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This photograph is free (standblog.org)
530 points by aclark on Jan 11, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 143 comments

I hope everyone understands, including the authors themselves, that each author in this back-and-forth is correct. The right to give and the right to charge are inherently personal decisions that only the owner of the photo can make.

This was the main frustration that I had with the "this photograph is not free" comments, as well as the tone the author of this article takes. It doesn't matter what the commentators claim the various photos are 'worth' -- it's not their right to speculate, and just because you released your material CCL, you don't have the right to feel more privileged than someone who chose to exercise their right to be compensated.

Not to digress too much from your original comment (which I completely agree with) but I think there's a certain "smugness" that I see associated with people who release anything as free--as if somehow the act of benevolence has put them on a plane above those who choose not to. I think that's unfortunate for multiple reasons; not the least of which is that people should be commended for sharing things under free / open licenses and I'm far less inclined to do so if they get all smug about it (this applies whether the "things" in question are software, photographs, writings, music, film, etc).

I agree with both authors; but I find this particular article far more obnoxious than the one to which its responding--again, because it comes across quite smug.

I feel that any sense of smugness in this article is more than outshone by the sense of entitlement in the original. The second post acknowledges reality (that many good quality photos are available for free) while the first post seems to whine about the consequences of that reality (when free photos are so widely available, why should you be surprised/angry when someone asks you for your photos for free?)

Why shouldn’t the first photographer have a “sense of entitlement”? He’s entitled! He has the right to set prices for his work, and the rest of us have the right to pay, negotiate a better price, or walk away from the deal.

But going up to someone and saying “you should give this away” is not negotiating for a better price; it’s practically an insult. It’s like walking into a car dealership, seeing that the sticker price is $10,000, and telling the salespeople that they really should let it go for $3,000.

Also note the difference between “I want to give my work away” and “you ought to give your work away”.

It largely depends on the context the "you should give this away" is said in.

If say a well known media organization says, "You should let me use this photo for free, because I will give you credit and that might help you get business later" that is negotiating. The creator of the photo may or may not like the terms, but it is an offer of something of value for something of value. At worst, if the photographer is already well known, it is a bad offer that is wasting his time, but it is never insulting.

If someone who studies economics says to a new photographer, "You should stop selling photos and sell the service of creating new photos on order due to the marginal prices involved and current market situation. Give your old ones away to build up reputation." This is not an insult, but advice (whether or not it is good advice is a different question).

He is entitled to set the asking price for his work, but that is all.

If say a well known media organization says, "You should let me use this photo for free, because I will give you credit and that might help you get business later"

Why won't the "well-known media organization" pay what the photo is worth? Almost by definition they can afford to. If they still negotiate in this manner, that is an insult. No?

No. The whole point here is that the worth of the photo is not determined by the photographer - it is determined by the market. If an alternative photo exists for free, as is often the case, then the well known media organization is not being insulting when it offers the going rate, even if the going rate is "free".

I would find having my time wasted pretty insulting.

Contrary to your claim, lowball bids are often considered insulting.

Smart negotiators don't use them unless they're willing to accept the fallout that results from this; such as hurt feelings, and the potential loss of all negotiation power because the other individual was insulted by what they felt was bad-faith negotiation.

It's a great strategy if you don't care about relationships and if you don't care about your reputation. It's a terrible strategy in the real world.

I think the crux of this whole issue is whether or not "free for credit" is really a lowball bid. Let's say I've narrowed my search for sunset pictures down to 3 choices. One is CC licensed. One is public domain. One is priced at $6,000. When 2 out of my 3 options cost $0, then $0 should not be considered a lowball bid. It is a realistic bid based on market conditions.

If dealerships up and down the street are all selling cars for $3,000 then the guys who are trying to get the $10000 sticker price should not be too insulted or even surprised when someone offers them $3,000.

Please don't make car analogies when speaking about copyright. Copyright and selling cars are unrelated concepts, and this analogy has been beaten to death.

I feel the same as you. Giving (music, money, software), is extremely personal, and one that shouldn't be done lightly, or out of pressure from others.

Personally, I'd love to be able to release a beneficial OSS software tool or commit a valuable patch to a project, but I'm not a good enough developer. Yet, I feel like a second class citizen in the development community because I haven't

It is your own feeling of inadequacy that prevents you from contributing. That's also likely a major contributing factor to why you feel the author is being smug.

The only thing preventing you from excellence is your fear. You don't have to be "worthy" to make something good; you just need the ambition to set high goals, the drive and tenacity to meet those goals, and the thick skin to shrug off the inevitable judgments of others. All great men are called crazy at one point or another, and all great men have doubted themselves. Why should you be any different?

Contribute documentation or bug reports. These are as valuable as code.

Or contribute how it is hard to contribute. If contributing to OSS is hard, then OSS communities may be able to make it easier.

For instance, I'm involved in Wikipedia heavily and have always thought that it would be worth contributing to MediaWiki: at the very least being willing to beta test new stuff and write tests and so on. It's a big legacy hairball type project, but the community have made it easier to contribute by documenting the process of getting a working environment setup, by better documenting the process of submitting bugs and patches to bugzilla, by marking a bunch of bugs as suitable for newbies, by the new maintenance/dev scripts and by having a newbie developers liaison person.

If you want to get involved in an open source project but feel inadequate, try and politely work with them to nudge them into making it easier for new developers to contribute. Document the process of getting a working environment setup, including getting things like Vagrant setup if needed. Most projects will welcome attempts to try and make it easier for new developers. And, well, if they don't, then find a better project. ;-)

(If you think your coding really does suck, we've got an encyclopedia with lots of loose ends that need tying up. Just sayin'.)

Matthew 6:1-4

The right to give and the right to charge are inherently personal decisions that only the owner of the photo can make.

It's not that simple. There are two "rights" here: 1) the right to publish a photo, and 2) the ability to restrict other people's freedom to copy the photo.

The first one is simple -- you can choose to publish your photos, or you can choose to keep them for yourself and never publish.

The second one -- the ability to restrict other people's actions on further distribution -- is a personal decision only for a limited amount of time, and only in certain circumstances and for certain works. Even if your personal decision is not to let me publish photos shot by you in my "Silly photographs" magazine, I will be able to do so once you die + 70 years (according to my country laws). Why is this? Because every author's work belongs to public once author publishes it. The author is just given a temporary monopoly on it. This was intended to make authors produce more such works; for example, here's what US Constitution says:

[Congress shall have the power] to promote the Progress of Science and the useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Well then, it would seem that, if you agree with our Constitution, it is that simple.

This is not entirely accurate. The original "this photograph is not free" article wasn't an attempt to prevent his own images from being copied. It was an attempt to influence OTHER photographers not to give away their photos for free.

I've worked for a long time in the photography industry. In my experience there are two things that justifiably piss photographers off in a very major way:

1. Getting their photo ripped off without permission, because it loses them money.

2. Seeing a publication use another photographer's photo for free (even with permission), because it loses EVERYBODY money.

If good photographers are constantly giving photos away and not charging, professional photography prices and value naturally goes down. It's kind of a tragedy of the commons - photographers who DO give away work get more recognition, but they lower the overall value of their industry.

I would like help understanding this since it runs very counter to my understanding.

As I understand the economics of the photography market, there are several factors at work.

1) Equipment - this affects the source quality of a picture and thus how it will look when reproduced. Early on a limiting factor was very 'slow' film requiring long exposures, and also limits of grain size which required larger surface area to achieve line density that made it still look OK when enlarged for publication or posters.

Technology has really worked on this constraint, the latest tweak being large format digital sensors that can take 3 pictures of exceptional clarity in low light. This hugely reduced the 'cost' of quality both from an overall light capture sense, and in the opportunity sense where you can take 15 exposures where you might used to take exactly one and thus have a higher probability of getting the picture you like at the lighting opportunity rather than 'missing it' and having to go back the next day/year/whatever (sorry and that relates mostly to outdoor photography)

2) Population of quality photographers. This has been perhaps the most amazing impact of digital photography for me. Generally you get 'good' at taking pictures by taking a lot of pictures and seeing which are good and which aren't. In the film days there was a financial burden due to film developing and printing images which was a prerequisite to getting 'good' at photography.

Today you can take a thousand pictures a week in a variety of settings and environments, you can display them instantly 'poster' sized on a 55" 1080p television you can print ones you like at home on an ink jet printer up to 13 x 19. The change I see there is that for only an investment of time, one can practice photography. This has hugely expanded the number of people who have taken thousands of photographs. Combined with the internet (more on that shortly) and the community groups which provide feedback the number of quality photographers who are taking pictures is higher now than it has ever been.

3) Distribution and Discovery - prior to the Internet photographers had gallery showings, or they did freelance work for periodicals, or they were hired by advertising or modelling agencies. Finding them was 'hard' in the sense you needed a hook into the community and for photographers 'being found' was hard. Thus the 'known' good photographer pool was always smaller than the 'actual' good photographer pool. People who were 'known' reaped the benefit of that as there was an opportunity cost of trying to find another photographer once you had already found one.

The Internet changed all of that, you can find galleries 'online' in Flickr albums, G+ feeds, Facebook pages, blogs, etc etc. So in the past when someone found a photographer and they were thrilled to have found one, they were not in a very strong bargaining position if they thought the price being charged was high, since the cost of finding another photographer was higher still. But now that the cost of finding a photographer is much much lower, and the number of quality photographers is much much higher. The availability of good quality photographs has exploded.

The impact of that explosion is that it is impossible to sustain a price point that was established in a time of scarcity during a time of plenty.

So ripping off a photo is now 'easy' in the sense that people copy an image from a web site or off a flickr feed etc and don't pay the photographer. Of the cases I've read about on the web they have always been one of two situations: 1) The person doing the copying didn't realize what they were doing was illegal and once informed either: a) Licensed the photograph b) Used a different photograph because they felt the asking price exceeded their internal notion of 'value' with respect to using the photo. 2) The person doing the copying knew they were ripping it off and if they are caught they just move to a different picture. In every case I've read about if the photographer has to resort to suing the infringer they have always won.

The important point for me has been that 'getting photos ripped off' has not been a money losing proposition unless the photographer did nothing, and I do recognize that having to be your own police with respect to people stealing your work is a pain.

The second issue of people giving away their work losing 'everybody' money seems even more perplexing. That the price you can charge for a photo has gone down as more people have entered the market can in fact grow the overall market. On a per transaction basis the market value of a photograph may be lower, but those lower prices cause more people to buy photographs, thus increasing the total economic value. To the extent that photographers are good at educating consumers of photographs that licenses are involved and they should seek out a license that is good for everyone.

I don't see this as a 'tragedy of the commons' rather as a an increase in efficiency of the market to match up good photographs with consumers of same. To the extent that it causes people to 'go out of business' and thus reduce the supply is the counter to an infinite supply of free photos.

I appreciate your in-depth analysis, looks pretty accurate to me. I think the tone of my original post falsely suggested that I thought no one should give their photos away for free. This isn't true - I firmly believe that if people stopped complaining about factors outside their control (like other photographers giving away photos) and instead spent the time honing their craft, maybe there wouldn't be so much to complain about. However, I do understand where photographers are coming from.

> On a per transaction basis the market value of a photograph may be lower, but those lower prices cause more people to buy photographs, thus increasing the total economic value.

The problem here is that the market for these photos is fairly inelastic. The people who are taking photos aren't the ones buying them. At the lowest end of the spectrum, free photos don't generate any increase in demand. For instance, the fact that a magazine can get a photo for free doesn't mean that they're going to want to buy more stock photos. It's just going to make them want more photos for free.

Consider how a web developer would feel if there was suddenly a huge influx of high-quality web developers who would develop entire projects for free. Obviously this is economically infeasible in this industry, but that's basically why photographers are mad when it happens to them.

>It's kind of a tragedy of the commons...

Kind of, but not really. By talented individuals charging less-nothing for some of their photos (likely already taken photos) instead of consuming and annihilating the shared resource of "money available to be spent on photography" they just move that around. This "don't give your photo away, or charge lower prices" argument is the same as all of the other NO!SPEC, anti-open-source/public domain/CC arguments, in that it's a bad argument.

Free and open source software is pretty well understood. For example, by having all of these quality web browsers for free, it allows a larger market for more companies to make more money selling their wares and services online. I believe the original argument against free browsers was something like, "free web browsers will cost jobs and lower the quality of the browser."

Whenever I read the articles or come across an individual that trashes students and amateurs for giving their work away I think a few things.

- Does this person really not understand that by Timmy the undergrad giving the bake sale a good, but not astounding, photo of a cupcake that it frees them, the professional, up to take photos of tiger sharks?

- Is this person actually just incapable of competing on quality or subject matter with amateurs and therefor unable to differentiate themselves?

I can understand why this would piss photographers off, but I can't agree with the "justifiably" part. When I ride my bike home from a bar instead of taking a cab, the cab driver might be pissed. Should he pissed at bike manufacturers? I'm sure horse whip makers were pissed at Ford for selling cars, and lowering the overall value of their industry. Why should photographers get special protection from market forces?

Yes, but I think you are missing an essential point in your examples: a) A bike is not really a replacement for a cab (say you want to carry some goods) b) Cars are a different technology from horse-carriages The thing is that the photos produced by all kinds of photographers are almost the same ( of course, the better ones produce photographs of better quality, but they are still photographs). I think that the analogy that you used was perhaps not accurate..

It doesn't matter if the service is exactly the same or not, it just matters whether it meets the need of the consumer. In my example, consumers needed a way to get from point A to point B. Both a cab or a bike could do that. If you prefer, I could have asked if Ferrari should get pissed that Kia is offering cars for a super cheap price. Then we are comparing cars to cars.

Completely off-topic, but in all areas I'm aware of you are breaking the law if you ride your bike while intoxicated.

Being upset at the first is perfectly reasonable. The second is cartel behavior, and should be opposed.

<i>If good photographers are constantly giving photos away and not charging, professional photography prices and value naturally goes down. It's kind of a tragedy of the commons - photographers who DO give away work get more recognition, but they lower the overall value of their industry.</i>

It doesn't drive value down, it drives prices down for the same photographs. The same photos at a lower price means the value actually goes up. This is actually the opposite of the tragedy of the commons--instead of the commons being destroyed because no one has incentive to care for it, the commons grows over time because people contribute to it directly.

What it does do is force photographers to find new business models. They need to sell valuable hard copies of their work (Have you seen how much a quality wedding album costs?), or they need to charge for their time prior to taking the photographs. For some types of photography this is quite difficult (travel photography, various types of stock photography), for others relatively easy (fashion and event photography).

Personally, I agree with you 100%, especially since I run BD for a firm that does a lot of client work.

The only conciliation that I can offer is that I've never had a good experience with anyone who hard balls price, rather than quality -- in any industry, at any price. There will always be a point where the amateurs can't deliver like a professional can, particularly with photography -- that stuffs tough.

2. Seeing a publication use another photographer's photo for free (even with permission), because it loses EVERYBODY money.

I think you are mistaken here. For one thing, there is a chance that free photo will get the photographer noticed and get him hired to create a photo on-demand. That photographer ends up making money (although indirectly) by allowing free use of existing work.

And for another, there is a good chance that if the photo wasn't available for free the publication would have instead used no photo or hand an intern already on staff take a mediocre photo for filler. In this case, no one has lost money.

I am currently a developer by profession and make my money by creating software (on salary). But I do not get mad when others give away software, I use a fair bit of OSS myself (Python, Firefox, etc). I do not think when I see OSS that everybody has lost money. (I also try to contribute, but my contributions are currently tiny).

How do you feel about Open Source software?

Because while the analogy isn't perfect there are obvious similarities between programmers releasing their software free (by both meanings) and open and photographers distributing their own photos via Creative Commons or whatever.

So it's like all the other freelancing work?

> It was an attempt to influence OTHER photographers not to give away their photos for free.

At some point, photographers will need to understand that their work is not that unique and that the wealth created by the community through sharing is much greater than that derived by a single artist through the licensing and sale of their work.

Which I'm sure will be a great comfort to them when they're struggling to feed themselves, because they've donated all that wealth to the "community".

Would you apply the same argument to your own line of work?

My line of work operates the same way. Whether I approve of that or not is irrelevant, but I need to recognize it and adapt to survive.

I think most of us in tech do. There are people who rail against how open-source software is "stealing their livelihood", but I think most people realize that there is nothing immoral about people choosing to write open-source software. If the only way you could earn a living is to wish for the non-existence of free software, then you just need to find a new line of work, because you can't wish it out of existence...

At risk of putting words into your mouth, what you're saying here is "some software is open source and that's ok". I couldn't agree more - I've even made a few small contributions to open source projects myself. But the way I read the parent post, it seemed to be saying (the equivalent of) "all software should be open source", which is something quite different and which I disagree with quite strongly.

When the price of copying and disseminating work is lower than the price of the royalty, a royalty is what people will not pay, never mind full price for the original. It's a simple as that.

"""At some point, photographers will need to understand that their work is not that unique and that the wealth created by the community through sharing is much greater than that derived by a single artist through the licensing and sale of their work."""

Spoken like a true I-want-your-stuff-for-free person...

You're assuming that "your stuff" actually has monetary value. Usually it doesn't, but the creator rarely wants to hear that.

Well, if someone "wants it", it has monetary value.

What you're saying amounts to "I'd want it (over other things) if it was free".

Good, move along then, and don't use it because it is no.

> The right to give and the right to charge are inherently personal decisions

Actually, in the U.S.A. the right to restrict others from "using" "your" "intellectual property" is granted by the government and only for limited times (in theory). The default natural state is that everyone has the right to share, reuse, etc everyone's intangible creative works.

The right is not the same thing as the ability. Since rights are enforced by a civil authority, it would suggest to me the only "natural" rights are the ones granted by said authority.

What you are saying is true, however for products for which supply exceeds demand and which can be easily copied, then charging for such products does not work so well.

For example, in the early days of our industry, many people buying licensed software were doing so because copying on floppy disks was error prone and packaged software was getting distributed on storage of higher quality. Licensed software also worked as expected, while software copied from friends had all sorts of "surprises". Plus it came with a useful manual, which was great prior to the Internet.

Our economy is based on scarcity. If scarcity is only artificial, then the model breaks down. You simply can't appeal to people's feelings, not after decades of teaching people to embrace individualism.

This isn't going to be popular on this board, but::

Your statement is why the writers of the US constitution mandated creative protection[0]. To prevent instances of piracy because users don't feel like they should pay for something made that could be duplicated.

Your argument goes back to mine-- by pirating works, you're making the decision for the owner/creator whether to release that work freely or to charge. That's not your right, no matter what economic model you believe.


I'm an author and I'd like to agree with you, however there's constitutional rights and then there's human nature.

If your constitution disallowed unlicensed sex, take a guess on which one would prevail - human nature or your constitution.

Also, read again why that clause is in the constitution - "to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". They clearly didn't have Disney in mind or the ever expanding "limited Times" that makes the public domain a legally obsolete concept.

I respectfully suspect you are misunderstanding history. First, the Copyright Clause permits, but does not mandate, certain forms of creative protection for a limited time.

Second, the clause itself states its goal. It was to encourage more creation, "preventing piracy" was a means to an end, not an end in itself.

And finally, there is good reason to think that regarding copyright in particular the target was never meant to be users at all, but other commercial grade publishers and competing authors. (It was prohibitively difficult in that era for an end user to make a copy of any substantial creative work so it likely wasn't even considered. I suspect, given some of Jefferson's comments in particular, that many of the Framers would have been against trying to apply copyright laws to end users had they realized it would eventually be an issue).

I don't think this is a fair comparison. From what I've understood by reading both posts is that each writer comes from a different background(I can't think of a better word right now) and that's what's causing this difference of opinion.

The first writer is making a living from photography as stated at the bottom of his post: "John B. Mueller is a photographer based in Ventura County, California."

The second writer seems to be doing this as a hobby. At least I'm assuming so since he's been taking photos for 27 years and claims that he has not made any money from it. So I really don't think that this is a fair comparison.

Unfortunately, the "right to charge" is something that is almost unenforceable in the day of the internet. If you base your business model on this idea, you will spend a lot of time fighting a losing battle against the fact that information is freely exchangeable around the whole world.

Photographers don't sell copies of the photograph to the general public. I don't think most photographers are actively trying to fight, say, you printing out the photo and hanging it up on your wall.

The original blog post was about licensing works - major magazines and publications wanting to use the photo. This is entirely enforceable - these magazines and publications are headed by companies that one can actually discover and sue.

The "right to charge" is alive and well, in the same way the GPL is enforceable.

"I give my work away for free because it makes other people smile and I like that" is not a rebuttal to "people shouldn't be taking other people's work for free if the author doesn't want them to". If anything it's just a smug attempt at being holier-than-thou.

Of course you're also misrepresenting the other guy's argument: he wasn't arguing against "intellectual property theft" (what a loaded term!); rather, he was arguing against people's asking for the photograph for free. Moreover, his particular argument (ignoring the larger issue) was fairly obviously flawed and overbearing.

If we put on our blinders and ignore the larger issue, asking an artist for free stuff is rather condescending. As Mueller says, why should magazines, advertisers, websites or corporations expect or ask for free work? (Let's not pretend it's anything other than this) If the artist didn't already put it on a Creative Commens license or similar (or has indicated that he is willing to give non-commercial licenses to people who ask), then flat out asking artists for free stuff to further your own company is tantamount to asking for a free lunch.

In this narrow sense, Tristan's "giving things away for free makes me and people all over the world happy" post is not an argument against that either. It's just a feel-good argument for using a CC-type license in the first place, which was never the issue.

It might just be a difference in cultures, but in my experience if you, for example, ask a sys-admin for Linux help, they are more than happy to spend time on it. There is no stigma about asking for this sort of help even though you're basically asking a professional to work for free (at least in the Linux communities I'm familiar with). I've seen people spend hours helping others debug some issues.

Also, most programmers I know (admittedly all are at least open source enthusiasts) are all more than happy to provide you with little scripts. They are not only willing to allow you to use their code, but also usually happy to support that code for free to some extent (people are usually happy to help you get it set up, at the very least). I've mostly seen this on smaller programs and scripts, but those are not much different in scope from a single photograph.

On the latter point, sometimes people are downright ecstatic to do so; if someone wrote up a little piece of software and stuck it online, and then never heard from anyone, they're often really pleased if you write in with a question, because it means someone actually is using the software for something.

There is just one thing that I would point out: the sys admins and programmers are most likely already making money through their employment. In the case of a photographer, (s)he is selling the photographs for a living. I'm sure that if you ask a professional photographer for help in taking better photographs, he will gladly help you.

This author is partially refuting the original, though. It's not just saying "I give away my photos", it's also saying that it is unrealistic to expect to make money from photography because so many people have a camera and the tools to publish their photographs.

I don't really agree with this because the skill and artistic inclination of the photographer is still a critical factor in how the photo turns out. But it is an argument against the original article, make no mistake there.

That's true, but I think part of the problem that's happened over the last 10 years is that a lot of people have realized that they don't really need the top-quality work, and now have an option not to buy it.

A simplified view: 30 years ago, there were amateur photographers who, for small amounts of money or free, could get you a snapshot of 0/10 through 3/10 quality; and there were professional photographers, who for a large fee would take 9/10 or 10/10 quality photographs. You went with them because the free/amateur photography was just not good enough. But you didn't really need 9/10 quality; maybe 6/10 would be perfectly adequate for your needs. Now, you can buy low-cost or sometimes even free 6/10 photography. This causes lost work for the 10/10-quality photographers, but it's work that in some sense never really valued their product fully in the first place, but previously bought it because there was no "good enough" lower-quality/cost alternative. Now they only get the work of people who really, absolutely want 10/10 quality work and are willing to pay for it, which is a much smaller market.

That's a really good analysis. I will add just one thing : what you said is precisely the reason why there is so much complaining. The photographers who can take a 10/10 photograph probably put in an extraordinary amount of time and money to learn their skills, and since the market is (greatly) reduced, they feel it is unfair that they are not being sufficiently compensated for all the work that they put in.

Just a couple of hours time difference and it would be copyrighted[1], and not by him.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eiffel_Tower#Image_copyright_cl...

This is a really interesting case about how we need to confront the issue of rights when something is made public. It seems a little ludicrous to suggest that something like the Eiffel tower lights display is copyright, when it is obviously put on for the public purpose of having millions of people see it.

On the other hand, it seems ludicrous to demand that because someone puts a picture on their web page, it is now public in the same way, and that the creator should not be able to control the market for it.

I do think it is worth thinking about the idea that there is a threshold of publicness after which point a work ought to become subject to mandatory licensing. The intuition is that if a work is kept sufficiently private, it is not involved in a substitutable market for similar items. If it is made sufficiently public, then it is competing in a market for other substitutable creative goods of the same sort. Another intuition is that there's a threshold of publicness after which it becomes fair to assume that the rightsholder is interested in wide distribution more than controlling use, or that after a certain threshold of publicness, a creative product has been introduced into the public sphere as a cultural artifact that others ought to be able to use freely.

Right now all we have is a binary move from rightsholder-retains-complete-rights to public domain, which has led to the craziness of current copyright law. If we had some intermediate stages of publicness and the rights split between creator and public, perhaps we could come up with something more sensible.

Yes it's ironic that the Eiffel Tower has copyrighted it's nighttime light display.

I don't think that any physical 3D object (ie: buildings) should be copyrightable, even statues or art displays. The fact that the Eiffel Tower, Sears Tower, and Empire State Building are iconic (and beautiful works of art themselves even) should not be enough to grant copyright.

lol =)

Lets say I had such a picture and wanted to put it on my site. WOuld this disclaimer suffice? "If you are currently residing in France you are not legally allowed to see this picture. Please cover the picture with one hand during your visit"

Just remember: it's only in France and other countries that lack panoramafreiheit.

I thought the RIAA suing grandmas was bad, then I read about the panoramafreiheit situation in Europe. It's far, far more stupid than you can ever imagine.

Indeed, quite a few physical places and things require permission or a license to be displayed in photos and video.

"Most of all, I have realized a long time ago that in a world where everyone has a camera, a lot of free time and fantastic tools to publish stuff, there is not a lot of money to be made anymore by taking pictures."

For me that is the best rejoinder to the somewhat whiny tone of the "this photo is not free" post. The author has missed the point that certain types of photos are accurately valued at "free for credit", because it is easy to obtain them at that cost. His real beef should be with this fact, not the fact that people are asking him for photos at market prices.

We would all like to be able to charge money for things we would do anyway, but reality does not always oblige us. When my neighbor asked me for my grass clippings to add to his compost pile, I told him sure, but only if I could charge him $1000, based on the cost of my lawnmower, gas, and labor. After all, he will be able to use that compost as fertilizer eventually, and why should he profit from my hard work without compensating me? Sadly, my neighbor did not buy my argument, because grass clippings, like certain photos, are neither rare nor hard to come by.

I'm surprised that more people here aren't focusing on that line of the post. It was the most interesting line to me, and even more interesting is that your reaction was a mirror opposite of mine.

There is not a lot of money to be made anymore by taking competently focused, competently-exposed sunset pictures of the Eiffel Tower.

Great tools lower the barrier of entry for achieving technical competence in capturing an ever-widening variety of beautiful subjects. So for someone who expects to turn their ability to do that into a professional photography career, fine, "there is not a lot of money to be made in doing that."

But there is a shitload of money to be made taking pictures, even when a 100 megapixel camera and .96 lux 50mm prime lens can be had for the same price as a pack of cigarettes, because professional photographers tend not to get paid to walk around tourist destinations snapping pretty shit all year.

All of the professional fotogs I know are paid not for photos the have taken, but for photos people would like them to take. The photos that they have taken are just proof that if you hire them to take photos for you, they will be good.

In this way, I think this author's point of view is slightly more economically advantageous than the "this photo cost $6500" guy.

> "All of the professional fotogs I know are paid not for photos the have taken, but for photos people would like them to take"

You don't know any stock photogs?

I know one who does both. She is actually quite good but probably makes only a single digit percent of her income on stock. Mostly her portfolio serves as a starting point where clients say, "like this one only of my subject".

Is it possible to make a living as a stock photographer these days? I’m curious how people manage that.

The stock photo industry is getting bigger, while profit-per-photo is plummeting. There are still a number of well-known photogs in this space, some of whom are doing remarkably well for themselves.

My impression of that industry is that it's all about process - to make a living doing it you need to have an extremely streamlined process and churn out a vast amount of work.

This guy makes more than a living (from the look of things):


Or, "How not to make money selling software: a succinct illustration of cost-based and market-based (specifically, value-based) pricing in just two comment threads."

Why can Github charge FIVE THOUSAND DOLLARS PER YEAR for a local install of Github and succeed, impressively so, despite a small army of nerds pointing out how inexpensive it is to run one's own Git server and Gitorious? Why does 37signals have an office with walls made of 37signalsium (really, seen it, it's fuzzy) and trendy furniture despite selling software that the nerdosphere can clearly duplicate? Why does Yammer even consider publishing a $5/user/month price for software that is among every web geek's top-5-most-likely-personal projects?

Answer: they don't sell gypsum.

Cost based pricing, which works for gypsum sales but not so much for software, suggests that the price of a nice photo should be the price of the gas to get to and from the photo shoot, possibly divided by the number of people interested in buying the photo, plus maybe throw a couple bucks in there and buy yourself something nice, photographer.

Value-based pricing says, "how much it cost me to create the photo is irrelevant". YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES YES, say the nerds. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT I WAS SAYING! But value-based pricing continues: "no, what matters is how much it would cost you to make that photo and how much benefit it brings".

How much it would cost you to make that photo: (say) $6000, perhaps divided by the number of different photos you'd take given the same setup (but then also scaled back up to account for the headcount or professional services required to take lots of pictures).

How much benefit? It depends. I could take 10,000 words listing out factors in figuring it out. Most importantly: what are the substitutes to this photo and how much do they cost? For some businesses, clip art of the Eiffel Tower suffices to bring 80-90% of the value. For others (like ad-sales print publications), comparables might also be very expensive.

Now, the extent to which the YOUR business benefit from my photo exceeds MY cost to produce the photo is MY ADVANTAGE IN PRODUCING PHOTOS (the extent to which your cost exceeds my cost is my "comparative advantage"†††, and if it's a positive number possibly suggests that I'm the one who should be doing the photos in any case, since you have better ways to put your money to use). Having an advantage is a good thing. Among other things, it's a key reason why software startups are lucrative, and why we don't all work on line-of-business software for non-software companies.

It's probably true that a photo of a sunset isn't worth $6,000. But, exclusivity aside, the value of the photo also has nothing to do with how much it cost the photographer to take each shot at the margin, and it has nothing to do with the cost to make each marginal sale. What matters is how much it costs the customer to replace that value with a substitute, and in that analysis the $6000 set-up cost, while not determinative, is relevant perspective.

The moralism in these threads is an irrelevant sideshow. Situationally, the nerdosphere oscillates between extremes when trying to compute valuations for stuff with intangible-seeming benefits. Today, the nerdosphere apparently thinks either (a) every photo is a precious snowflake or (b) photo costs should be scaled by the current price of hard disk storage. Yesterday, it was whether it's right for Github to charge per repo. Before that, it's whether it's fair to have markets for spec work like 99designs.

None of that matters. What matters is, is there a market for what you're selling, and will it clear based on the model you use to price stuff on the market. Clearly there is a market for high-quality photography. Clearly it is not a cost-based market like gypsum, or there would not exist sites selling photos with royalties attached, or photos costing hundreds of dollars --- which clearly those sites do exist. So instead of arguing about how much photos should cost --- because, again, they cost what the market says they cost, not what you think it costs to make them yourself --- think instead about how this discussion applies to your own work product. More than you think it does, is my guess.

††† (Actually this isn't all what comparative advantage is; comparative advantage says, if there's a market for widgets and a market for photos and you're better at widgets than photos and I'm better at photos than widgets, then I should do widgets and you should do photos, which is a subtly different idea, but the point stands either way.)

Being more on the business side than the development side, I completely identify with what you're saying. The statement that value is derived from the cost of the alternative is central to market thinkers, of which I identify myself as.

However! This statement struck me as out of place:

> The moralism in these threads is an irrelevant sideshow.

There is not 100% agreement on the moralism of copying digital goods. There is, agree or disagree, a lack of 100% acceptance of copyright as it stands today. This introduces an alternative that costs $0, which messes up the whole market equation. This moral conflict has to be resolved before you can arrive at a market price for digital goods.

We software developers are in a whole heap of a lot of trouble if we expect the broad market to dignify the idea that digital goods are legitimately priced at "what they cost to copy".

I think the moral position of "copy anything" is definitely questionable, but time and time again we've seen the actual markets compete in this way. The decline of music sales is practically a case study in this fact. Whether or not someone will openly state that they evaluate the "cost to copy" option is one thing, but how they act is another. I can't claim that I've never pirated a movie or music, thus I have no moral basis for dismissing that position out of hand.

I'd take the contrary view. If you don't consider "cost to copy" a market competitor, you're in a whole heap of trouble. Position your business in a way that isn't exposed to this type of alternate-pricing, or be prepared to compete with it.

Since appropriating someone else's photo for commercial use without compensation will assuredly get you sued and incur costs far greater than simply licensing the photo, there's an irony to the fact that the discussion on HN about photos is couched in moralism, even though morality is way less relevant to the photo case than it is to the software case (you can easily appropriate software without paying for it, as GPL violators do every day).

Software developers don't have to sell "digital goods". They can sell their work. Pay a developer to get the feature you want added next.

That works great, as long as we're all happy shaving a couple orders of magnitude off the value of the software industry.


There is a difference. GPL software like Linux is hugely valuable, it's value is generally not measured, since it is a cost saving (and a near no-brainer to choose when the quitting is good), not a profit or expense.

Also, MS and Apple (only _really_ since recently) sell software, but Google and Facebook no not.

I'm just saying that we'll all make a lot less money.

Anyways, this is a tangent from the point I was originally trying to make.

††† (Actually this isn't all what comparative advantage is; comparative advantage says, if there's a market for widgets and a market for photos and you're better at widgets than photos and I'm better at photos than widgets, then I should do widgets and you should do photos, which is a subtly different idea, but the point stands either way.)

Surely this is supposed to be the other way around. If I'm better at photos than widgets, and you're better at widgets than photos, then I should do the photos and you should do the widgets ... right? Crazy pills?

Yep, thanks for catching that.

Comparative advantage is actually even more subtle than that. Even if we're both better at photos than widgets, it's still beneficial for me to produce the one I'm better at relative to you (say photos), and for you to produce widgets. Then we can trade with each other and both gain from trade.

As my econ 101 lecturer used to say 'we have to mangle the english language and use the term more better'

As long as I am more better at photos than you, you produce the widgets, and I produce the photos.

For some reason that hashing of the language sticks in my mind like a beacon and ensures I never lose the concept of comparative advantage.

Right. You're discrediting the Labor Theory of Value, variations of which are endlessly seductive and are always creeping back in as The Way Things Ought To Be.

The Labor Theory only kicks in in reality when sufficient competition exists on the supply side.

>Value-based pricing says, "how much it cost me to create the photo is irrelevant".

Almost, but not quite. In the case of a hobbyist, yes it's irrelevant. But for a business, the cost to create should set the minimum cost they'd be prepared to charge (or at least be expecting to charge - you may find yourself discounting it below cost if you've already made it and fail to sell).

I do mostly agree though, and it always amuses me when I see people complaining about eBooks that cost more than dead tree ones. If it's not worth more to you, then don't buy it.

>The moralism in these threads is an irrelevant sideshow.

Again, not quite. Morality doesn't, or shouldn't, come into play when determining the price. But it does when it comes to how a "buyer" reacts to a price they don't like in relation to goods that have no marginal cost to produce a new copy - e.g. digital photo, movie download. If you don't like the price that's been set, but it's not going to cost the creator anything for you to simply take a copy for free, do you have any moral issue with that?

I wonder, do you think that the people complaining about ebook prices are buying them?

It seems likely to me that they are mostly complaining because the price has stopped them from making the purchase.

Possibly, but it's usually not the price of the ebook itself that they are complaining about. It's the fact that the paper version is cheaper. If someone charged £10 for a particular ebook and £15 for the paper one, then there would rarely be much complaint. If they charged £10 for the ebook and £5 for the paper one, then people are up in arms.

And the argument is alway that it's cheaper to make the ebook than the paper one, and that it's therefore wrong to charge more for the ebook. The point is that this is the wrong way to think about it. As a buyer working out how much you're prepared to pay for something, the cost of manufacture should be pretty much irrelevant. If the ebook is worth £5 more to you than the paper one, then buy the ebook. If it isn't, then buy the paper one instead.

You've got some really good insight. If you could recommend a good book on this topic, value based pricing vs cost based pricing, it would be great.

That is some refreshingly clear thinking.

If I remember right, Jaron Lanier's "You are not a Gadget" [1] makes similar points.

[1] http://www.jaronlanier.com/gadgetwebresources.html

Photographers have a right to demand payment for their photos.

Nobody has a license to use a photographer's photos without her permission.

Photos are an incredibly cheap commodity (that span the gamut of relative price and quality, like everything else)

It is not unreasonable that photo consumers expect low to no cost photographs.

I think we're all mostly in agreement here.

The comparative advantage the professional assignment or stock photographer brings to the table isn't just creating a "good enough" photograph, it's about creating the RIGHT photograph for the client.

This is why microstock and craigslist haven't completely destroyed the market, since the professional can reliably create the RIGHT photo for the assignment (or in the case of stock, consistently predict and create the exact images the target market needs).

But it does exert downward pressure. The photo editor/art buyer is always cost-conscious, and whereas she used to only have the option of professional-quality-work at professional rates, now there is a huge pool of "good enough" photos at vastly lower cost. Buyers of photography, as it turns out, aren't actually that discriminating, so more and more frequently they're opting for the "good enough" photo instead of the RIGHT photo.

And this is where the professionals start to get irked. It'd be one thing if the new competition were undercutting them with similar-quality work at lower cost. It's be they're being undercut by work that is often objectively lower in value to the client, and they know the client would be better served.

It's actually quite analogous to the issue of outsourcing: a vast new pool of cheaper but lower-quality labor supply becomes available, and many firms move operations overseas. The end-product is crappier but cheaper. Nobody actually cares about quality, and given the choice, they'll go for cheaper and "good enough" over expensive and good.

Interestingly, Apple is somehow managing to upend this paradigm by producing really-good quality product at premium-but-not-ridiculous prices through design and manufacturing innovation and exceptional marketing, and is taking back market share from the mid-tiers. I can't think of how the photo industry as a whole can accomplish this, though, since it's B2B rather than B2C, and it's an army of independent professionals and not a unified association. (There's a legal limit on how much the industry can coordinate: the major photographers' trade organization was fined for price-fixing years ago becaused they had published pricing guidelines.)

(DISCLAIMER: I worked in the photo industry for years, and still shoot the occasional assignment)

Nobody actually cares about quality, and given the choice, they'll go for cheaper and "good enough" over expensive and good.

I agree with your overall point. But this one is more nuanced. In things that are of little significance, "good enough" is, well, good enough, and people won't pay more than they have to.

But you can charge a premium for even a tiny advantage, when that advantage matters to the people buying. The very best baseball players are paid very well, but those right below the very best get a small faction of that, and those right below them get the joy of playing and not much else.

Closer to home, I recently spent over $400 (and know people that have spent much, much more) on a Go set with a solid spruce board, kaya bowls, and onyx stones because I valued the aesthetics when I played, even though I could get a perfectly workable cardboard set for $20. But I am highly cost sensitive in just about every other area of my life.

I should rephrase that to "the organization doesn't care about quality". The customer (you) might care, but since you're only consuming the end-product your decision has a lot less influence.

This is definitely an organizational behavior, as the person buying the product isn't the same person that consumes it.

"Mozilla Europe: Founder and president"

So ultimately, his money comes from Google advertisements, which are not free. He can afford to do photography as a hobby because he has income from another source, that can be traced back to a scarce good.

If all information goods were free, the power would shift to those who actually have something scarce to sell, which would likely mean fewer information goods of some kinds because some people at the margin could no longer afford to produce them if they were no longer able to generate an income by doing so.

I still love the fact that on the website of the original blog poster ( http://www.johnbmueller.com/index2.php?v=v1 ) that until yesterday he was illegally streaming music by a band (Frau Frau) along with his photo slideshow. I wonder how much he was paying the artists/bands? I guess nothing as since I notified him and the bands the music has strangely disappeared... I wonder how much he owes them? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frou_Frou_(band)

As somebody who pretends to make art, I think that both sides of this argument are correct and valid. If you make art, and you want to charge whatever you want for it, more power to you and good luck. If you make art and give it away, awesome!

If you just make it and keep it to yourself, just for your own personal fulfillment, sweet!

Or all put another way, if you like somebody else's art, but object to their charging something for it, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from learning the craft and producing it yourself...and you might get even more out of it then.

Yet another example of the tension between scarcity and abundance.

Our economy is based on scarcity. Which means that anything abundant tend to see its price driven down to zero. Making a living by selling such goods as if they were scarce is increasingly difficult. Donations seems to work somewhat, though.

If everything (including food and housing) were abundant, we wouldn't even need money, and making a living out of music, photography, or software wouldn't even be discussed of. But we don't live in that world…

…Yet. The way things are evolving, more and more goods have the potential to be effectively abundant. Especially those who have bounded demand, like food (if I recall correctly, there is already more than enough food to feed the planet, if only it where correctly distributed). Work is being more and more automated, such that even human labour can eventually be made abundant (an especially vivid example is self-driving cars, which can bring down an entire profession). But scarcity isn't going anywhere, so we'd better prepare for a rather long transition.

I see several forms that transition could take. (i) More unemployment, more economic problems, more people starve and freeze despite the availability of food and housing. (ii) Reduction of the hours worked per week, while keeping the salaries up. (iii) Growth of actual wealth (Not of the GDP). (iv) artificial scarcity, driven by old corporation and institutions that just won't die.

I'd like to avoid (i) and (iv), but I'm afraid we already have evidence for them right now (especially (iv), see copyright and patents). I'd like to have (ii), but I'm not aware of any reliable metric about it. The last decades clearly demonstrate (iii), but I'm not sure we have as much as we could have.

Anyway, I'm not satisfied right now: abundance and scarcity clearly don't play well together. If someone has an idea about how we could make them, that could be terrific.

From the blogpost:

"I took the picture because I like taking pictures. I've invested into a lot of money into camera gear over the past 27 years or so and never made a dime from it. On the other hand, it has given me a lot of joy and pride. The joy to take beautiful pictures."

The author is an amateur photographer, he shares his work and people enjoy it. That's great.

There are also quite a few developers who contribute to open source projects. That doesn't mean that they or others can't ever charge for programming work or software products.

Some photographers license all of their work to the public domain, most professional photographers don't. I don't feel there's shame in that. People need to respect and adhere to the license a work is published in. The fact that you had to download a picture in your browser to view it doesn't mean you have the right to republish it.

The main thing I take away from this is that he is not a professional photographer. Of course an amateur can afford to give away photos for free! However, I'm not sure he even realizes that what he says doesn't make any sense for a professional photographer trying to earn his livelihood.

> On the other hand, it has given me a lot of joy and pride. The joy to take beautiful pictures. The pride of building the reputation of being a decent photographer. The pleasure to give away my work and see people smile. The satisfaction coming from the fact that my work is useful, seeing it's reused by others.

This is a nice sentiment. It reminded me of a quote from Richard Feynman on his thoughts about the Nobel Prize:

"I've already got the prize. The prize is the pleasure of finding the thing out. The kick in the discovery. The observation that other people use it. Those are the real things. The honors are unreal to me." ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMaBmik4VYg )

If you want to create art and sell it, great for you. Take all the necessary steps to protect your work from theft while at the same time raising awareness for your artistry.

If you want to create art to share with the rest of the world, great for you. Do so without strings attached and without expecting anything in return.

I see the purpose behind both posts, but they seem to be arguing over something that doesn't need to be argued over. Some people like to sell their software, some like to give it away. Neither is right, neither is wrong, the only context in which the actions can be judged are when they are done so through the artist...it is up to the artist to decide whether selling something or giving something away is right or wrong.

Unfortunately, pride and people's smiles are not yet valid currency anywhere, which is most likely the big issue of the author of "This photograph is not free". This post ends with the opinion that there isn't a lot of money to be made in photography, since a lot of people have the tools to take/publish photographs. One could apply that to a number of fields, from logo design and music to coding. After all, everyone has a computer, a text editor and access to github.

Yes, these fields might not be as lucrative as they once were, or rather, they're more competitive, but there is a large step between that and giving away things for free.

Actually, I think the programming field is actually more lucrative these days. The difference is that where the photographer in question expects to be paid for work he's already done, most people going into programming are either paid a salary up-front or have a fairly involved business plan (startups and the like). App developers do seem to be doing relatively poorly, but they are a minority.

There was a time when video game programmers got royalties on the games they wrote. I'm not entirely sure why this notion of compensation disappeared. The common argument is along the lines of, "you'll just have people jumping onto projects with people in them who've got proven success," but I fail to see how that's any different from life right now.

I strongly recommend you do something, just in case you make it to the front. Your site is crawling (extremely slow) at the moment. It is just bound to get worse.

On the topic at hand, I fully agree with you.

In our economy value is not based on cost but on supply and demand...

In our economy demand is routinely manufactured (commercials, subsidies, gov contract corruption, etc.) and supply is routinely artificially constrained (regulated industries, copyright, etc.)

True, and that is done because demand and supply determine price. So that basically proofs my point.

The underlying attitude that bothers me in these discussions on HN is that most of us are in the software business, so what it amounts to is "my intellectual property (software) is super valuable, and your intellectual property (photos, music, writing) is worthless". Do we really want to live in a world where people can't make a living from photography or writing or music?

That's the thing though: I do think the code that I write is fairly worthless. I do custom programming for a small company. The work I do is a competitive advantage for them, but it is so specific to them that even if I were to, say, get approval to open source the whole lot, they wouldn't lose a penny, nor would their competitors really gain anything. The value isn't in the IP, the value is in the fact that it enables them to get their work done quicker and better and be more responsive to their clients.

The code isn't the key part: the value is the fact that I can take complex and changing requirements and build them a one-off tool that does exactly what they want.

The code will be gone in five years, probably ten, as business needs will change.

I'd give you a strait answer, but do you realize that the Free Software Movement is much more widespread than royalty free photography or music? Furthermore, among the crafts you mentioned, being a programmer is by far the less profitable one. I'll untwist your twisted question. Honestly, why are you so worried about 'artists' and not worried about programmers?


No, the opposite. By 'photographers' we're refering to those who take advantage of their copyright. This excludes for example wedding photographers which are only payed to press the shutter but end up giving away their 'artwork'.

Well said. I'm a journalist and photographer by trade. Any work I'm commissioned to do, I charge for. Anything I do for fun I release under Creative Commons for anyone to use.

We need to make a living, of course, but if you hold onto everything, it will die with you. Whereas in the public domain, your work becomes immortal.

So what?

You chose to make your photograph free. John Mueller chose to charge for his work. The point is that the creator gets to charge for his work if he wants. If the price is too high, he doesn't make money. If the price is too low, he doesn't maximize revenue. But it is his choice to make.

Keep in mind that we, as a society, decided to give them that choice to make. It was believed to be in the best interests of everyone to allow them those freedoms.

However, we as a collective, are welcome to change our minds if that freedom is proving to not be beneficial to society.

This is the problem we are facing today. More and more are changing their minds on the matter. They are not seeing the social value.

Thanks for the great photo!

Although I agree with you on most points, I think it is beneficial to have a middle road between the previous post and this one, e.g. if you had put up many more of your gorgeous photos and provided a way to make a small donation for each download (I would gladly would have paid a dollar).

i don't see donation as being a middle road, in my interpretation it is the opposite of what both of these authors are saying. the point is that when you create something, it is yours to decide what to do with it, it is up to you to decide how much it is worth. If you want to give your work away for free, that is your prerogative. if you want to charge for it, you have that right. it is not the customer's right to tell you how much your work is worth.

I think what both authors in this back and forth are really saying is "this photograph is mine."

One says "this photograph is mine, no you may not use it too." The other says "this photograph is mine, yes you may also use it."

So good work, guys! Both pictures are very nice. I'm glad you can do with them what you want.

To be fair I think the photograph posted on peta pixel is an order of magnitude better than the photo shown here in this post.

And here is the reason I left photography and became a programmer. It's a great hobby and a shit profession.

The problems specifically concerning works of art were put onto paper 75 years ago (probably not only then).

While this touches the discussion on HN only on certain aspects it makes for an interesting read when you have the time. And are not put off by the host name.


Charge next time. You'll have money to share if you're so generous.

Awesome photo ! The tower shadow angle looks odd, though.

If you mean in reference to the Sun, then it sure does... but it isn't actually a shadow, it's a reflection.

My bad.


Okay, here's a better way to say it: A photographer's job is to put this shit into pictures. If it was easy to put it into pictures, it wouldn't be a job. Just like if a designer could just sit down and bitch all day about how hard design is, then he'd be an amateur, not a designer. Just like a philosopher, or an historian can't just complain about how unfair philosophy or history is.

If this is your art, DO IT, don't do a shitty generic & interchangeable version of it, and then complain about how hard it is on HN. Period.

[edit; the guy didn't approve this post and it's not on the site after a few hours]

Posted: Look - if you're not in the business of doing art at an hourly rate, then you're either doing art on spec or art for fun. I've got no truck with the guy who wrote the original article, because I don't think his picture's worth much. But if he wants to charge for it, he should be allowed to. No one forced him to go out and spend $6k on expensive tools to take a picture he could publish on the internet where it's obviously going to be stolen if it's any good (but won't, because there are too many other people with the same idea). It's about the same as starting a really original band because you got a fender amp from guitar center for christmas. Good luck, dude. I love your dreams and I hope they come true. I'll even go to your show. I might buy your album. But no, I won't lend you twenty bucks for gas.

Likewise, I'd probably never stumble across your royalty-free image in a million years, as beautiful as it is, unless it was part of this ceaseless argument about art prices. Frankly, this is an argument about how art is positioned, not what constitutes it or what's involved in creating it. And so everyone in this game's a liar -- buyers and sellers. It's not about layout cost, and it's not about purchasing power, reach or recognition. It's about communication; the client pays for art to communicate something, and the creator makes a piece of art that fits the bill.

And in this case, both you and the guy who wrote that article have resorted to words to communicate what you're trying to say, over images. That's a massive fail. You should have said what you were trying to say with imagery, and so should he. Defending your art with text, explanation, litigious or liberal, is a sacrilege and proves neither one should be considered Art with an A. Art, if it exists anymore, is the process of twisting rigid, formulaic and predefined media to accommodate complex ideas in such a way that they provoke the public, without resort to words or other fame- or sympathy-seeking strategies. Basically you guys both suck as photogaphers, because neither of your photographs made me realize what you, or he, said in the addenda; forget about paying, why would I use either? Here's a picture of rocks and water; here's a picture of the eiffel tower. It's the same picture, compositionally and emotionally. Both of you don't understand photography. Yeah, you get social points for saying what you did, and obviously I'd rather go out and have a beer with you than that asshole, but Show It; Don't Explain It.

I could not be happier about this article, and the fact that the two are presented next to each other. While I totally agree with @aspir in that both points of view are valid and deserve to be respected, I think this is the right attitude, and the one that will really get you ahead.

If photography is your full time job and you are not getting paid for it, sure you have a reason to complain. You are doing good work, and living on the streets. That's an injustice. But if you have a job, you're getting paid, and you are taking photos because you love to do it, I think it's the wrong attitude to try to get more money out of it. Because when you don't, it will spread, people will enjoy it, your reputation will go up, and you will end up making money from it either way.

This is the entire philosophy behind open source, and a big part of what the companies behind sopa are running up against. Don't try to stop people from "stealing" your digital stuff, offer it for free. And if you are struggling financially, or this is your main occupation, just ask them if they would give you money if they appreciate it. This model has been shown over and over to be effective on the internet. Humble indie bundle, Louis CK, Radiohead and other artists releasing albums for free, Lost Type Co-Op... that's just a couple examples.

So props to the author of this article for getting it and for standing behind this principle. Do it for the love, not the money. And if you do it for love, the money will come.

> "Because when you don't, it will spread, people will enjoy it, your reputation will go up, and you will end up making money from it either way."

This is actually precisely the point the original blog post was arguing against. Do you know how many times professional creatives hear that argument?

"You should do this for free, because it'll offer exposure and reputation."

Except, 99% of the time, the people saying this are unable any real exposure, or the level of exposure they control is considerably less than your position in the industry. It's such a landslide that the whole argument - while theoretically valid - just becomes a farce upon itself. Can you imagine a small-town paper asking to use Anni Leibovitz's work because it'll give her "exposure"?

If Vogue UK called me today and wanted me to work for them for free I'd jump on a plane this afternoon. Hell, if a local, well-known fashion boutique wanted free work, I'd jump too. But, for most professional photogs, the people approaching them for free work are not handing out a fair deal, and the "exposure" argument is bogus.

Not to mention, all of the pro photogs I know do hand out considerable amounts of work for free. They do already build their own exposure and reputation, so unless you are extraordinarily influential, why would they offer free work to you?

I'd also like to mention, since I apparently got downvoted because of this response, that it completely misinterpreted my original comment, quite clearly. When people ask me to do work for them for free, there's no way I'd agree. Of course that's stupid, and I've heard that plenty of times, and turned it down every time.

What I was saying, and what I thought I made clear but apparently didn't enough, was that you should be doing work because you love it. And if you do work in your free time because you love it, you shouldn't be throwing a hissy fit when you aren't making immense profits from it.

You should not do custom work for other people for free, I never advocated this. There is no indication in the original article that someone hired him to take that photo, and I would say it's fair to assume that he definitely was not hired to take it. He took it himself, because he wanted to, in his free time. And now he's complaining that he put it online and people want to use it. That's where I call bullshit.

I get your distinction, though I don't see how it's relevant.

Work that one does out of pure interest and passion, in their free time, is still valuable. I have a family friend who's retired, and intensely interested in woodwork. He has a workshop you wouldn't believe, and honestly doesn't need the money - and yet we always pay him for his work, custom or otherwise. And by this we don't mean simply covering his costs, either.

I'm going to specifically object to your characterization here: "you shouldn't be throwing a hissy fit when you aren't making immense profits from it"

That's just plain disingenuous, misleading, and putting words in the original blog author's mouth. He never said anything about charging immense sums to license his photos. His objection isn't being lowballed, it's that advertisers, magazines, and other for-profit entities value his work at $0 - zero.

The second thing he complains about is how advertisers only offer "exposure" in return. This is, of course, a line of bullshit. Either the people trying to license his photos are ignorant, or they're deliberately trying to take advantage of him. Being credited in the fine print of an ad, or worse, at the very bottom of a page in the back of a magazine, far from the actual photo itself, is worth zero publicity, especially when your photo is being used stock (as it is, in this case). The magazine/advertiser knows this, the photographer knows this - simply putting that on the table shows extremely poor faith, which is probably what triggered the rant in the first place.

> "He took it himself, because he wanted to, in his free time. And now he's complaining that he put it online and people want to use it. That's where I call bullshit."

So, again, if I am reading you correctly, you're saying that anything you produce in your free time out of personal interest is worth no monetary compensation, even when being used by commercial entities?

Disregarding the fact that, as a professional freelance photographer, everything he takes a picture of is a source of income. One does not have to be specifically commissioned to be on the job.

No, I think it all has monetary value, and by open sourcing anything you are technically losing potential money. This is especially salient for programmers, as I'm sure you know - nobody is trying to get paid for time working on linux, although they are still doing work and putting in hours that they could be billing for.

I'm not trying to devalue anyone's work or property, and if they insist that it all has value, it all belongs to them, and everyone should have to pay for it, that's fine. It's an opinion that I do respect, like I said originally.

I just think that a more open attitude is better, personally, which goes back to the original reason for my comment. Rather than trying to make money off every tiny piece of work you put out there, why not open source some of your work. For the good of the community. Sure, you will be losing some profit by doing this, but more people will be able to enjoy your work, and I think that's more valuable.

The author of the original article does not think this, and I understand that. He is not worried about having his work out there, or getting exposure, he apparently has enough, and he wants to get paid for it. That's fine.

I'm just trying to say that I don't personally agree with that philosophy.

Wasn't this exactly the point of the other author's article? He was irate with people saying they would like to take the photo for free in exchange for promises of "exposure" or because taking photos are something anyone can do these days. What isn't being addressed is those asking him weren't copying the photo for the love of photography; they were suggesting they take the photo for free and to print it in a magazine or advertising which does make those producers money. Is that a fair exchange? Do we as creative people on HN value this exchange?

We can argue the merits of making a living off being a photographer, but photographs are a creative work like any other. In the world of easy digital duplication, we are fast approaching the inability to produce creative works except with the support of patrons. I worry that this leaves creativity at a social disadvantage to physical commodities, selling Coke or furniture or razors or stocks, which are jobs that provide a steady salary that help people live. That these jobs are entitled to pay money and creative works are expected to be free except for the generosity of their consumers seems like strange social values.

Louis CK had the benefit of one large social push and it remains to be seen if he makes the same amount off a second album; Radiohead didn't give away their next album King of Limbs; and Humble Indie Bundle makes money consistently, but that money goes to charity. I want to be convinced that it is sustainable to produce creative works for free and survive on donations, but I simply think the evidence is too weak so far to support this conclusion just yet.

"I worry that this leaves creativity at a social disadvantage to physical commodities, selling Coke or furniture or razors or stocks, which are jobs that provide a steady salary that help people live" -- you're on to something here.

And you're right. Since anything and everything that is digital can be pirated, if you are trying to make a living only selling digital goods to the masses, it makes it a lot tougher.

The commenter below mentioned developers who put apps out in the app store, and that it would be hard to make a living doing that. That's for sure, it would be. That's why you put out an app in the app store as a side project, and use the leverage that it's popularity gives you to get a more high paying job making custom apps for companies who can't just buy the exact software they need off the app store.

If you are a professional photographer, I would assume that you get paid to do "gigs" - a photo shoot for a magazine, photos for a band's album cover, whatever. The magazine needs an expert to do this custom job just for them - they can't buy what they need for their fashion spread off a stock images store.

That's why making a living only off stock photos is tough. That's why making a living only off app store apps is tough. That's why making a living only off selling stuff in the envato marketplace is tough. And there are only a few of the absolute best and most popular people on these sites that actually do.

That doesn't mean if you're not one of the people doing this that you're not talented. That means you have to realize that putting out works, creative or not, into stock marketplaces or elsewhere in the open that many people could have a use for means that you should stop fighting it and just allow the many people to use them. It will be a good thing on the side, and boost your popularity, whether or not you could potentially be losing a bit of money, technically, by doing this.

If you need to make money, you should find a market where you are producing custom work for people who need it at a professional level. I write code for a living, and I try to make open source stuff as much as I can. I love the thought of people finding my stuff useful, and I code it for the love. But I also have enough money to pay the rent and for food because my main job does not involve writing general purpose code for the public, it involves writing very tailored code for one company at a time.

This is the conclusion I'm generally coming to, with regard to creative works. I think this is reasonable, in the same vein as HN really advocates you form a startup in a space where there is a unique opportunity-- you won't be able to be self-sustaining with your own product unless there are people willing to pay for it. Perhaps this is why being bought is such a common and lauded occurrence. Your startup was a demonstration and valuation of your skills, before finding profitable work in a similar field.

Yet I wanted to draw attention to specifically the hypocrisy of our implicitly boxing things like magazine sales and advertisements together as having 'viable market' and photo licensing as somehow not. In regard to the original article, maybe the photographer is being unrealistic in trying to sell sunset photos per se, but he certainly has the right to not let others profit off of his work in any part (a la the GPL), in his case, at least without compensation.

And in the long run, pure digital copying will change a lot of how we perceive creative works, but also traditional areas like magazines, movies, textbooks, games, etc. We need to accept a world when all these items are free, and understand how they will become sustainable. Let's not assume because small photographers and artists are the easiest to duplicate that we can criticize their marketing strategies and leave these larger industries alone.

I do agree with you -- the best way to grow yourself, your brand and the community is to give. However, the ones with the most to lose aren't hobbyists working for the love of the art, it's the professionals. Its a very slippery slope, but the process of releasing free work tends to drive down prices for everyone, for better or worse.

The best way I can think of to support this is the Apple App Store. Because of the widespread nature of apps priced from $0.00-$1.99, its nearly impossible for the average single developer to make a living only on apps, even though the software itself could be amazing, powerful, and solve painful needs.

To be frank, I honestly don't know if the community would be better with a different app store. I have no idea -- we can only take the one we have. I guess my point is just that there are always unforeseen repercussions with these decisions.

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