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This Photograph Is Not Free (petapixel.com)
435 points by Brajeshwar 1417 days ago | 254 comments

Well the comments here terribly disappoint me. Clearly the photographer wants to be paid as a professional, just like anyone else here.

The author should not have included any monetary figure in the article as doing so brings down the wrath of a thousand pedants with pocket calculators proving he overcharges and overvalues his work. So many people here seem to think they somehow "got him" on some straw-man price-point that clearly does not exist.

Meanwhile, the figure he calculated clearly exists to make the point that creating such an image costs more to him than clicking Save As... did to you and he wants to be appropriately compensated in dollars.

The fact the comments here seem to lack the professional empathy to jump from "How do you make money? Charge for your webapp!" To "How do you make money? Charge for your photos!" really shows how myopic the community can be. Not everyone builds a career around trying to make social network v35.0

tl;dr Pay photographers for their work, like you pay any other professional.

edit: And for a real cherry on top, the blog post itself appears to be taken in whole from http://www.flickr.com/photos/johnmueller/6643032477/in/photo... I suppose John Mueller could have agreed to have his content republished but nothing indicates that to be the case and a skimming of the petapixel blog doesn't seem to include many guest contributors.

The author's real blog is at http://johnbmuellerphotography.blogspot.com/


I think the comments are fine, because the entire premise of the blog post is wrong. He should be paid because his skill as a photographer is worth money, not because he paid for a lot of expensive equipment.


He should be paid because he demands payment. This is a valid thing to do according to current laws, which allow authors to control the distribution of their "intellectual work" on author's terms (with some exceptions).

Both author's skills and the cost of equipment are irrelevant. If the author decides that the cost of equipment is the pricing factor, it's his or her right.

The comments here mostly point out that this pricing decision is not logical.


He was also complaining about people asking for his photos for free. That has nothing to do with the law.


Asking to license photos for free is also a valid and common way to acquire licenses. This particular author is annoyed by such requests, because he wants to license the right to copy the result of his work for a fee. Other authors are okay with this, and some even explicitly allow such use (see Creative Commons licenses).

This has everything to do with the law, because if not for copyright laws, he wouldn't be able to demand payments for copying of his published photos.


He'd be able to 'demand' whatever he wants. Charities "demand" donations all the time and get them, and there's no protectionist law they have to deal with.


English is not my first language, but dictionary tells me that I used the term "demand" correctly:

   5. (Law)
   (a) The asking or seeking for what is due or claimed as due.
   [1913 Webster]


The point was that you don't need any law to demand money for something. Copyright may legitimize your demand (in some people's eyes) but you can demand anything for anything.

I demand you pay me $20 for the privilege of reading my posts. See, it worked fine. I have the same legitimacy as anyone else that asks for money. You can choose to pay it or not. There's no law that suggests I can charge you, but I can certainly ask and you can choose to pay, if you want.

It's a tricky nuance but it's still a nuance.


I still don't see the point. Are you arguing whether the author could ask for payments for copies? Sure he could. Even if there were no copyright laws. But only because of the copyright laws he can demand to be paid. Or you're arguing that "demand" doesn't necessary mean "ask for what is due, legally"? In this case I think what I meant was clear enough, since you seem to recognize that there's a nuance. If every word had only one strictly clear meaning, we wouldn't have numbered lists in dictionaries. (By the way, in my first sentence, by "point" I didn't mean a punctuation mark, nor did I mean an indefinitely small space.)


chest your english is clear and to the point. Ignore those comments he is off on a tangent. I suspect the anger, FEAR and disgust with SOPA PROTECT IP and the other efforts to censor the internet and eliminate sure processes is the origin of many of this not so generous comments. These undermine the internet our jobs, not to be overly dramatic, and everyones freedom not just in the US. The biggest copyright holders are at the forfront I can understand the spillover. Unfortunately many of the people that actually create the great works are against it but they don't have the say or the influence individually. Regards.


This is parallel to a recent HN thread on copyright: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3303796

I think photographers (like musicians) face two problems: the amateurization of photography, and the lack of marginal cost of distribution.

Photographers need to figure out how to get paid. You can try to charge me the cost of production if you want, but I'm not going to pay it, esp. when there's a large and growing base of amateurs who will give me their work for free. This is why there is a culture of asking for a free license in exchange for exposure: because market dynamics have driven the price down that far. Someone who approaches you for free work isn't going to pay you what you want no matter what. You need to find the people who will pay you.

The freemium model is the only one that really makes sense to me. You give away your past work for free, as a marketing cost, and charge a service fee for those premium customers who have the budget. You charge for the actual production, not for the distribution.


He has figured out a way to get paid. He takes incredible pictures people want to use for their company and sells it to them. He has also mentioned that people who give stuff away for free or "credit" are just burned again later on because other companies don't want to pay, they want to "credit"

As someone who considers himself an amateur photographer, there is no way I could just "reproduce" that for free to someone.

First consider the amount of money his lens costs, how much his filter costs, because those things are not "common" parts of an amateur photographer's kit.

Then consider the amount of time he put into his craft, the countless hours he spend reading up on photography: lighting, white balance, ISO, apeture, etc. Then going outside to do nature shoots or going inside for some modeling on a white screen. All of that is blood, sweat and tears he expended to be good at what he is doing.

Do you think a junior programmer is the same as a senior programmer? There are obviously times where some program or code is so simple that either programmer could get the job done (and even then a lesser programmer might miss some minute detail), but if it were true for all programming jobs then obviously the people in the industry would be screwed because no one would pay a salary for more than just a junior programmer. Replace what you've said about photography with programming and do you still believe it to be true?

If you really feel that you should get your photos free from an amateur photographer that is your choice, but you're not going to get the same picture that that guy took and he's happy to not sell you that picture for free. Just getting the perfect lighting for a photograph is tough and I doubt an amateur could just set that up and take it for you at that quality.


He takes incredible pictures people want to use for their company and sells it to them.

That might work for him, but I doubt it's viable for photographers in general, at least in the future.

He has also mentioned that people who give stuff away for free or "credit" are just burned again later on because other companies don't want to pay, they want to "credit"

Like I said, those companies aren't going to pay no matter what. They're looking for a free product. If yours isn't free, they're not going to change their budget, they're going to look elsewhere.

My point is that copies are basically free. When you use the copies as marketing, you're using their zero marginal cost as a feature. What you charge for is the part that costs you money: production. You have to find the people who are willing to fund the production of photos, not just the distribution.

My point about amateurization is that, no, maybe you or I couldn't reproduce that photo, but could a thousand amateurs? What about when the equipment gets rapidly better and more inexpensive at the same time?

Then consider the amount of time he put into his craft, the countless hours ...

Here you're making an anti-capitalist argument. I should pay him what he deserves? Who decides how much his hard work is worth?

I'm actually not a programmer, but your point isn't lost on me. But I think it actually bolsters my argument. Programmers generally have figured out how to make money, and it's not be selling free copies. It's the reason SaaS and freemium models are dominating.

So, yes, you can replace photographers with any job and I think it'll still be true: you have to charge for the parts people will be willing to pay, and zero marginal cost distribution isn't going to be it.

In fact, to make it personal: I'm an aspiring writer. I write on my blog and I just got a couple of pieces published in the Atlantic Tech blog. I don't get paid for any of that writing. If I tried to charge for it, no one would pay me. So I give it away for free while I hone my skills and build my (freely available) ouevre, in the hope that eventually the quality of my work will be such that I will be able to fund the production of the work, not the distribution of copies. (I.e. in the hope that I'll get hired by a web site or magazine to write on staff full-time.) So my money is actually located exactly where my mouth is.


I had a long post written but I think for brevity sake I'll only include what I thought is relevant.

> In fact, to make it personal: I'm an aspiring writer. I write on my blog and I just got a couple of pieces published in the Atlantic Tech blog. I don't get paid for any of that writing. If I tried to charge for it, no one would pay me. So I give it away for free while I hone my skills and build my (freely available) ouevre, in the hope that eventually the quality of my work will be such that I will be able to fund the production of the work, not the distribution of copies. (I.e. in the hope that I'll get hired by a web site or magazine to write on staff full-time.) So my money is actually located exactly where my mouth is.

Who's to say he hasn't already paid his dues? Maybe he did do sample work when he was just starting out and he's now at the phase where he's monetizing his skill set by selling good photos. He doesn't have a problem with companies that don't want to pay, he just says that what he does isn't cheap or free to do so pay him some money for his time and effort or just don't use the picture. If some website asks you to write full-time but they can't pay you anything other than exposure, are you going to take it? No, because you have a valuable skill that should be paid.

But let's try to keep it in the context of the post. He has a picture, apparently companies _want_ this picture so he has something that they cannot get just by grabbing an amateur's version of the photograph. These companies also have large ad and marketing budgets so money shouldn't be an issue yet somehow it is. I think in this case he has a right to be mad. He can't work for free, and since he took it and owns the rights to it he should be able to tell those companies to piss off. If there is a demand for his photo to be used then he should get paid.


Who's to say he hasn't already paid his dues?

I'm saying it's not about paying dues. I'm saying dues-paying is exactly the wrong attitude. I'm not writing for free out of some sense of obligation to the field. I'm doing it because that's the only way I can think of to build enough credibility to be able to charge for my productive capacity in the future.

...and he's now at the phase where he's monetizing his skill set by selling good photos.

My argument is that selling copies is not a great way to monetize that skill-set that he's built. It might work for a few people, but I think market dynamics are such that that's not going to be viable for many people for very long.

If some website asks you to write full-time but they can't pay you anything other than exposure, are you going to take it?

That's not the analogous situation. A closer one is: if a website asks to use a copy of one of my posts, paying only in exposure, would I take it? The answer is yes, I already do that. I could ask them to pay me for work I've already done, but it's a hard thing to ask, when people can get the same thing for free elsewhere.

He has a picture, apparently companies _want_ this picture

Yes. They want it for free, despite their large ad and marketing budgets. Money is always an issue. What makes you say "it shouldn't be an issue"?

He can't work for free, and since he took it and owns the rights to it he should be able to tell those companies to piss off. If there is a demand for his photo to be used then he should get paid.

You're right that he should be able to tell people to piss off if he wants to. He can try to charge a billion dollars per photo if he wants. I'm not saying he shouldn't, I don't think anyone is. I'm saying it's not going to work. I'm saying it's not a viable strategy for photographers at large for the foreseeable future. You're crazy if you think the companies that are asking for the photo for free are going to read this blog post and realize the error of their ways.


The problem is that nowadays, only the incredible photos get you paid. In the olden days, just having competent stock shots would get you paid too, but that has passed.


I would disagree a little.

There is a huge difference between amateur music and professional music, So big a difference in fact that I would say there is no comparison between them.

Good professional musicians make money just like we programmers do. The problem starts when amateur musicians/programmers take music/photography as a hobby first and then try to make money out of it.

The biggest problem with this is they don't match the quality of work produced by the actual professionals. And now have to compete with fellow amateurs.

Amateur photographers/musicians can't make money for the very same reasons why your side android apps project doesn't make anything more than $50 an year.


While I agree with your overall point, you seem to be taking a restrictive view on what people call/consider to be amateur. I normally am not very picky with definitions and appropriate derived meanings, but the different usages of amateur are in complete contrast to each other and frequently hinders communication. The typical reference of "amateur" X competing with "professional" X is not for the less skilled or less capable. It's from those that can, but choose not to derive their income from that activity. There are MANY people who have hobbies that they are profoundly amazing at but cannot do as a means of income. Whether it's not being able to do it on demand to not wanting to lose the joy of doing it because it's required, it does not signify a lack of discipline or capability. These are the amateur's people are talking about. Not just those that are wanting to do it but haven't found a way to "break in". For a good example, hit up any hole in the wall jazz club. You will see some of the most phenomenal performers get some pocket change every Friday night after working as who-knows-what to pay the bills doing something they completely enjoy but don't want to do full time for whatever reason.


Same stuff with programming.


I have to agree with this. His reasoning falls apart on his second sale right? How long does he own that camera? How many pictures does he take? What is the marginal cost for the 'next' picture he takes? How many times does he sell the same picture?

There are two kinds of photography, 'on demand' and 'stock' which is to say you hire someone to come out and take pictures at your wedding that is 'on demand', you need a picture of a waterfall in Hawaii to put into a travel brochure you find one in a catalog, that is 'stock'.

The guy who takes wedding pictures has lots of great equipment. The guy that shot mine brought three cameras, one for shots around the event, one taking shots of the location , and a portrait setup for one on one pictures. Now he probably had 15 - 20K worth of gear there, but he does 10 - 15 weddings a year. So even amortizing with a lifetime of 3 years for each piece of gear his equipment 'cost' is worst case 30 shoots, so $666 per shoot.

I really do think the think the effect here is that it is so easy to put photographs on the web, and for many folks they just took the picture for themselves, they don't have any problem at all giving people rights to reproducing their picture anywhere. So people who acquire pictures ask for it free first, and then if you respond that no, you are only interested in selling it, you can come to a negotiation over price.

Unfortunately, from what I've read on photography blogs there are also some pretty large price / value discrepancies between photographers and buyers. This seems to lead to a number of blog postings like the one referenced with (often) one side of the story.


Exactly. If I take a photo with my lens cap on, that photo is not worth $2000, or whatever the price of my camera + computer works out to. It'll be damn near completely black.

Conversely, if a famous photographer took a beautiful photo with a disposable camera, you can bet it would be worth more than $15.

The entire premise is near-offensively wrong.


That's exactly it. It's like telling someone that my software is worth $1700 because that's what my laptop cost.


Indeed; not a stretch to say he could have just happened across that opportunity while borrowing a cheap point-and-shoot, applying his skill at identifying & framing a shot and using whatever equipment at hand to its full potential.

Ultimately it's supply-and-demand: get paid $X because people are willing to pay that to acquire the image, regardless of his alleged talent and costs. As it is, he's handing out small copies of that image for free, while begging people to not violate abstract notions of intellectual property. Maybe someone will like the image enough to order a hard-to-make high-quality large-size limited-quantity signed-and-numbered copy and pay a dear price for it.


Yes, a thousand times yes. "The principle applied in the U.S.S.R. is that of socialism: From each according to his ability, to each according to his work," said Joseph Stalin. Which is backwards.

What many people with only a superficial understanding of economics don't seem to grasp is that the "perfect competition" ecosystem that is described in Econ 101 - in which goods are priced at cost - is an EMERGENT property of free trade.

Key word is emergent. The cost of a good is not enough justification for judgment of what someone out to pay for that good. When that good, labor, and all inputs of that good, and inputs of those inputs are priced fairly and freely, then such pricing tends to emerge. But saying "I paid $XX for a plane ticket and this equipment to produce this good so I deserve to be paid $XX for it" is Begging The Question. The inventive camera maker, or the bankrupt airline that sold you the plane ticket below cost, could be make the same argument of you. And the cheated, suicidal Foxconn employee who made the camera components could make the same argument. And so on.

The point is you can't force the pricing you want. Allow people to trade freely, and order emerges.


I don't see what's wrong with his pricing model. He's basing his price on what it would cost someone, starting from nothing, to go out and create a picture like that.

It's actually a discount in that regard since most people would have to spend considerable time learning how to take that photo.

It's a perfectly good starting place for a price. And nowhere did he say that price wasn't negotiable.


The flaw is that no one is going to recreate that photograph from scratch. Any professional who sells photographs is amortizing the cost of his equipment over many sales. Buyers pay according to what they (and the market) think that particular photograph is worth. The cost of the equipment doesn't really factor into it.

It's similar to buying anything on the market - A toaster would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to build from scratch (http://www.thetoasterproject.org/), but no one pays that much (not does any manufacturer expect that much) since no one is really going to build one from scratch.

The author's argument gets really weird at the end when he claims that if someone misappropriates the image, he would charge the cost of his camera, his laptop, his software - the whole shebang that went into it. It's a very strange way of computing the loss of value to him. The loss of value could be zero (if there was no buyer for that image in the first place - a lot of photographers take excellent images without anyone actually buying or wanting to buy them ever), or it could be many thousands of dollars if it is a piece of art that is highly valued. Basing the value on the cost of the equipment that went into producing it does not do justice to the image either way.


He can set the price as he likes. But this does not mean that he will find a buyer.


In addition, I suspect that's the price he would sell the rights to the photo for (if he would sell it at all), meaning that whomever paid that price would own the work outright.

I also suspect that he would be happy to license uses of that photo for substantially less (though I'm VERY curious as to what that cost is, actually) to magazines and other people wanting to use the work on a single-use basis.


If I bought all that same equipment, and took a terrible photograph, then according to his argument my photograph would also be worth 6 grand.


> Clearly the photographer wants to be paid as a professional

Then he has to work as a professional. "Professional landscape photographer" is an oxymoron. There is essentially no commercial market for landscape photography. For all practical purposes, there are an infinite number of sufficiently high-quality images available for free.

The only thing I'm formally qualified to do is sound engineering. The development of Digital Audio Workstation software and cheap microphones meant that by the time I left college, there weren't any recording studios left to hire me. I could say exactly the same thing as the OP about how much my studio equipment costs, about how long I spent learning my craft, but the simple fact is that there are too many studio engineers willing to work for free.

Landscape photography is a hobby, like sport or music. Some people are so exceptionally good at that they can make a living doing it, but everyone else has to suck it up, act like an adult and do something that people will actually pay for. John B. Mueller shoots weddings, I write software. He shoots landscapes for fun, I record music for fun, which is exactly why nobody will pay us to do it - thousands like us will do it for free.


The most interesting bit to me in his total is that he didn't put in any cost for his time, which I'm guessing would ordinarily be the lion's share of a task like this.

I don't know if he was just trying to establish the 'overhead' costs, or that at a minimum, discounting his time, that's what it cost him, but I'd like to see that number be higher, if anything.

This, to me, is the same argument I made recently regarding musicians, in the creation of music, the finished work isn't zero-cost. Ignoring the recording studio costs, media costs, distribution costs, there are other costs like instruments, instrument lessons where applicable, etc.

Even if you believe that you should be able to reproduce an artist's work free of charge (which I admit I often am conflicted on,) you have no right to take the work that it cost them money to produce for free because you aren't depriving them of anything.


> The fact the comments here seem to lack the professional empathy to jump from "How do you make money? Charge for your webapp!" To "How do you make money? Charge for your photos!" really shows how myopic the community can be.

I will point out that there is a reason HN advocates making money by developing web apps over creating binaries that are posted online for all to copy, with a shareware note attached. We have the exact same problem with copying. We just have learned to deal with the problem as best we can. Is there really nothing photographers can do on their own to mitigate the problem?


Very true. I think I'm disappointed because we (HN) lack a good marketable answer to your last question there.

I would not forward this thread to a photographer if asked "what do hackers recommend I do to mitigate my work being ripped off?" not for lack of ideas but simply because it's just not what they want to hear when things like SOPA/PIPA are floating around. "Innovate or die" is harder to swallow when there are folks saying "We'll protect you".

Photographers and other content creators alike find things like SOPA/PIPA enticing because it feels like someone is looking out for their interests.


Adding to that, he's not saying he'll only license it for $6,000+, just not for free or for "credit" or exposure.

As for only charging for your expertise, use of equipment/software, and time are also things businesses legitimately charge for, so it's fair to factor those into your value as well. It may not be the best way to assess the worth of your work, but it is a part of it.


People will come up with cash for things they thing are worth paying for. A picture of a sunset has little commercial value, but custom photography (weddings, etc) do. The customer doesn't care about his overhead, especially if he doesn't know how to calculate it. Why should they? If you want them to pony up, selling something worth buying. Musicians have figured it out, why shouldn't he?


I license photos for publication. One of the best photos in terms of revenue is of a sunset. The cost of licensing is not very high, and varies on publication type & volume.

This photo alone has paid for the camera I took the photo with & the location costs several times over now. It may well surprise you, but there is a huge market for sunset pictures, as well as other even more mundane everyday items and scenes.


The point is not on the worth of a sunset picture. He just wants anybody who uses this picture to compensate him.


I think you meant "a thousand pedants".


Wish I could say I did that on purpose.



Also, you probably mean "wrath of a thousand pedants" not "wraith".


That's what I get for ranting prior to having my tea. I do miss me my Stargate Atlantis.


These are the same people who think all digital content should be free - music, movies, games, apps, etc. No matter how technically advanced our society becomes, one axiom will always remain true - there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.


A webapp is run as a service. You're charging people for a service you provide. That makes it very hard to copy.

A photo isn't a service. It's a collection of bytes that is trivial to copy.

If you want to make money as a photographer, you need to structure it in a way that means it's hard to copy. But these days, anyone can take pro quality photos with minimal talent. If he's an exceptional photographer, he should be able to charge for his time when taking photos. But that's about it.

With the music industry, artists can move from selling CDs to doing more live tours. Not sure that's something photographers can really do.


Some content is inherently easy to copy. That doesn't mean it is without value. Copying a poem is easy, but copying a novel requires slightly more effort. Does that mean all poets should become novelists in order to make a living?

When the Beatles were making some of their best work (in my opinion), they weren't touring. Who are we to say that the recordings are without value, just because they are easily copied, and that they should have made their money by touring?

I'm frankly surprised to see this viewpoint stated so commonly on a site where I assume many people make their living writing code. Should your ability to make money be contingent on your ability to keep your source code hidden?


I'd love to get paid for browsing the internet and commenting on things, who is to say thats without value because its so easily done.

you have no right to make money doing what you would like to do, sorry thats just life.


I wasn't stating an opinion. I was stating the facts.

As technology has progressed, it has meant that instead of very few producers and millions of consumers of 'content', now everyone produces content. That means the value of 'content' has drastically reduced to the point that it's almost worthless for some areas.

This is progress, and you can't stop it.

Of course art is valuable, as it has always been. But as stated elsewhere, there are a billion pictures of a sunset online... supply far outstrips demand.

And yes, as a programmer, you can either work to keep your source code secret, or you can provide software as a service, charge for support, or any number of other monetization options. But you can't really sell open source software without some reason for people to buy it.


But surely the whole point of that glut of content is that you don't need his image, not that you should be able to take it without his permission?

As you say, there are thousands of sunset images, probably thousands under, say, a CC or free license. That means you can use them, not that you can declare his image is worthless and use it.

In terms of can copy therefore, should be allowed to copy, that just changes the potential nature of the contract that exists. With physical goods there was a barrier to copying, but there are plenty of situations in society where what governs our behaviour isn't what we can do, it's what we all (or a vast majority of us) have agreed to do because we believe that is in our mutual best interest.

The fact it's easy to copy things means the potential for change exists and the mechanisms whereby restrictions are enforced may change, but it doesn't mean that in the future can copy will automatically mean is permitted to copy by society.

Yes, you can't stop progress, but the direction of progress is still unclear.


You know, it is pretty easy to kill someone. That doesn't mean it's morally acceptable, let alone legal. It doesn't matter how easy it is to copy the photograph. It's still not morally acceptable or legal.

As to your second argument, that 'anyone can take pro quality photos with minimal talent': image quality isn't all that counts. In fact, it's substantially less important than composing a good photograph in the first place. Someone with a little experience can take much better photographs with a $200 camera than someone unexperienced can with a $1200 camera.

Taking good photographs is as hard as it always was. It's about artistic composition, about knowing your tools, about having enough to experience to take the shot. Ask an amateur photographer friend whether he thinks he can easily reproduce this photo. Those in my vicinity all tell me they can't. Firstly, their equipment is insufficient. A $900 DSLR won't cut it and they don't have those filters. Secondly, they would never have thought of doing it this way, with these tools. Anyone can copy. This guy has done original work. How many people have enough experience with this $200 filter to know it would be perfect for this shot?


It's still not morally acceptable or legal.

It's illegal, yes. But the question whether copying published works is morally unacceptable to people is debatable.

Comparing sharing with killing or stealing is a common mistake.

Citing http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/words-to-avoid.html#Theft

The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in general. Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things upside down.


You know, it is pretty easy to kill someone. That doesn't mean it's morally acceptable, let alone legal. It doesn't matter how easy it is to copy the photograph. It's still not morally acceptable or legal.

And yet, people still kill each other on a daily basis. At some point it may become practical to take precautions not to get killed, or to move into a line of work or a place where you're less likely to get killed.


We've got a system in place to ensure very few people kill each other. It would be nice if that same system could ensure people wouldn't just copy photographs (for commercial purposes). And it actually does a reasonable job of that.

This guy wasn't arguing he has a hard time making a living, which is the argument that people seem to be replying to. He's arguing that people shouldn't copy photographs for commercial purposes. It's hard to see how anyone could disagree with that: I don't want my code copied either (well, specific parts of it). The question of what you should do when people in fact do copy your photographs is mostly separated from that.


The question of what should be done in cases of copyright infringement is the only one that can really be usefully discussed, which is probably why most people are addressing that instead. Should people copy photographs for commercial purposes? Of course not. End of discussion, not much more to say.

This seems to come up fairly often - an article making a moral argument that copying is wrong, followed by comments saying "Yeah, but it still happens, so you should do X", followed by replies saying "no, but you don't understand, it's wrong!"

Strangely enough, this seems to come up mostly in the context of music (or, in this case, photography). I haven't seen many software blogs making a purely moral argument as opposed to a practical discussion of what to do about it.


If I'm a programmer, and I let my customers download my program for free and include a crack -- who's fault is it if someone doesn't pay up for the program? This is the internet. I had to download a copy the photograph just to view the image. It's stored in my cache right now. You have an unlicensed copy as well. Do I feel like a murdering thief? No, I don't.

If you run a bike-shop, don't leave the bikes out front without locks. They're going to get stolen. Don't bitch about society when they go missing. If you're putting art out on the internet, don't bitch when everyone has a copy. At least watermark that sucker.


"If I'm a programmer, and I let my customers download my program for free and include a crack -- who's fault is it if someone doesn't pay up for the program? This is the internet."

It's called trust, it's why we've been lauding Louis CK's latest effort. Also, Apple used to distribute their OS software that way, it didn't require a serial number or online validation.

"If you run a bike-shop, don't leave the bikes out front without locks. They're going to get stolen. Don't bitch about society when they go missing. If you're putting art out on the internet, don't bitch when everyone has a copy."

Nice argument for DRM. I thought all of us here were opposed to that kind of thing.

"At least watermark that sucker."

What is that supposed to accomplish? Even if those who appropriate the picture don't crop the pictures, that doesn't justify republishing it without permission and/or compensation.


Slap your website name across the whole image. I don't think anyone here is against DRM -- just shitty DRM that dilutes the user experience. Steam is an example of DRM done right IMO.


The belief that morality and practicability are the same thing just scares me, really. Individual humans become more powerful all the time. We need to respect arbitrary, consentual rules to keep the world going instead of going back to "strong eats weak, bad luck".


> We need to respect arbitrary, consentual rules to keep the world going

Such as PIPA and SOPA?

Believing that a concept such as a digital pattern or an idea is property that belongs to someone is borderline religious -- because I'm sure you fervently believe it without any supporting evidence. Just because you can monetize something doesn't mean you own it. If I discovered the wheel first, does that mean society owes me money bags for stealing my invention?


> Such as PIPA and SOPA?

Bad legislation and lobbyism are no reasons for or against anything.

> Believing that a concept such as a digital pattern or an idea is property that belongs to someone is borderline religious -- because I'm sure you fervently believe it without any supporting evidence.

That is arbitrary from an objective point of view. Now name me a law or human concept that is not.

Thank you for your assumptions about SOPA and fervent religiousness in a thread that has to do with neither.


> Taking good photographs is as hard as it always was.

Untrue. With digital, you can take 1,000 photos and chances are one will be fantastic. You can brute force brilliance. That wasn't true before digital.

Photos are simply recording something that exists. It's not creating art as such (IMHO). So unlike painting / writing books / writing code, you could just sit a monkey there with a good camera, variety of lenses, filters, etc and have him take a fantastic photo sooner or later.

Don't get me wrong, I love taking photos, and try to make my photos better each time, try to learn what settings, composure etc will make the best photo etc. But at the same time, pretty soon you'll have cameras that take a billion photos all at the same time with every available setting, then allow you to navigate through and select the best. Taking photos then just comes down to judging what makes a good photo, which most people can do (And can also be automated by surveying people or doing A/B testing etc).

> You know, it is pretty easy to kill someone. That doesn't mean it's morally acceptable, let alone legal. It doesn't matter how easy it is to copy the photograph. It's still not morally acceptable or legal.

If you kill me, it affects me. If you copy a photo of mine, I haven't lost anything. It's a bad analogy.


> "With digital, you can take 1,000 photos and chances are one will be fantastic. You can brute force brilliance."

This is simply untrue.

It's true that at one point simply getting everything into focus at the right moment took a skilled photographer. But that was never the sum total of what a skilled photographer brought to the table.

A sunset photo isn't good simply when it's the best of a million possible photos of a sunset. It can be good because the photographer found an interesting location to set the picture. It can be good because the photographer waited-for and/or was present for an opportune confluence of elements such as weather, tide, etc. It can be good when the position and angle of the camera framed the scene in an appealing way, including or excluding other elements to enhance the shape, color and symmetry of the composition. It can be good when the focus highlights an interesting subject, and de-emphasizes non-essential visual noise.

Taking a billion photos can guarantee that you get a solid reproduction of whatever you pointed your camera at. But it will never render irrelevant the skills of subject identification, color balance (artistic balance, not simply accurate reproduction), composition, framing, etc. And lastly, it's absolutely no substitute for inspiration, education and experience.


And what about when your camera floats around automatically getting every available shot, every available composition, framing, leaving you to just select the best?

There are only so many parameters that make up a recording of light. Sorry, but I do not see a massive amount of skill involved in it now that you can brute force most of it, or have it automatically done for you.

We've also been fed so many fantastic photos online etc, that we rarely go "wow" any more. For all we know it could be a photo, a photoshop, a CGI. What was once amazing is now often the norm.

I really wouldn't like to be a professional photographer these days, as I just don't think you can make much money at it.


"And what about when your camera floats around automatically getting every available shot, every available composition, framing, leaving you to just select the best?"

Haha yeah, I guess if you disregard the context of time, weather, effort, mobility, and all that non-idealized crap, you could probably systematically move around with your magic jetpack and a camera with infinite battery or whatever it is camera's have nowadays. Then you could simply brute-force every available composition like a computer would. Beep boop.

"There are only so many parameters that make up a recording of light. Sorry, but I do not see a massive amount of skill involved in it now that you can brute force most of it, or have it automatically done for you."

Fellow computer: sudo take a gorgeous photo of a snowy landscape, and fall back on the brute-force algorithm if necessary. Make it quick, I have to find my way back by noon and I don't trust my A* algorithm.


Ridiculous. By that logic, we will soon all stop writing (let alone write for any sort of direct or indirect compensation) because "no massive amount of skill is involved". Instead, we can just brute force it and simply pick the best novels, technical documentation (or HN comments, for that matter) from the many choices of million-character sequences presented to us.


It's an orders of magnitude different problem.

Taking photos is just recording light that exists. You can change the position, lighting, a few options on the camera, but it's easy enough to say that for a given location, probably a few thousand photos would cover most of the possibles.

Writing involves thought. After you've typed even a few characters you're past a few thousand possible combinations. Brute forcing writing isn't feasible.


I've thought about this a bit. And my prediction is that a wedding photographer, for example, will set up several cameras around the room that will recored very high res video.

Later a computer will recreate the entire event and the photographer will fly around with a virtual camera and select the best shots.


  If you copy a photo of mine, I haven't lost anything. It's 
  a bad analogy.
If people consistently copy your photos with impunity, you've lost your job. The same goes for writer and movie makers.

  soon you'll have cameras that take a billion photos all at 
  the same time with every available setting, then allow you 
  to navigate through and select the best.
Good luck navigating through a billion photos...

  (And can also be automated by surveying people or doing 
  A/B testing etc)
... or autoselecting through a billion photographs. What's a good photograph is independent of how many people feel it's a good photograph. If you ask the general public to pick the best photos between some Cartier-Bresson's and some of your own black-and-white shots intended to appeal to the general public (assuming you have a moderate ability to make such photographs), I know what the outcome is. Entirely independent of what are actually the best photo's.

And even if you could auto-select the best shot, a billion photographs of people on some village square wouldn't include the shot this guy made. A billion photographs taken around noon would never have included this shot. A billion photographs with a different cliffline would never have included this shot. A bajillion monkeys will never write Shakespeare in the lifetime of the universe.


> With the music industry, artists can move from selling CDs to doing more live tours. Not sure that's something photographers can really do.

And even that is not a good solution. It is a workaround for those bands that happen to be good live bands. It is like moving from singleplayer (easy to copy) to hosted multiplayer games. It is good for the industry, but it still killed off whole genres just for the sake of not being copyable.


I don't think that's just about preventing copying. Recurring billing is profitable.


The machinery needed to produce a ballpoint pen costs the best part of $10m. A ballpoint pen costs 20 cents.

Cameras are expensive. Photographs are almost worthless. Supply utterly outstrips demand, especially for shots like landscapes that have great appeal for amateur photographers but little commercial utility.

Ten years ago, you could name every paparazzo working in London. They were a small circle of time-served photogs who knew everyone, and whom everyone knew. There was an infrastructure of couriers and darkrooms to get images from film to press in time. They spent years cultivating relationships with celebrities, doormen and nightclub owners. Today, there are countless PJ students and teenagers hurtling around Soho on scooters. With a cheap DSLR and a smartphone, an image can be on the front page of dailymail.com in 20 minutes.

The new breed see their work as a more exciting alternative to working weekends in a shop. Most of them are happy to get a quarter of what images used to sell for. They shoot using the modern equivalent of "f/8 and be there" and need practically no technical skill. Rather than cultivating relationships and building sources, many of them rely on Twitter. Unlike the previous generation, many of them are happy to tip each other off and share information. It's now scarcely possible to make a proper living and most of the old-timers are shooting commercial work or weddings.


> It's now scarcely possible to make a proper living and most > of the old-timers are shooting commercial work or weddings.

Strange you should say that, as we actually hired an ex photo-journalist to do our wedding photos as we didn't want any posed nonsense, just genuine photos of people as they naturally were. The photos that we received were amazing and we were really happy with the results.

I spoke to him on the day of the wedding and he gave me almost the exact same story you've just posted.

It seems to me that every industry that relies on technology gets seriously disrupted when the technology becomes cheap enough - printing, publishing, photography and I'm sure there are many more.


That's because people doing weddings are NOT selling photographs. They are selling their time and expertise, which will always be in short supply.


Kind of. Let's not forget that most wedding photographers explicitly own the rights to the photos they take of your wedding, and have print and digital packages they explicitly push both to you and to your friends and family as part of their offering. Some wedding photographers don't even offer the digital pictures as part of their base packages.


Our wedding photographer gave us a DVD with everything and an explicit release to do anything we wanted with them. She was very forward thinking and she seemed to be doing very well for herself.


most wedding photographers explicitly own the rights to the photos they take of your wedding

Like most things, that's negotiable. When I went looking for a photographer for our wedding, one of the first questions I asked was "How much extra do you want for a copyright assignment?"

The additional charge varied from $0-500. The ladies we chose -- though primarily for other reasons -- were in $0 group.


If you push the issue, you can get your full res digital photos. If nothing else, find a photographer who is trying to break in to the business, and who is still small time. That's what we did for our wedding, and we got really great photos (both posed and candid, as the photographers were actually a husband-wife combo, one doing each), as well as a full dvd with every single photo they took, and the rights to do whatever we wanted with them.


Bingo - if something's being sold, it's because it's scarce:


If what you sell is not scarce... watch out.


We did the same thing, and were also really happy. Plus, he didn't keep the copyright to the results and he gave us a DVD filled with photos.


That's all fine, but then there's no excuse for a publication to use a specific photo without the photographer's permission and without payment. If the photographer wants to charge $6.6K for that photo, and it's not worth $6.6K to you because you can get a Creative Commons one for free that's almost as good, then use the CC one.


Cameras are expensive.

Actually, even this is less true than it used to be—hence your comment, "With a cheap DSLR and a smartphone [. . .]" You can find stuff the pros were using a few years ago for a fraction of what they paid; a used Canon 5D full frame camera goes for under $1,000 these days (and it'll probably be less when the 5d Mark III hits), and older Rebels like the XTi can be had for ~300. I'm sure things are similar on the Nikon / Sony / etc. side, although I'm less familiar.

Cheap cameras are yielding all kinds of interesting social (cops being unhappy at having their once-deniable brutality filmed, "sexting") and economic (like your paparazzo) effects.


(Not entirely relevant derail: it would be easy to get started in plastic ballpoint pen manufacturing for 0.5% of your stated figure (just google it), though no doubt you could actually spend $10m).


"""Cameras are expensive. Photographs are almost worthless. Supply utterly outstrips demand, especially for shots like landscapes that have great appeal for amateur photographers but little commercial utility."""

Really? Then the photographer could say: if that's so, go use ANOTHER picture, because I don't fu*n supply mine.

You can't have it both ways, i.e the picture is worthless AND I still insist on using it.


True, but at the same time you shouldn't be hosting your pictures on the internet where anyone can copy it if you want to charge money for it. And you shouldn't let your customers either.

If I was to place some proprietary code on a public git, or just display it on my public webpage, should I get angry if people take it and don't pay me for it? Same with music, if you place it on the internet expect it to be out there. That's the nature of the medium. And trying to fight that is stupid, even if you are deserving of compensation.


"""True, but at the same time you shouldn't be hosting your pictures on the internet where anyone can copy it if you want to charge money for it. """

This is "blame the victim". Posting something on the internet does not make it public domain.

"""If I was to place some proprietary code on a public git, or just display it on my public webpage, should I get angry if people take it and don't pay me for it?"""

Yeah, you should.

It's the same if you posted some GPL code on a public git, and someone took it and build a closed system with it.

In both cases, the creator/owner or something did not have his wishes and copyright respected.

The same way we insist on people/companies respecting GPL copyright licenses, we should respect other people's licenses for THEIR stuff.


"Posting something on the internet does not make it public domain."

This is where I find your point to fall apart. The internet is NOT under the laws of any given nation and I doubt very much if some nations even have a sense of Public Domain or copyright. And even the ones that do can hardly agree on common terms.

So really your statement should be "Posting something on the internet does not make it public domain in certain jurisdictions if covered by applicable copyright laws"

And that is why it is stupid to expect something you post on the internet to not ever be copied without your permission.


Just as stupid; to expect people not to sue you if you take someone else's intellectual property.


Even more stupid; expecting the legal system of different countries to fairly and efficiently protect your IP, especially if you don't already have large stacks of money to buy lawyers with.


Wait, lawyers cost money and the legal systems of different countries aren't perfect in every way? Welp time to roll over and let other people take my work for free without incident.


More like, don't act surprised when things you put on the internet are copied and don't try to push unjust restrictions because of it.


"""his is where I find your point to fall apart. The internet is NOT under the laws of any given nation and I doubt very much if some nations even have a sense of Public Domain or copyright. And even the ones that do can hardly agree on common terms."""

Actually, almost all nations have standard international agreements on this matters. Also, tons of common abuses are from the US and EU themselves, that very much agree on common terms.

I'm sure some people are complaining because a web outlet in Kazakstan used their pictures, but those are not many...


Guess what will happen: people will just use other photographs. What is the gain for the photographer?


Tremendous! He got his wish re: the use of his photographs respected!

Who told you that "more publicity" (or whatever else snake oil i-want-your-content-for-free types sell), is considered a "gain" by all?


What utter nonsense.

> * As someone mentioned, THIS single photo didn’t cost me $6,612, but if you wanted to create it, from scratch, that is what is involved. So I consider it the replacement value if it’s stolen, or how much my lawyer will send you a bill for if it’s found being used without my permission.*

I hope he's never pirated a film or he could owe the studio millions and millions of dollars.

He should be arguing that it is expensive to take photos, and that any sales of them need to add up to cover initial and future costs. He should also be arguing that they are paying not just for the expense of taking it, but for his skill and time.

By arguing that one photo is worth that much, he is doing neither and looks like a moron.


I wonder why he doesn't add the cost of his car, in which he traveled to and from location, and the cost of building the road, and his home, and his entire life up to this point, and what it cost humanity to invent photography in the first place.

I get his point, of course, and (kind of) agree with him, but his argument is weak.


You left out the cost of assembling the solar system.


While I agree in part with your argument, using words like nonsense' and 'moron' somewhat let it down.

He didn't argue that that was the cost of viewing his photograph, he argued that his is what he would be looking for if you used it for commercial gain without permission.

Some photographs do sell for millions of dollars; many news photographs sell for thousands despite the photographer having no skill and having just been in the right place at the right time.

Do you actually now how much a magazine pays to use a single photograph?



It's the logic of it that's my issue, not the cost.

Cost to purchase doesn't have to be tied to cost to produce, plenty of people buy Gucci without thinking that Gucci is spending 100% of what you pay on the materials.

Yes, a photograph can sell for seven figures, but not generally speaking because that's how much the equipment used to take it costs, but because of how it is valued as art.


I don't think he said that $6,612 is the cost of licensing its photo. He said he considers $6,612 the "replacement value", should someone publish it in a magazine without licensing first. So it's more akin to distributing for profit a movie you don't own any rights too.

I don't see why he would use this value as a basis for damages incurred though, since even someone publishing his photo without licensing it, hasn't taken (stolen) the photo from him. "Replacement value" has no meaning in this digital context.

In my opinion, there's no relation whatsoever between the cost of taking the photo and the damages he should seek. I think the damages should be correlated with the licensing value of the photo, majored appropriately for not acquiring licensing prior to using it.


A replacement value is only relevant if it has to be replaced - if I use his photo without permission in a magazine or a website, he still has the photo, no replacement needed.

While I am not denying him of the photo, I would of course be denying him of the revenue he would have earned had I licenced it from him, and would be entitled to demand that, and some more. If he had said that he would sue for $6k in punative costs, fair enough. Or even if he had said that he values his art at that price, and therefore that is what he charges for a single license.

Take Hollywood as an example, when they go after someone for illegally downloading a film they don't ask for the cost of a cinema ticket, or a cost of a DVD, they want a lot more than that. They don't however say "this film cost us £40m to create, that is it's replacement value, you now owe us £40m for downloading it".


"He still has the photo" is a nonsense argument -- he doesn't "still have the photo" from a licensing perspective in that he can no longer license exclusive or first usage rights (which also exist in regional and media contexts). The photograph has been irreparably damaged vis-a-vis its commercial value after unauthorised use/publication. That is something people seem to be unwilling to understand or consider for some strange reason -- the image file itself may still exist in a usable state, but its value is not in its bits, it's in its licensability. Unlicensed use demotes the picture's value to the level of royalty-free microstock in the eyes of potential buyers.


"""A replacement value is only relevant if it has to be replaced - if I use his photo without permission in a magazine or a website, he still has the photo, no replacement needed."""

No, he doesn't still "have the photo" as in "no damage done".

He has a digital file, but he just lost BOTH the exclusivity of the photo AND his say in how his work should be distributed.


> He said he considers $6,612 the "replacement value", should someone publish it in a magazine without licensing first.

Which is still so obviously moronic, that I don't even know why I bother pointing this out. Replacement value of a photo has to include the price of the camera it was taken with? This would be true if he used a brand new camera for each photo.


And Adobe must like him a lot, since apparently he buys a new copy of Photoshop for each photo he edits.


Thank you. Even legally buying the film on DVD, he'd be cheating them out of millions with his logic.


I wonder how much he paid for all the photos by other great photographers that inspired him over the years?


I agree with you but it just bears repeating that it is not just will alone that allows you to produce content


The photographer, John Mueller, is absolutely amazing and deserves to be paid for the art he produces. See his work here: http://www.johnbmueller.com

Regarding the value of the photo, I highly doubt he believes a single photo is worth $6,612. He is merely trying to explain that he should be paid for his work, and he has. Arguing that it is expensive to take photos wouldn't have gotten your attention. This got your attention. He won.

Edit: I have absolutely no affiliation with Mueller nor have I heard of him prior to this article, but was bothered by the negative and deliberately ignorant comments posted here. Very unlike Hacker News...


I don't see anyone here arguing he should not be paid for his work, that would be a preposterous position to take and I am not sure where you are reading this. The problem I have with his math logic is that it could actually hurt genuine arguments against copyright infringement from pro photographers. A better argument would be to disregard this bizarro math entirely and instead justify the photo's worth from his undeniable skill, talent and artistic merit. He could say the photo is worth $20,000 instead of using illogical reasoning.


I haven't seen anyone on HN making the argument that artists shouldn't be paid, but I have seen several saying they don't think artists should control the pricing and distribution of their work. To me, that is the most fundamental part of copyright.

Gary Larson gets to say that his works don't appear online and the creators of Penny Arcade get to put all their work online and make money indirectly. The point is that they as creators get to choose.

We can go back and forth all day about if you copy a photograph without the photographer's permission you have stolen from them, but what you have done is violate his/her copyright.

In recent days, we've all been applauding Louis C.K. for the approach he took distributing his stand-up video. Some have been saying that all video content should follow that model. This ignores the fact that DRM-free online distribution was his choice, and every content creator should be free to choose what method works best for them.

I personally think the author should have included the cost in hours and education to get him to the skill level he has today. His cost of living vs. how many photographs of that quality he makes is also valid in how he prices his work. The point he was trying to make, though, is that this is not just a hobby for him and the idea that his work is not free is worth ranting about.


No-one here may be. But plenty of newspapers/magazines are doing exactly that - taking photos that are on the internet and using them in their commercial publications without paying a penny to the photographer, and usually using the argument that if it's available on the web, it's free game.


"Deserves" to be paid? That seems a little counter-free-market. IF he produces a photo that someone wants or thinks they can use, THEN he can charge what the market will bear.

"Deserves to be paid". Humbug. That's the beginnings of an aristocracy that "deserve" to rule.


What if the photo was crap, would he not deserved to be paid?


Yes, but only because no one wants his crummy photos. Piracy solved! :)


The photographer has gone about this the wrong way - the cost is actually his experience and time.

It's like the 'Picasso Principle' where a woman approached Picasso for a sketch, he did something in 5 minutes and quoted her $10,000.

She said 'it only took you 5 minutes' and his response was 'no, it took me a lifetime'.

Full read here: http://bit.ly/A8ABL4


This reminds me of...

Tapping with a hammer ......................... $ 10.00 Knowing where to tap .......................... $990.00


The story is much longer... it involved a creaky wooden floor and two contractors. One quotes say $1000 and 7 days to fix, tears the whole thing up and fixes it. The other quotes $1000 pulls out his hammer and fixes the creaky floor with one nail in a few seconds.

Both fixed the problem, but the expert isn't worth any less than the guy who put in tons of man-hours.


In fact, the expert is worth a lot more, because he saves you 7 days of disruption.


Actually you fix a creaky floor with a screw, not a nail. It creaks because somebody used a nail in the first place. Just sayin.


I'd heard this as someone who fixed a design at the blueprints stage, charging £1,000 for what amounted to a few pencil marks. When asked for a break down the following was given: £0.10 for materials (the pencil), £999.90 for knowing where to make the marks and why.


I like all the variants. I heard the unnamed engineer version.



It's like the guy who charged a thousand bucks to fix the machine by turning a screw; 1 buck for turning the screw, and 999 for knowing which screw to turn.


The replacement value is actually much more than that. You could take that same equipment and shoot your entire lifetime and never get a shot like that.

The internet is not about content. It's about distribution. It costs a LOT of money to use a human -- the artist -- to "distribute" that image from nature onto his digital camera. From there it costs zero to distribute it to the rest of the world.

The answer is to tie the initial "distribution" of the data with the end consumer. So share the small image for free with whomever wants to see it, then charge a small fortune for a steganographically watermarked 10MB one. If you "sign" your images with a tamper-proof record of whom the recipient is, who you are, and perhaps a personalized message, not only can you track the image, you increase its value for the buyer. It's a good thing for both patron and artist.

ADD: As a real-world example of how this works, take my funny picture collection. (http://caption-of-the-day.com) I have a hobby of collecting funny pictures. Finally decided to put them all on a blog.

Now many of these pictures are actually web comics, or demotivators, or whatever. I want to credit each artist, but I'm just some schmuck collecting funny pictures. I don't have time to research each and every one.

But with watermarking I don't have to. Most of the times whoever made the image also put a watermark on it pointing back to their website. So instead of "lifting" the pictures, I'm actually providing free advertising for the artist. Artists compete to have their work distributed for free. Consumers become big fans of certain brands and help the artists advertise. Think of how worse this system would be if the artists controlled everything. DRM is a menace. The business models might be different, but The technology community has solved the exact problem this photographer is concerned about.


Firstly, I'm loving http://caption-of-the-day.com/ - but it appears to be broken. "Click to View" only activates the top post (in Firefox 9 at least). Will be adding you to my list of sites to visit regularly though...

Secondly, whilst watermarking works for funny pictures, or people who solely sell artwork, it isn't something I would class as a solution. For people who mainly want to share their work, but simply don't want it ripped off, it's ruining the original artwork. Watermarks are ugly.

Also, the OP says he's not concerned with distribution...



I read his concerns about distribution a different way.

If you give your photo away for “credit” then the best possible scenario for you is someone will see your photo, contact you, and ask if they could borrow one of your photos… for credit. Try this… next time you’re at dinner, tell your waiter you’ll tell all your friends how good the service was if he gives you dinner for free.

It occurs to me that as much as I hate DRM, I'm actually making a "DRM-light" argument.

I think it's possible to have a file format in which the artist "signs" his work, perhaps along with whomever he sold it to -- a secure provenance chain. The payment provider would perform this service as part of the digital transfer.

That way you could distribute anything you want, however you want. The value would be in the distribution chain.

I'm a hobby photographer and professional programmer and author. Believe me, I know the pain this guy is experiencing. But the simple fact is bits are worthless. The photos of Ansel Adams aren't worth nearly as much anymore. But the provenance of a piece of work, being able to show that it came directly from the artist, perhaps with a personalized message on the back? That's priceless.

The economy just isn't based on physical goods as much as it used to be.

(BTW, "click to view" is supposed to slide out a section where I provide my own snarky comments. That way if I decide to use one of the images in a presentation some day I've already got a few jokes lined up. Works on FF 8.0 in Ubuntu for me, but I'll look into it.)


"click to view" is supposed to slide out a section where I provide my own snarky comments

On your home page, go to the second post, and click...

You're javascript only slides things with the id sampleOuter. As you have multiple entries with the id sampleOuter on your homepage, most browsers will pick the first.

If you're intent is to slide open ALL of them, I'd use a class, rather than an ID.

If you're intent is to just slide open the one that's clicked on, you need each "sampleOuter" to have a unique identifier you can select it on. You can then pass that to your "toggleSampleView" method.



> The replacement value is actually much more than that.

While I agree with his main point regarding letting someone use your output "for credit", judging the cost of a photo like this is more than somewhat bogus and makes his argument sound silly (so the people that need to listen to his correct point will just turn off long before they get to it).

The replacement value for a photo has nothing to has very little to do with what it cost to take the photo, or what it would cost the user to have the photo taken especially for them.

Most photos are worthless except to the person who took them. If someone uses your photo without permission you have not lost the photo so it does not need replacing.

What he may have lost is the price he could have commanded for exclusive use of the image, because he can no longer sell/license exclusive use (as it has already been used). So what he would need reimbursing for is the value he could have gained through such licensing (plus any relevant legal and admin fees), not the cost of taking the photo (which might be far a greater amount, or might equally be a far lower one). It is an opportunity cost issue, not a time-and-materials cost issue.

The "cost to make from scratch" argument isn't really valid either: you have to consider supply and demand of the "images for license" market as generating the image from scratch is far from the only alternative option. There may be many photographers out there with similar images at a much cheaper rate - said images may be less perfect for the intended use, but the price/availability difference may make this an acceptable compromise.

Of course he has now set a fixed price for the image If you use it without negotiating a different price then this is what you can expect to have to pay when found. It might be a silly price, but that is the price: take it, leave it, or try negotiate something else - simply taking something for nothing because you disagree on price (the position taken by many people when they try to justify downloading a movie or game from an unofficial source) would not be acceptable.

Your point regarding only publishing the small version of the image publicly is a valid one, and the only way to protect the exclusivity of the larger format image: but this isn't perfect because once the larger format image is out there it is no longer protected because it may be used in a way that allows it to be copied and reused without permission (any contract with an exclusivity clause would need to be carefully worded to make it clear who is responsible for protecting said exclusive use: who (the creator or the licensee) should be responsible for chasing unlicensed users who have taken the image from the licensee's materials? (the source copied from being identified by the watermark you describe)).


Most photos are worthless except to the person who took them. If someone uses your photo without permission you have not lost the photo so it does not need replacing.

What he may have lost is the price he could have commanded for exclusive use of the image

By that logic, if he allowed all his images to be used for free, he has not lost anything but the "exclusive use fee".

You are missing two key points:

1) He is losing the expected income from the potential sale. If he says "yes you can use it for free", he will always gain $0. If he says "no you can't use it for free", he will gain $X * P[magazine will pay $X], which is almost certainly higher than $0.

2) If he allowed his pictures to be used for free, he'd drive down the average market value for such pictures. This would hurt him and other photographers in the long run.


I wasn't arguing against not using things for free (aside from agreeing with the parent post regarding small "sample" versions was a way to get the image noticed with lower risk of the full quality version being taken), I was questioning his way of calculating what he has lost through someone using the image without any sort of license.

Nothing is lost as such: the outfit using the image for nothing probably wasn't a potential sale anyway. This is copyright infringement, not theft. While setting his price any way he likes is his right, and he can sue that amount if someone uses the image without permission if he wants, this and "why you can't use the image for free or for credit" are separate issues which should not be conflated in this way. There is a big difference between someone asking for permission to use the image under different times (a lower, perhaps zero, price) and someone using the image without license - they are completely separate issues. One requires negotiation or just a straight no, and it then goes away. In the other case there may be need for legal redress.


Is he paying Frou Frou royalties for streaming their song on his professional [1] for-profit website?

[1] http://www.johnbmueller.com/index2.php?v=v1


I think I understand the point that the photographer is trying to make, but phrasing it as “It cost me $6,612 to take this photo” is leading to a bunch of tangential arguments over that specific number.

The photographer’s beef is with people who want to take his work, use it in their own publications without paying him anything, and then tell him that he should be happy with such a deal because he’s getting free publicity out of it. But this photographer did not get his camera, lenses, computer, etc. for free, and the people who want to use his work are doing it for an enterprise where they expect to be paid, so why should the photographer be the only one holding the bag?

The “$6,612” number is beside the point. A publisher who says “I will pay you one dollar for the right to use that picture” is in a whole different league from one who says “let me use it and I’ll give you credit”, because the “one dollar” fellow is at least respecting the photographer as a fellow businessman.


If you really go ahead and try to recreate that photo ... you must first invent the universe. And that's going to cost a lot !


This is extremely interesting. What prove that it is yours if you are taking photos of state-owned lands? Do you have the right to sell photos for money for things (lands/nature/sky) that you don't own?


If yours is the only creative work that contributed to the photograph, then copyright on it is exclusively yours. If the creative work of a landscaper or architect is involved, consult a lawyer.


No, only G_D may sell photos of nature.


I'm also a photographer, and I don't really buy into this particular philosophical argument.

The problem with photography is that you're never dealing with ORIGINAL ART. When John or I give a JPEG to a magazine or website, we're not _losing_ anything. This is the same argument that the RIAA and MPAA have tried to spin for over a decade.

I sell prints of my photos, and as long as no one else sets up shop and starts selling cheaper copies, I don't see a problem with sites and magazines using my photos.

The basic gist is: You have spent $6k. You can either have your photo in some magazine, or not. You can have that free publicity, or not. The only way you are 'losing' money is if the magazine would've paid you in the first place -- but again, for a non-original piece of art that they're (almost certainly) not getting an exclusive license on... the going rate isn't very much anyway.


I find it strange that more people have not brought up the 'lost-sale' fallacy. By saying 'no' he actually loses out in the end because if the magazine is only looking for free photos, say to the keep costs down, it will just go elsewhere and the readership of that magazine will probably never know about that amazing photograph nor the photographer himself.


That argument is only bullet-proof when all magazines are in exactly that position. But some magazines may well just want to use that picture and try to press the cost of using it.


The author talks about sunken costs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sunk_costs

These are costs that can't be added in a discussion on the cost of producing the products on an on-going basis. Otherwise you need to take those 6000 bucks mentioned and divide it by the thousands of photos you're going to make with that equipment.

Which will bring the cost of a photo to something much more real (excluding on-going time and gasoline investments): less than $1

Also, in capitalism the price doesn't necessarily reflect the cost of producing something. It is rather an equation of value, supply and demand. So a much better technique is to convince me why I should like that photo. Educating readers on recognizing quality is better than analyzing the costs involved.


The very existence of an intellectual property market is absurd. In my opinion, the scenarios in which person should expect to make a profit doing something creative are:

A. The person is hired to create something.

B. The person creates something that's not easy to copy.

If you were hired to design a set for a play, you would get paid for your work. If you created a physical three-dimensional sculpture, someone else could try to imitate it, but the imitation wouldn't be a perfect copy. That means your original sculpture would still have value and could be sold. On the other hand, if you, on your own time, created something that cost nothing to copy, such as--oh, I don't know--a picture of a sunset, you should not expect to profit from selling it. It wouldn't matter how much time/effort/money/energy you put into creating it.

So, what's going on with SOPA then? The government realized that they don't have the resources to police the Internet for copyright violations. Of course they don't. It's impossible. So now they're attempting to foist that impossible responsibility on website owners. I have no idea how the bill is worded, but I can't imagine a scenario where the wording could be "fixed" while keeping the intention. The intention is broken. Copyright law is broken.

Copyright should be non-exclusive. Anyone should be allowed to copy anything for free.


All this sort of intellectual property market does is move the decision to "hire" someone, that is to use their work in exchange for money, to after the work has been executed rather than before.

The person has produced the work and they offer the opportunity to enter into an agreement for payment after the fact.

You say you're fine with entering into an agreement before the work is produced, but you don't believe it should be possible to enter into such an agreement after the fact. This doesn't seem very consistent to me.


Of course it's not consistent. The only way it makes sense is if it's not consistent. Why should I have to pay for the creation of something that already exists?


Look at the big picture of the system, not at single transactions. With payment after the fact, artists can optionally use their gut feeling about demand and produce something that they think may sell without having any reputation beforehand. I think that this is essential to entrepreneurship and would hate to see it lost.

Many arguments about piracy don't make sense until you look at the big picture. To someone actively selling software, even the "stolen car" analogy makes sense. If everybody steals cars, you go out of business. If everybody steals software, you go out of business. That in the latter case you "lose $0" doesn't help you pay your bills.


Wow. If everyone could copy whatever car they wanted for free, that would be a good thing. Since everyone would already have a car, car salesmen would go out of business. That's exactly what should happen.


Again, you are not looking at the big picture.

If you physically stole cars but left the complete per-unit cost in cash there, then you wouldn't have done anything wrong, right? Alternatively, you have a machine that makes perfect copies. Both work the same for this purpose.

Because you only focus on the per-unit cost. But even cars have fixed, one-time R&D costs that are distributed on each sold car totally arbitrarily just as the fixed costs for producing digital goods area distributed totally arbitrarily on each download/CD/whatever. The only difference is that digital goods have virtually no per unit-costs to go along with it. Still, in both cases, you need frameworks to reward creative/R&D work if you want it to happen (especially in a competitive way).

If you copy all music and all cars, then everybody has a car and music, but what is the incentive to produce better cars and new music later? That is the big picture.


Yes. Cars do have fixed one-time R&D costs. If you can freely copy all cars, the incentive to design/produce a better car would then have to be something other than money. As an example, Greenpeace might want to cut vehicle emissions in half, so they'd research and develop a way to do it.


Like a car, or a house?


Sure. Why would I pay you to build a car or a house that already exists?


So you have commissioned everything you own or use before it was created?


No. Why would you say that? Most of the things I own already existed before I acquired them.


Did you really just discount the entire digital realm as worthless because of the inherent fungibility of bits? Thank God not everyone thinks like you, otherwise our technological progress would basically grind to a halt, as people would be back to trading 6 pigs for 10 loaves of bread.


No. I did not. Just because something can't be bought or sold does not mean it lacks worth. Please explain why you think "technological progress would basically grind to a halt" in a world where people are allowed to collaborate freely.


Because while I'm not sure what kind of world you live in, in mine I need money to put a roof over my head and food on the table - things that according to your world-view definitely do have monetary value.

If creating anything digital makes it basically a free-for-all on who can grab it for free faster, then I'm not going to bother as it's not paying my bills. And, in case you haven't noticed, most of our world is pretty much reliant on the digital now.

I'm all for free-software and public-domain work, but there's a difference between supporting it and forcing everyone else to follow along. Like it or not, not everyone can or wants to make money out of giving their work away for free.


I live in a world where, due to the continuous advancement of technological efficiency and the resulting elimintation of jobs, it's becoming increasingly ridiculous to expect people to work for a living. Society no longer needs contributions from everyone.

When you get to the point where what you do on a day-to-day basis is no longer directly tied to your livelihood, what will you do? As the number of ways in which an individual can make money rapidly dwindles, what will humanity do?


I tend to agree, though this kind of reasoning followed through leads to very nasty conclusions. A fully automated world could eliminate most people, eventually, seeing them as parasites and freeloaders, but who would want to live in that?

People can still contribute in lots of ways which are severely under-appreciated by the capitalist system but appreciated by other people. There will hopefully be a point at which cutthroat "efficiency" and "productivity" is not the only goal anymore. After all, redundant and decentralized systems are more fail-safe, stable, and common in nature.

And the people are there, they may just as well do something... preferably something that makes them feel useful and belonging. Like open source software for programmers, art for creative people, caring for the old and wounded for empathic people, and so on...

Then again I might be a hopeless idealist. In that case, good luck holding on to a piece of the ever-smaller pie. The next round of musical chairs might be my, or your obsolence.


I don't think you're a hopeless idealist. In fact, I'm with you. I fully believe that we're headed toward a world in which most people are sitting around all day doing the equivalent of playing World of Warcraft. But that's not a bad thing. Where others might see freeloaders and parasites, I see potential. Give everyone the opportunity to do something meaningful and some of them will. And some of those meaningful contributions might not be anything any of us ever dreamed of paying for.

The point of automation is to take care of the easy stuff, which allows us to focus on the cool stuff. I know for a fact that there are individuals out there who, even if their livelihood is taken care of, will still want to push the human race forward.

No nasty conclusions. =)


So let's say say we have essential work for 50% of all available manhours. Why, then, is it not a great thing that the other 50% can be paid even when they are just producing digital, intangible goods? I think rising productivity is actually a great argument in favor of copyright laws.


I should probably point out that 50% was just a random, badly chosen constant. It's not a zero-sum game anyway.

But fact is that thanks to copyright laws, one can save some money from copyright-unrelated work, take a break to invest in a game, album or movie; and if people like it, one can make money with it, for which others agree to do a little more copyright-unrelated work on their part.

The alternative is that everyone does copyright-unrelated work and creates goods in their free time, outside of all market mechanics. But I'd rather let the (democratically) good artists have more free time to do their work, and I don't see anything wrong with it.


You bring up an interesting point. I think it is indeed a great thing that people can be paid even when they are just producing digital, intangible goods. What I don't think is great is when they are paid for having produced intangible goods. The difference is between "when" and "for." People should be paid simply for being human, and then on top of that, they should be paid for anything they sell that has value, whether it be their time or a physical object. As you say, it's not a zero-sum game. The net weath of humanity is increasing. The pie isn't actually getting smaller. It's getting bigger. The problem is, it's becoming increasingly difficult to divide up that pie using capitalism alone.

Markets will rise and markets will fall. It's natural. It's supply and demand. It's capitalism. There are laws that artificially protect certain specific markets at the expense of the more general free market. The copyright laws fall into this category. But why do we need to protect markets from natural economic forces? I don't think we do. These protections are causing some nasty side effects.

The alternative is that the government takes a big chunk of the pie and divides it up evenly among its citizens. This will allow us to unchain the economy from unneccessary regulation. Minimum wages? No longer any need. Copyright exclusivity? No longer any need.

I'd rather let anyone -- good artists, bad artists, scientists, atheletes -- have more time to do whatever they want. I'd rather automate away as many jobs as possible. We're approaching the point when the unemployment rate will positively correlate with prosperity.


But as long as the economic system as a whole does not work as you describe it, isn't it unproductive to strip artists of their rights in the current system before we implement a new one?


And there are many people with free time already (me included). The whole free market argument goes both ways. Right now we allow both copyrighted and "free" content on the market. Why can't copyleft content just win out in the market of consumption if the existence copyright doesn't have a conceptual advantage?


That's a very good question, but my answer is no for a few reasons.

1. Change is gradual. Copyright exclusivity can slowly be ramped down at the same time the government gradually provides more and more services for its citizens. One doesn't have to come before the other. Meanwhile, there certainly shouldn't be any new enforcement of copyright (or patent) exclusivity where none existed before.

2. Copyrights aren't rights. They're tradable monopolies upheld by the government. You'd actually be giving artists more rights by removing exclusivity. No longer would be able to take away their right to do whatever they want with their own work. The artists who are in it for the money are doing it for the wrong reasons.

3. The economy will never work as I describe it as long as copyright exclusivity enforced. I don't believe in copyleft. It still involves keeping track of licenses on everything, which can get very out of hand. Big corporations should be able to use free software too.

Copyright exclusivity is the only reason an intellectual property market exists today. The law can affect the economy and vice versa. We can bootstrap ourselves out of this mess.


So you want a world wiyh no more pro quality books, films, music or TV series?


No. I want a world where people write books because they have something to say and they want as many people as possible to read what they have to say.


I want that world! Or more precisely, I want to take that chance, due to a mixture of:

* I think it likely that we'll still get quality works produced;

* I think we have plenty of quality books, films, music and TV series already (more than one can consume in a lifetime), so the opportunity cost of not getting more isn't so high, and

* it's much more important to me not to impede the free dissemination of information.


"Pro quality" TV series? You mean like "CSI: Miami"? Or "Gilligan's Island"? Or do you mean movies like "The Smurfs" or the US version of "The Vanishing" or "Leave it To Beaver"?

Yes, I'd gladly do without all that TV and all the movies, and most or all of the books. Oh, and the popular music. Especially the music by Selena Gomez and Demi Lovato and Ashlee Simpson.


I mean literally any movie that wasn't made by amateurs supported by another job, or philanthropic donations, or advertising funded.

Its low to pick only the worst bits as a counterargument; it also implies no pro quality TV you like. And that you are willing to screw over people who genuinely do like Selena Gomez and Gilligan's Island and the like, just because you don't.


you are willing to screw over people who genuinely do like ... Gilligan's Island ... because you don't.

Your response irritated me beyond its level of highhandedness. And I finally figured out why: I actually do like Gilligan's Island. I even bought "The Professor's" tell-all book, "Here On Gilligan's Isle". It doesn't matter if I like "Gilligan's Ilsand" or not, it's of low quality. The acting was low, the writing was low, and the production was laughable. That hasn't kept me from liking it, or regarding it as High Bulldada.

Sherwood Schwartz and CBS should be ashamed of putting out such schlock, whether I like it or not, and you should be ashamed of deciding you know what my aesthetics are.

But I'm also curious: why does a movie made by people supported by another job, or philanthropic donations, or one funded by advertising not meet the standard of "pro quality"?


Oh get over trying to shame me for "deciding I know what your ethics are" (I did no such thing and wouldn't know where to start). I've never even seen Gilligan's Island, I didn't know it was ropey quality, only that the parent had dismissed it and the entire industry because he thought it lowbrow.

Funded by advertising is a bit different it can still be run like a traditional business, but where is the amateur TV as good as BBC Frozen Planet, or Sherlock, Wallander or QI? And they're just people talking in scenic locations - or in a big room, nothing requiring months of filming and hundreds of people.

Where are the part time charity funded films like Lord of the Rings or The Shawshank Redemption? The Shining? 2001? Kill Bill?

Amateur work can be good, but mostly it's worse than professional work that's the informal definition of the difference between amateur and professional. The formal one being "profession: paid work".


I didn't just pick out the worst bits: there's far worse, that I couldn't even remember. How many "brand new shows" from last Tee Vee season do you watch? I know how many I do: none.

Similar, popular music.

I probably wouldn't even miss Pixar movies at this point: we're getting to the point that "amateurs" can do them.


There's a difference between pro and pro quality. Even then, pro quality is hard to define. I would like a world where higher quality TV shows are more common.


Actually I wouldn't be surprised if some food journalists or whatever get to dine for free in restaurants. Goods for exposure is a valid business proposition. It is valid to reject it, too, but I don't understand the fuss.

If 37signals would feature me on their homepage for a week I would probably also give them some "free" work in exchange. No offense taken.

I guess the "problem" is that he was approached by people he did not deem worthy. Reminds me of women who complain about being approached all the time, but I suspect they wouldn't complain about being approached by Brad Pitt or George Clooney. Just saying it is not the approaching that is actually the problem, it is the who is doing the approaching.


I guess he only uses his camera, lens and PC once and then throws them away.


And once one person uses the photo, all other copies of it need to be deleted.


A friend told me a bizarre story... His local library also allows you to borrow eBooks. Apparently they work by "expiring" after some time limit.

He went in to borrow an eBook, but the librarian said "Oh I'm sorry, that copy is currently on loan at the moment".

Kinda defeats the whole point of things being digital...


I would happily accept that limitation if O'Reilly made all its books available with the local library's eBook lending system. The local library system takes its limited funding and prioritizes variety over recency.

It's great if you're doing a research paper on something non-technical, but not so great if you want a current book on anything relating to computers. Even quantity-limited eBooks would solve that.


That's not uncommon, unfortunately. Book publishers are trying their hardest to retain their business model, where supply and demand is a large factor. It won't last, middle men are going to go away as self-publishing services like Amazon take over. Just like iTunes is taking over music, Steam is taking over gaming, etc.


He makes a good point but his calculations are based on material goods only. The years of education and experience are surely far more valuable.


Right. So there's a difference between cost, price, and value.


This comment cost me $2000 to write.


Mine cost $4k. This is getting expensive for anyone who might copy this page.


While I don't agree with the justification of the cost based on required tools to create the image. I do believe that the main value from the photograph is the user's creativity and passion for using the tools to capture the photograph.


This comment is not free. Using the same weird accounting method, it cost me around 1000$ to make. So what ?

If you don't want a file to be used, don't put it on internet. Understand what IT is, understand what it means to freely exchange information. You are right, you got free exposure, for free. That's why we get your image, for free. The information super-highways flow in both directions.


Discussion of fixed costs, variable costs, sunk costs, marginal costs, and opportunity costs and lots of other accounting and economics pricing models avoided.

But you should make sure your CFO can explain and your marketing department has a deep understanding.

And consider taking some accounting and micro-econ courses when you have the chance.

ESPECIALLY if you are the technical founder....


He forgot to add the cost of the sun. It took billions of year to make. And the clean environment. I hear that's priceless.


I enjoyed the article. It's a good reminder that the act of consuming creative work is far easier than its creation.

Too many people forget this and, IMHO, thereby fail to appreciate the creative work. Waxing poetic, but the view from the top of the mountain doesn't mean as near as much if you didn't climb up it.


The money figure doesn't matter. We could quibble over the dollar amount or the fact that even if I had all that great equipment I couldn't reproduce the photo myself. All of those pedantic arguments don't matter. The Intellectual Property value of the photo does.

I think we've reached(-ing) the point where freedom for all to publish isn't as magical as it was 5 or 10 years ago. Democracy of publishing is giving away to Capitalism of publishing. The new killer app isn't enabling people to publish or get exposure. It's a platform for getting people paid for their time and skills.


The problem is with the simple word free.

Well it depends on the way the photo is used. If i just save it as my wallpaper (I'd copy it from my browser cache, etc), it is free for me. Complaining about this makes no sense, or overlaying it with a transparent image..

But, if i, having done nothing in its creation, try to make some money from it (like putting it on a magazine), then the actual creator needs to get some value from what I gain. It will be the ethical thing to do. In this case John Mueller, will should morally have the right to accept or deny my request to reshare/use it.


Fundamentally - he should be paid because he has something valuable that other people want, and has value to them. The cost of his equipment, or skill as a photographer are immaterial - at the end of the day, at least in the western world, the amount that you can reasonably expect to charge for something is the intersection of what you are prepared to sell it for, and what someone is willing to pay for it. The fact that the person taking the picture paid $1,000, $10,000 or $100,000 for the resources (Training, Equipment, Time, etc...) to take the picture is completely irrelevant.

I took pictures at the Company Party last night. My EOS 7D cost me $1600. My Canon 17-55 IS USM lens cost me $1000. My MacBook Air Cost me $1600. Aperture Cost me $80. Acorn Cost me $50. My Card Flash Cost me $95. My DaneElec SDHC USB 2.0 card reader cost me $14.99, etc..

I spent 90 minutes taking pictures, 2 hours triaging and selecting, and 1 hour tweaking/adjusting those pictures - ending up with 20 out of about 400 original shots that the company placed in their event album.

I was paid $0 - because that was the intersection of what I wanted for them, and what the company was prepared to pay for them.

In all things financial - that should be the driving force as to what a transaction should take place at. If I can sell 100 megabytes software that costs $0.001 to transmit over the internet for $25,000 then that is fine as long as the buyer is will to pay $25,000 for the software and I'm willing to sell it for that much.


Some people take photographs because they just like taking photographs, like myself. If someone happened to use one of my photos, then so be it. I'm not in it to make money. I'm in it because I like the process of taking a photo, as well as editing it. After that, I'm done with it. Steal it! Remix it! Open source it!

All my photos on flickr have a Creative Commons license of "Attribution, Noncommercial, Share Alike". My photos have ended up on some great web sites: Rolling Stone, Yes Magazine, NY Magazine, city newspaper sites, random blogs, etc... I didn't receive one dime from them, but I did receive a link back to my flickr page in the photo credit. Even when they offered compensation, I turned them down.

Some people think that if they have fancy gear, they'll take better photos. This is not always the case. Photography is more art than having great gear. Does having a sweet ass laptop make you a better programmer? I don't have super fancy gear: A Canon T1i, and some pretty decent 2.8 lenses (Tamron 2.8 17-50, Sigma 2.8 70-200, Lens Baby, Canon 50mm 1.8). Any camera can take an award winning photo (I work for the largest stock photography company and have seen this to be true more times than not).


I would suggest that the capittal cost vs marginal cost is the wrong argument. Yes, its correct but the marginal cost of a single photo is soooo low you will never make any money back (expect perhaps with massively popular photos and very good DRM systems)

ANd this approach does need a DRM and all the attendant (SOPA?) legal framework

The article does mention the solution

"You would not expect your writers to work for free"

No - but writers work for commission. If you went out without any commission and took the photo, then you dont get paid for the photo. If a beach front hotel wanted a nice shot for its website and paid you 200USD to go do it, then you got paidf - and any extra resell value you make is a bonus

So, if you are in an industry where your work can be reproduced at near zero margins, you get paid in commission of the initial creation - not the ongoing rights sales. Some ancillary benefits may acrue (credit)

As someone who gets paid to write code, and also writes code for free (OSS), this difference is clear - and to be fair it is clear also to Madonna (couple of years ago she gave up rights for music sales to more of the cash from tours.)


There's an easy way to ensure no one "steals" your photograph: don't release it as a series of bits on a huge relatively unrestricted global network of computers. You can't have it both ways: having your photograph "out there" where everyone can see it, and still claiming absolute control over every single occurrence of that sequence of bits on every single device it ever gets copied to.


> As someone mentioned, THIS single photo didn’t cost me $6,612, but if you wanted to create it, from scratch, that is what is involved. So I consider it the replacement value if it’s stolen, or how much my lawyer will send you a bill for if it’s found being used without my permission.

I get it.

He is saying that he wants to charge the other person the amount it would cost FOR that other person to create this work from scratch (to buy all the equipment, etc).

But that's just one way to look at it, and it can roll down hill fast when you start including the cost of the amount of time and education that other person would need.

At the end of the day, when someone steals this photo, they don't also steal all the equipment and software that he used to create it. That remains as-is.

He would do better to claim copyright and ask for what he would charge x 3 (penalty) plus lawyer fees.


Actually considering that his computer, camera + lens, etc is basically a sunk cost and that in a free market the price can be expected to go to the marginal cost of producing the next photograph, he should expect to be paid $12 (since the gas isn't a sunk cost).


Works of art can have a monetary value - there is something called art market. The value is determined by how much buyers are willing to pay as well as how much the sellers are willing to sell. The monetary value of a copy of this low resolution jpeg file can only be determined by the market value. You can't use replacement value to charge theft, because when someone "steal" it from the internet, they always copy it, you don't lose your origin one and thus no replacement is needed.


He included the cost of the camera, but only the cost of the gas, not the cost of the car. Why include the whole cost of the camera equipment, but only the operating cost, and barely that, of the car? To be consistent, he should include the total cost of the car.

Yeah. I get that the photo isn't free, but to include all costs related to it is a bit hyperbolic. That's not a six thousand dollar photo.


This post reminds me of many a childhood argument I had.


Honestly, that was a rubbish calculation! Price of the camera? Gas? Really?

The thing with any service that is heavily dependant on the person that does it, is that it cannot be priced by anyone other than the person doing it. How can you put a price on talent or skill or experience or luck or any of the non-material things that went into taking that picture? That picture is worth a million bucks if he says it is.


Does he expect to receive $6,612 each time anyone buys the photo, or $6,612 is the total amount needed to release the photo into public domain?


He's being slightly facetious, I'd think, but: $6,612 is the amount he claims it would take the 'thief' to recreate the photo on their own. (Of course, he's only talking about material costs; he could easily claim $300,000 and get away with it, but anyway.) Thus, if the thief uses the photo inappropriately, since it "should" have cost 6k, that's what the lawyer will charge. In theory.


I think he expects to receive $6612 every time someone commits copyright infringement by using the photo without a license.


This webpage isn't free.

- Served from a $5,000 web server

- Data queried from a $10,000 database server

- Traffic routed via a $10,000 load balancer

- Traffic switched via a $2,000 switch

- Read on my $300 monitor

- Browser running on my $2000 workstation

etc, etc


I'm little confused here. Yes - you must not steal some others photos and post it. But this kind of photography is more like art and the bar for making it worth actual money is quite high - it has to have soul, meaning, etc.


* Don't steal other people crap even it you consider it worthless

* Don't assume your stuff is worth something just because you spend some money making it


A Finnish tabloid's photo of the Angry Birds dress was illegally published in several places and sparked a similar discussion in Finland: http://www.arcticstartup.com/2011/12/08/world-media-infringe...


I don't understand this. Upload your image to a (micro)stock agency to sell it, then see how much it is really worth, i.e. how much people will pay for it in the free market. (Value and production cost are two very different things.) But making it available like this while claiming it's worth $6,612 seems naive to me at best.


weird argument. Being a photographer myself, I understand they need to be properly rewarded for their creativity, effort and more importantly time.. but this is not the way to put your point. On similar lines, any thing you are buying day to day will cost you a fortune..be it a Coffee or a candy.


No, you understand that you want to be rewarded.

I've collected all my navel fluff for the past 10 years in jars. Give me a million dollars! (not really)


All that equipment and and gas are not the valuable part of this photo. You pay the guy for knowing where this spot is and how to get a decent photo of it.

By insisting that the photo is "expensive" because it required all of that easily duplicate-able tech actually cheapens it.


That's almost the same as when music industry seeks millions of dollars in damages when suing someone who copied an mp3 without permission. At first I thought this article is a parody of something similar in "photo industry" but was rather disappointed.


" I consider it ($6,612) the replacement value if it’s stolen, or how much my lawyer will send you a bill for if it’s found being used without my permission."

I wonder how much his lawyer will send a bill for if someone uses 2 or more of his pictures without permission.


I would always take the side of a photographer who has his/her photos misused/abused, but this is just illogical reasoning. If a grocery store has a loaf of bread stolen, it is not worth the value of the entire business.


This reminds me of a rant by Harlan Ellison I saw at http://quotevadis.com/post/5897791429/does-your-boss-get-a-p...


If he doesn't want his photo to be seen then why does he put it online?


How would you propose he advertise his photos? With really good descriptions?


Sorry, I still don't get it. I mean if I want people to see it (advertising), but then write I already have exposure then I'd feel really weird.

Showing (be it advertisement or whatever), but not allowing it to be seen by others is (for the lack of another word) strange. At least it sounds pretty weird to me. I don't get what's wrong by getting this version he published and for example put it on a blog saying. Hey look, what I found on the bog/website of this guy. Isn't it awesome?

I mean in a way it is like taking a photo of his work and show it to others. It's not like I'd be taking it away from him.

I'd respect it, if the author doesn't want more exposure. It's his choice, but then I'd even feel bad to link his blog posts, website or even mention his name.

Maybe I miss something, but I don't understand why a photo of nature, published freely on the internet has to be kept like a secret.

I mean what if we put this to other stuff, like when I make my money selling text, knowledge or thoughts in general. Does this mean everyone is supposed to not share the thought, quote or recite it. It also costs me time and sometimes money (education).

Again, I am not taking anything away. After all it's just data. Should I ever draw a painting or describe a scene in a book. I may even base my work on his, without noticing. Still some people don't want anything based on their work.

If I'd have to ask about everything I copy and share with others I wouldn't dare to do anything.

What I also don't get is the asking thing. What's so bad about people asking whether they are allowed to use the photo?

The argument about the dinner is also flawed. In fact there are lots of businesses giving stuff away for free, to get more exposure. Also the dinner means that the restaurant will actually loose something.

And then there are these companies that even give you a free dinner in order to show you something/get exposure. Advertising also isn't free.


That's an amazing photo and I appreciate what it took to get that captured. But, here's the problem: Everyone who read this article now has a copy of that photograph in their possession, simply because of the way computers work. Does he expect every person with that photo in their browser cache to pay him for it? Of course not. But even if he wanted to - he wouldn't be able to.

And that's the issue. Many of us want the benefits of the Internet without the drawbacks, and that is literally not possible. We want the ease of communication, the low cost, and the instant delivery. But, we don't want everyone to have a copy. And we can't have one without the other.


This rant is very similar to Harlan Ellison's "Pay the Writer" rant (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mj5IV23g-fE).


He wasn't saying that this is what he would charge you for the photo, he was saying this is what he we sue you for if you use it without permission.


Lets say I pay him $6,612 then I would want not just the photograph but also the equipment he listed in the add up to the price.

Is that ok?

If yes then it makes perfect sense to me.


What is bothering me is that he is not adding up the cost right. How about the cost of his upbringing that made him the person he is today?


this comment cost $3629 american dollars.

$2500 (map pro) + $999 (apple display) + $50 (1 month of fios) + $50 (espresso machine) + $30 (coffee)


This has been all over my Facebook and twitter feeds..

Maybe "This photograph is not free.. But this marketing is" would be more apt now!


I'm sorry, but his photography is terrible. Cliche, boring and not even that well produced in the technical sense.


Yeah, I thought it was understood that Kinkade-style material is in poor taste.


Thanks, I'll be using it for my banner ad for a video streaming service that I advertise an a torrent site abroad.


So what if three magazines commit copyright infringement on the same photo? Does it cost $19836 now? Ridiculous.

Guess what, here's[1] 325000 photographs of sunsets anyone can use on their magazine for free. You've just been priced out of the market.

[1]: https://secure.flickr.com/search/?l=comm&q=sunset


Not all photos of sunsets are equal, just as the huge number of portraits of women doesn't price the Mona Lisa out of the market.

If people decide that this photo has a particular merit, then that is worth something. Of course, that's an entirely subjective issue and will vary from person to person.


He wouldn't be ranting if his photo was the sunset equivalent of the Mona Lisa. To use your metaphor, his photo is not the Mona Lisa. To use your metaphor, his photo is but one among the huge number of portraits of women.


Sure, but I was talking in the context of filler photos for magazines and such, where very low cost is usually important.

If someone considers it a true œuvre d'art then the post is meaningless, because the available resolution isn't enough for a decent print at full page, and so nobody can "steal" it; they'll need to contact him regardless.


Great, then the magazines should use one of the 300,000, not his. His cost money to use, and that's the way it is.

Several of those 300k are mine, by the way, and they are indeed free to use, assuming I am credited as required by the license. Of course, there are countless stories of magazines ignoring even this very simple requirement.


I should add- Making my pics CC on flickr has resulted in a number of people using them and crediting me properly, from blogs to small magazines.

One is even in use by a state park on one of their signs, which is somehow particularly gratifying.

I really need to go take a pic of that sign.


What's your flickr account?


When I read this article, it remind me how english have a problem with the semantic of the word "free".

When he says: "this photograph is not free" he means : "this photograph has a cost" when I understand: "this photograph has a licence witch does not allow people to share, copy, modify as wish"



People want beautiful things. The art is finding a way for them to pay


But they don't have to because world is filled with "beauty". Supply far outstrips demand. People pay for scarcity. IP law and this guy are trying to enforce artificial scarcity in order to prop up a no longer relevant business model.


Poor guy seriously over paid for his equipment.


cost != value != price. I could buy a flawless diamond and use it to shred a Picasso. What should I be paid?


£40,000, because you'd surely get the Turner Prize.


Meh. It's not that good anyway.


I find this kind of rant rather silly. Whatever, he should be paid for his work, it's his artistic value etc.

Just like he (or any photograph with a reputation) is able to set a very high price because of his quality seal, he doesn't have the right to bitch about how much he thinks the picture worths. If you go out in the market then play by the rules. And the rules are: any product is worth whatever amount the consumer is willing to pay for it. That's what an open market is about. If you don't like it, don't get into it. Simple as that.

Ok, using it without permission is a simple legal matter. Bitching about how much he thinks he should be paid... honestly that is no one else's problem.


On one hand, I feel your pain. On the other hand, cost and value are not the same thing, and so aren't value and market price.

If you do something and what you do costs much more than the market value of its output, make sure it's not your job. Hobbies usually fall in this category.


Right. The market price of a good is governed only by supply and demand. Sure, the cost it takes to produce the good influences its supply and demand, but in a capitalist society, only the market determines its price at the end of the day.

Let's forget the sunk cost for a minute. What happens if the price per item is less than the variable cost per item? Is that "unfair"? No, that's precisely how firms go out of business, when no one wants to pay (i.e. there is no demand) for the products they sell.

This is not an argument for plagiarism / piracy. Capitalist markets do need strong property ownership laws and enforcement.


You could argue about the value and market price.

In the same way that a liquid betting market, the price is a reasonable estimate for probability, in a any liquid market, the price is a reasonable estimate of value.


> in a any liquid market, the price is a reasonable estimate of value.

Is it not a tautology? Is there a definition of value that is substantially different from "the equilibrium price in a perfect market"?


I'm not sure myself, but is a perfect market the same as a liquid market? Don't you need complete price transparency for that?


Define "liquid market".




For example, the market for apples (the fruit) is liquid, but the market for Van Gogh's paintings is not.


Many folks would be happy to allow their photos to be used just for "exposure" or even for fun. Likewise many writers would happily allow their writing to be published for free. This is the case for both aspiring professionals and amateurs who never intend to make significant money with their hobby.

Unions often successfully pressure major players not to deal with these "scabs." There are some good arguements for maintaining a market for professional services by setting a minimum price through collective bargaining.

In a pure market economy, professionals must either demonstrate they are that much better than free or cheap amateur work. Clearly in this case the photographer is much more skilled than a typical amateur and produces stellar work. Unfortunately, in most cases, a publication can easily settle for an inferior free work without any impact on sales.

The marginal cost of a photograph these days is almost zero. Professionals are under a lot of pressure to demonstrate value. I think the good ones can, although many hobbyists produce professional quality work.

In my opinion, a respectable publication should set a minimum price for a work and pay, even of they do not have to. This improves their relationship with their suppliers and encourages better work down the line. Sadly, the economics of publishing may make such generosity infeasible.


I don’t know about the business of photography, but in the SF/fantasy world, there are a significant number of publications that pay at least the SFWA/HWA minimum of 5¢ per word: http://www.ralan.com/m.pro.htm


"""Many folks would be happy to allow their photos to be used just for "exposure" or even for fun. Likewise many writers would happily allow their writing to be published for free. This is the case for both aspiring professionals and amateurs who never intend to make significant money with their hobby."""

More power to them. Many others DO NOT.


As this post illustrates, HN depends upon writers who allow their writing to be published for free.


Well, all I can do is wish you luck with all that. I'm an amateur photographer who could never take a photo that beautiful, but I get people hitting me up to use my photos for free sometimes. I just say no (my photos are CC licensed, but not for commercial use). I don't have any illusions about siccing my nonexistent lawyer on someone who steals my photos.

But, I agree that photographers should be paid for their work. People and firms just want to get things for as little cost as they can, that's why they do this and that's why they try to get freelancers to do spec work. It costs the firm nothing but a half-hearted promise that they'll be nice to the designer later.


I have all this equipment for you use. And by your price breakdown i can pay your $0 hour.

when can you start working for me?


wrong. This photograph WAS not free. For you. As for me, I've just seen it, read some of your text underneath, and moved on.

Until you can actually stop USERS from benefiting from someone ELSE doing the same thing with your work, your work very much IS free.


Well, excuse me for explaining how the Internet works. I agree with the sentiment, but you also have to look at reality, which is that the cost of reproduction does not even involve going down to a copy shop. It's a tough market, and that's the reality. Why not add a watermark?


Wow, grumpy!


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