Should You Give Away Your Photos For Nothing To People Who Can Pay?

Neon Griffin

I license all of my photos on Flickr Creative Commons, non-commercial. This basically means that anyone can use them for personal use. It also means that non-profits and others can use them.

What it doesn’t mean is that commercial entities can use them for free.

I get asked almost every single day from people whether or not they can use my photos for things or not. These requests range everywhere from a ten-year-old asking me permission to use one of my lady bug photos for her book report (which is very cute) to major companies asking to use them. Many of the requests fall within the creative commons license, but either people don’t understand that or want to ask anyways.

My own general rule is that I, of course, always say yes to appropriate non-commercial or personal use. When the nature is commercial I generally feel out the situation. A lot of people who ask me to use my images for commercial use are pretty cash strapped. I’ve had unsigned bands ask me to use images for album covers. I’ve had first time authors ask me for permission to use my images for their new book. I’ve had poetry journals want to use them. You get the idea. Generally speaking, I tend to allow commercial use of my images to anyone that I feel can’t easily afford to pay for whatever reason. I consider it good karma.

Oftentimes people that use my photos this way will send me a CD from the band, a copy of a book or publication etc. Once I let this band Science for Girls use my images for free for their CD and Darren Solomon, the producer for the small band, later contacted me with an opportunity to use other images for a commercial project where I was paid. Goes around, comes around. It makes you feel good.

A lot of times I get requests from people though who truly can afford to pay. A law firm once used one my images for their company Holiday card, major corporations have used my photos in print or TV ads. My photos have been used in magazines, for greeting cards, for text books. Really all kinds of use. With these buyers I usually negotiate a price I think is fair based on the use. Sometimes $50, sometimes $100, sometimes $500. It just all sort of depends. I’m pretty flexible.

One thing that does bother me a bit though is when companies that clearly can pay, ask for your images for free. They certainly are free to ask, but generally I say no to these people and it does rub me a bit the wrong way seeing large profitable corporations trying to get something off the backs of a community like Flickr for free. On Monday night on our photowalk I was talking to some of the other photographers about this and Jon Bauer mentioned receiving an email from GQ asking to use his images for free. It seems GQ is the latest company looking to score free images off Flickr.

So today I wasn’t surprised to get my own request on one of my images from GQ (photo above):

The email went like this:

“My name is [redacted], and I work in the GQ magazine photo department. I am trying to acquire images of The Griffin in Las Vegas for use on our website. We are going to launch GQs online guide to Las Vegas in two weeks and we would love to include one of your photographs.

Generally, I would never ask for something for nothing. However, at this time we are only able to give credit. If that is okay with you and we can have permission to use one of your images, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Now in GQ’s case I’m going to say no. GQ is owned by Conde Nast. Conde Nast is owned by Advance Publications. Advance publications is owned by the descendents of S.I. Newhouse. These are the mega wealthy of the world. Forbes Magazine ranked Advance Publications as the 41st largest private company in the United States last year. For a major company to try to beg photos for free off of Flickr is bad form in my opinion. And at a minimum they should think about offering a free subscription or something.

I feel that I’m very generous with my photography. Maybe to a fault. And I really like helping people out who I think ought to be helped out. But I’m not so sure that seeing major for profit companies begging photos off Flickr is the best thing for anyone.

My two cents for what it’s worth.