I get a lot of emails asking permission to use my photos. And then there are people who don’t email and ask, and just go ahead and use them. I alternate between feeling angry about this, accepting it, and realizing that it occasionally benefits me as well.
Most photographers won’t work for free (check some of the angrier threads here), nor would most people ask a plumber to do his job for free. Photography is my job - it's how I make my living. Intellectual property isn't always straightforward, but here are my thoughts on a few scenarios.
Usage example #1: blogging about my work, using my images
A lot of bloggers linked to my Liberian Girls posts and some reposted the images. This is fine – they aren’t profiting from my work and are actually promoting my work by writing about it.
Usage example #2: blogging about relevant topics using my images
Some of the change.org bloggers have emailed with me about image usage. That’s great – they always link to my work and I’m happy to support their work.
Usage example #3: running a for profit company using my images without permission
I used to have a Flickr stream, but I took that down when a tourism website in Uganda had basically made an entire website using my photos. That company is using my work to try and profit without reimbursing me. A Flickr stream made it too easy for people to do this, and that's why I stopped using Flickr.
Usage example #4: an institution with a large budget (regardless of how tight things are right now) using my images to promote their work
I did photos for a news story that focused on an American academic institution’s project here in Liberia. They wanted to use some of the photos in lectures and general promotion of their project. I know my images can help do this more than images taken on a small point and shoot digital camera.
I put them up on glennagordon.com to show the institution. It's a flash website where it’s not quite as easy to just rip the images off. But, then a computer science friend told me that for anyone with a basic knowledge these things can rip them off just as easily.
To me, this institution has a budget that they spend on many other things, and would use my images to promote their work and have more budget to spend on other things. Even if they are currently strapped for cash, everyone (including me) is currently strapped for cash. If they want the images, they should pony up.
We emailed a bit, and then the conversation dropped off on their side before any decisions were made. I’m told they didn’t use the images in the end, but really, I have no way of knowing once the images go offline.
Usage example #5: a not for profit using my images without paying me
A few times, missionary groups or start up NGOs have asked to use my images. I always say that I’m happy to provide images at a reasonable price within their budget. Often, they seem upset that I’m asking for anything since they are nonprofit. They want me to just donate the images.
I have no problem donating images to causes I believe in, or groups that I think are doing good work. But, if I don’t know your group, how you work, or that you’re actually benefiting people, I have no motivation to donate images. I don’t believe that good intentions are all it takes. Oppositely, I often think groups can do harm. I’m not willing to give my images to a group that I haven’t vetted as doing no harm.
So no, I’m probably not going to donate an image unless I know more about the group and their work or have a personal connection to them.
Want an image? Email me. Almost all of the time, I’m happy to work something out with you that both of us will be happy about.
I am considering watermarking my images. I haven’t fully decided yet, and I'm hoping that a post like this will make people realize they shouldn’t take my images without crediting my site, asking permission or offering remuneration.
Most people wouldn’t steal my wallet, so please don’t steal my images. Online, I can tell when and where you’ve done that.
My images take time, skill, investment in equipment, experience and expense to create.
Please respect that.