Someone is asking me to let him use my picture for free

So I had a nice email today. From a man somewhere in the south of England who has bought one of my pictures from Istock. He probably has a subscription and gets to download a number of pictures each month for a set fee. He was very complimentary about the image and told me that he has posted it on his Facebook page and gets lots of nice comments about the image. So that’s nice.

He then goes on to say that he wants to print the image on some T shirts for his friends who are all going to see a band in Brighton, but the extended license offered for that kind of printed use on Istock is expensive, so would I mind if he did it anyway and he would, as a return for the favour, put my credit on the image.
This really got me thinking, and it got me confused too. Obviously it’s really nice to know when anyone, under any circumstances, likes what you are doing, it’s great to feel that all that hard work, all the money spent on equipment and insurance, all those hours spent finding the locations, waiting for the light, then hours in front of the computer, selecting, editing, manipulating, all that work, means something to someone. Its a great feeling to know that people like what you do.

But this is my problem:

For a long time I have slowly watched the devaluation of my industry, I have been there while photography has, much like the music industry, gone from some exulted art form where the creators where both praised and paid well for their talent to now being something similar to relish manufacturers, sandwich spread makers, burger factories. What I mean by that is that we are now just the ‘content providers’. We do the stuff that fills in the white bits and we get paid accordingly. Every time someone downloads my picture of Brighton pier on Istock I get paid around $1.30. Its not that much is it? I will have to have a lot of downloads to even pay for the wear and tear that the camera got just by pressing the shutter to take that photo. It’s hard to pay the bills if all you do is photography. And its even harder if you shoot pictures that might have a high aesthetic value but not a commercial one.

So what should I do? I’m really grateful that this guy has even asked me permission to use my images. He could easily have just stuck them on his T shirts and I would never know. He is obviously a fair, kind person. But if I owned a corner store and he walked in and politely explained that his friends where all outside and and they were hungry so would I mind if he just took a few things for lunch ‘Not to sell to anyone, just for his friends…” No one would have a problem with me if I said no, or even maybe called the police! 🙂

I want to reward his honesty but should I be complicit in the chipping away of photography’s value?

It seems to me that the more we devalue our artists, the less time they will be able to spend making their art and that will mean that the art will stop getting better and we will end up with rubbish T shirts.

I havn’t replied to his email yet. I’m not at all sure what to do…

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Clare says:

    I wouldn’t do it. If you explain why with the corner shop analogy, he should at least feel guilty if he does it anyway.
    Or you could offer to sell him some T shirts with the photo on. At least you then have control over the quality of the clothing. But your photos are too good to put on T shirts

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  2. Yes, it is indeed an interesting little dilemma and for what it’s worth here’s my two cents:

    Putting aside the truly scary prospect of the proliferation of rubbish t-shirts for one minute, I guess your quandary is essentially between an ethical or moral choice through which you may or may not benefit commercially, and one based purely upon goodwill and resignation and which again you may or may not benefit from commercially.

    On the one hand, if you refuse permission and ask him to follow the correct protocols, you will either be slightly better off and will have delivered an honorable (albeit near invisible and probably worthless) blow for photographers everywhere in an effort to stem the inevitable tide, or he’ll either not bother at all or just go ahead anyway (confident that you probably won’t be turning up at the event anyway) – and you’ll be none the richer or wiser. And the inevitable tide will continue unabated.

    Or, you can give him your blessing, comforted in the knowledge that a bunch of people at a rock concert somewhere in Brighton sometime soon will be wearing quality-looking t-shirts with your name on it and thinking what a bloody good bloke that Pete Sherrard must be. A sell-out, but otherwise a bloody good bloke.

    I think in respect of the bigger picture it’s a drop in the ocean (of inevitable tides, remember) and as far as commercial viability for yourself, it probably isn’t significant.

    And I agree that his honesty should indeed be rewarded. And that you’re undoubtedly a bloody good bloke!

    Might be different If it was actually the band wearing them rather than just a few of the fans though!

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