A week doesn’t go by where I don’t see someone on /r/Photography on Reddit posting about how their photos are being used online or in print without being attributed properly, or even worse, being used without being paid.
That prompted me to check out some of my most popular photos on Flickr by doing a reverse Google Image search. I found that quite a few of them are being used online in various blogs, websites and in advertising and marketing. Sites ranging in size from personal blogs all the way up to WBUR’s (Boston’s NPR affiliate) show Here & Now (which I am a huge fan of, by the way), KUOW (Seattle’s NPR affiliate), and SB Nation, a sports blog owned by Vox Media, a prominent blogging network.
Here’s another photo of mine on The American Scholar, which has very many notable writers and scholars appear such as Aldous Huxley, Carl Sagan, John Updike, Albert Einstein, Aaron Copland, amongst others. Great company to be featured with, huh?
I even found my photo of a glove full of baseballs used to advertise a baseball championship series in France (see image).
The copyright on all of my photos is a creative commons license and states that if you use one of my photos, you must attribute the work to me (which most kind of did in one way or another), not edit it in any way (which the French baseball poster clearly is), and be a non-commercial entity (which they all are). Both NPR sites credit me (without linking back to Flickr), but both have ads on their pages. SB Nation credits me, and links back to my Flickr page, but they have ads on the page and are clearly selling ads. And the American Scholar sells ads on their site and magazine subscriptions. They’re all making money.
When I was living in Houston and was more involved in the Houston Flickr community there were a few Houston blogs that would use my photography on their sites, which was awesome. I added the best of the best photos I took in Houston to their Flickr photo groups and every once in a while they’d get used in articles. Each time I saw my photo I was ecstatic, but in this situation I gave permission for them to use the photos by adding them to their Flickr groups. There was a clear benefit there for me. I actually did get exposure to my photos and through it met a few like minded photographers in the Houston area.
Exposure. That’s one of the things people promise you when they try to justify asking someone to do work for free, or at a severely cut rate. I’ve been there and been burned by it so many times.
Is it worth the time and effort to find all these photos of mine that are being used and send messages to the site owner to take them down? Part of me says yes, but in the long run? Probably not.
I’ve sent take down notices before. Sometimes the site owner complies and takes the photo down, or adds credit and a link if I ask. But a lot of times they don’t care and don’t reply. I could make myself crazy doing this. Or I could never post another photo that I’ve taken online again. But that’s crazy.
I don’t intend to make money off my photography. If I do here and there, hey, that’s great. But it’s a hobby for me, and I enjoy going out and exploring the world around me and showing off my best shots on my Flickr photo stream. If I didn’t want to show them to any one, why else would I do it?