It’s funny how the inter-connectivity of social media marketing can foster discussions and trains of thought that can have a direct impact on how you do business. For photography and photographers social media has been the game-changer when it comes to marketing and promoting work and services. It’s a powerful tool, no doubt, but if not careful the tool can begin to manage the craftsman rather than the other way around. Case-in-point: piracy and image licensing. This is why David Esrati’s (Dayton Ohio “websisteologist” who helped me discover the power of business blogging with WordPress) latest tip on a new WordPress plug-in caught my attention. It’s called Compfight and what it does is allow WordPress bloggers to search Flickr for stock photography based on keywords, however, the images selected are all listed as “creative commons” usage rights. Basically, instead of managed rights with licensing through the photographer the images can be legally posted on other sites and blogs with often the only requirement being a credit listing and link back to the originating photographer. To see it in use I’ve posted several of my own images within this blog entry using the Compfight plug-in. It works pretty well and the back links are included seamlessly.
The use of this plug-in immediately brings-up the argument for, or against, allowing creative commons for images posted by professional photographers. The argument against goes along the lines of “anyone who copies and re-posts images should be paying stock licensing fees” and that photographers who allow creative commons with attribution are “giving away their work for free.” However, I’m beginning to see the merits of the argument for creative commons, especially since Pro Photographer Trey Ratcliff lit a wildfire with his Google+ article on why he allows such widespread usage. Not only that, but he also advocates against the use of watermarking logos or copyrights on posted photographs. Another pro shooter who admire and follow, Scott Bourne with photofocus, soon picked-up on what Trey was getting at and followed suit.
Basically online images are going to be “pirated” and copied no matter what types of precautionary tactics are employed by the photographer. The reasoning behind of “just let them go” is that those individuals who copy and post to their Tumblr and Pinterest pages will never be worth tracking down and fighting in the legal arena and the usage is more often than not non-commercial and innocent. If the photographer is smart in how he or she prepares web-ready images, the photographs will be low-resolution JPEGs sized for looking nice onscreen and but when sent to a desktop printer quickly reveal the difference between web-ready and print quality. Custom export settings in image file management programs such as Lightroom and Aperture make it easy to manage appropriate versions, whether going up on Flickr and a blog or to a printer for a 30″x40″ on canvas. The additional argument is that the casual “lifter” is often not part of the photographer’s target market to begin with.
The paying clients are going to be the heavy-hitters who have it as their standard practice and policy to pay for stock photography that’s destined for editorial and/or advertising use. Granted there have been a few glaring exceptions but the vast majority go into the stock photography game knowing full well the rules and penalties. Sure they’ll often search Flickr but when they find what they are looking for they know best to contact the photographer directly and begin the negotiating process.
This is why I recently re-set the permission on my nearly 1,200 images posted to my Flickr page as “Creative Commons – Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative Works.” In a way I’m “letting them go” but with a “light line.” I’ve dramatically increased the potential for commercial/editorial reach and visibility with what in actuality is minimum risk. The one thing that I still do though is include my watermarked logo. For one thing I like my logo, thanks to the pro talent of April Sadowski @ AIBrean Studios. It conveys the message that these images are indeed the work of a professional and helps advertise my brand. When it comes down to it, isn’t that the primary purpose of social media MARKETING ?
Are my images on Tumblr and Pinterest ? Sure. All over, including my own Tumblr page “It’s All About the Light.” Heck, one of my images – a street scene I captured in midtown Manhattan back on June 2010 – has been re-blogged and “liked” on Tumblr over 4,000 times. Has there been advertising or editorial usage without my knowledge ? Nope. If there is I will find out, but almost all of those re-postings are from teenagers who’ve visited Times Square. Fun. No biggee. Let it go, because something much bigger may come back my way down the road.
Does this mean I can give away my photography for free ? Absolutely not. It’s merely a more evolved approach toward social media when it comes to professional photography and understanding the target customer, whether that be for fine art prints, stock licensing, workshops or assignment work. In fact I still link to my policy via my Flickr about page regarding requests for donations. Re-post one of my images to your personal blog or Pinterest page? No problem. But ask me to donate usage to promote your organization, product or service, when you are paying for other support services, and then I will be happy to negotiate fair and reasonable usage terms that we can all be happy with.
Choose your battles and practice good karma. Eventually it’s all good. You just need to be careful not to make it TOO good for the other guy.