Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Thoughts on «free» photography.

The impact of wide-spread amateur photography on the professionals is something I was often wondering about. Being an amateur, I have by never grasped fully. When participated at a photo trip I once asked the group leader about the issue and got the polite "it's-not-such-a-big-problem-keep-shooting" kind of answer. What else would I expect, being a customer at the moment?

Some more revealing reading was provided in David Ziser's post Digital ProTalk: They Want Free Pics, And I Hate It, and linked materials, which got me thinking further. Why is that the photo community seems to take the topic in a very heated way, while the whole industry is completely oblivious to the self-made YouTube videos (no, I am not talking about the pirated ones).

There are two issues at stake. One is a freebie mentality. Bad thing. I recently got a chance to experience the feeling how hard it is to be positive and constructive, when someone tells you - «let me profit at your expense». When a new National Geographic Expeditions came out with the announcement of the “My Shot” photo contest, I got excited. Then I read T&C. And got disgusted. This is an agency, which understands the media so well, which knows the feeling of proud and ownership a photographer has, when a great photo turns out. Why would they be so rude to, effectively, tell people to just be happy to post, we own it now? As I experienced, authors want to share, not be robbed.

The second issue is a market squeeze. What is perceived, is that free (as in beer) materials from amateurs getting of an acceptable quality/price = value for customers. I know, I shot for the local Boy Scouts. They won't hire a pro. I am OK with donating them the images. It's a mutual agreement. Even if they would hire a pro for an important event, but instead got satisfied with a lesser quality amateur images - it's OK. They are not likely to appreciate the pro quality and would constantly go back to the cost in their minds.

An interesting input into the issue was provided by the same «My Shot» contest. There were OK pictures. There were good pictures. There were declared winners. There was not a single great picture. Nobody posted a real winner on their T&C. And there is no «My Shot» anymore - it folded. I guess, the for-free quality acquisition did not happen. Even with the NG name attached.

So what would we need to keep the art healthy?

  • License awareness. A mandatory meta tag needed to reference one of established licenses. Copyright tag currently gets unstructured text, so it is useless for automatic checking of the license conditions. I think it is a ripe time to come up with a license data structure.
  • Vocabulary of license conditions. Like at, terms need o be defined, so that licenses can be formalized and put inside images. Creative Commons is a great effort, but a narrow legal application for the photography market.
  • Image signature. Image and it's license should be verifiable together.

The three items will lay the ground for simplified dispute resolution in the situations of slackly employees and honest mistakes. That will raise the society awareness and free resources to go after mindful thieves.

I assume, that the words easy and affordable will come to mind of any collaboration implementing these. I also hope to have some more time to give this more thought.

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