREE stock photo site” no less), then conditionally adds, “But only if you don’t sell something expensive,” in effort to strong-arm someone with presumably deep pockets.

That’s some serious bullshit, man.

Of course we can afford to pay to use your photo! We regularly spend hundreds–if not thousands–on licensed photography.

Just not yours.


3 thoughts on “Conditional Generosity is Bullshit

  1. Right there with you, man. Free stock sites are filled with more “Second Hand Love” than a cheap hotel bedspread. My previous employer thought little of paying for good imagery (whether it be a stock image or an actual photo shoot) yet we had the same discussion whenever I was asked to swap out web/collateral imagery:

    “Just swap it out with a free sock photo.”

    “Free stock imagery is not know for it’s strong photos. They are mediocre at best. I would prefer to search the premium sites if we are basing an entire year of marketing on the concept.”

    “Just swap it out with a free stock photo.”

    A month later:

    “Man, that photo really sucks. Can you find a better one?”

  2. I’m lucky that I’m “the decider” when it comes to this kind of stuff.

    Like I said, the overall design doesn’t hinge on any of the free shit… just that if it doesn’t completely suck balls, and it has the potential to add a little sumpn’-sumpn’… then why not?

    But I was pissed when this little money-grubbin’, talentless hack had the audacity to say, “you can afford it… even though I’m giving it away for free to everyone else”.

    What a cockbag.

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