October 09, 2008

Flickr: Get Serious!

Over my time as a Flickr member – just over two years – I've been contacted no less than 19 times via email about image requests. It's a common practice, I'm sure, through the site (but not nearly as common as simply taking images without asking, or the only slightly less grating practice of taking images, not asking, but still supplying credit), and these requests have run the gamut from intriguing, to encouraging, to downright insulting. Requests have ranged from high school projects to online travel/tourism sites, to blogs and podcasts. And to come to an abrupt point, not a single request came with the intention of receiving an image – or an OK to use – by offering any compensation greater than straight-up exposure. Because, I gotta say it, Flickr is a vast, grey realm of chum posters largely inexperienced in these matters, and sharks looking to snag images – stock, essentially – for free.

So in a nutshell, a memo to all Flickr account members: if and when you get asked about a particular photo – and I have to wonder now whether it has or will invariably happen to many – do not get drawn into the alluring high beams of almighty exposure. If you are told in no uncertain words that this opportunity will increase exposure to you and/or your work, then I have to inform you: often times this is codespeak for I'm looking for stock imagery for free and thus, boiled down, I consider you sucker material.

Say no. Or add that you'll consider it, but for a fee. See where that takes you; you never know what may happen. I'll detail a handful of situations that dictated such a response, and others where I believed in the requesting party's cause and shifted my stance. As a Part Two later on down the road, I'll detail a handful of ones I told to essentially get bent...

The ask: a Cornell Lab of Ornithology production assistant requested a mosquito submission of mine for Illustration Friday's long-long-ago theme of "insect", for inclusion in an episode of their Meet the Scientists online video series, about avian malaria and its transmission through mosquitoes.

The approach: courteous, genuine.

The response: a no-brainer for me, the Lab is a huge presence in birding circles. I offered permission after asking a few questions about the project, final application and the image's part in it.

The outcome: video! (you don't have to watch the whole thing, but trust me, it's there.)

The ask: a representative from a Brooklyn, NY, ad agency asked of using a photo of Kerry (above) in an internal microsite for an accounting firm, built to celebrate a local branch's ten-year anniversary. The site would be accessible to firm employees for ten days, each day featuring a different image – yup – culled from Flickr.

The approach: misguided.

The response:
(I keep a canned version of this on file now) "Apologies, but I cannot release this photo for use without the suitable compensation. I appreciate however, that you've asked – I know of many situations where this is not the case, so thanks for asking, and best of luck with your imagery search for the site."

The response to the response: "I was wondering if you would just let me know what you would have wanted to be paid for us to use your image for one day in the US. We have gotten approval from all the other flickr photographers for free but we are happy to pay you what we can for use. Could you just let me know what that would be?"

The outcome: this was all it took to open a dialogue, even though I was saddened by the prospect of nine other Flickr users coughing up images for free to an international accounting firm. The agency and I eventually settled on a dollar number for a lease, plus it opened the door to a second lease for an e-invite, effectively doubling the amount. I also asked for a signed separate contract for each use, which the agency provided. The cheque was in the mail for some time, but eventually showed.

The ask: "I'd like to use one of your photographs (above) in a video podcast I am co-producing for the new Peterson Field Guide to Birds ... I would be happy to send you a copy of the book as a thank you for this use, or $20 if you prefer. Your photo would only appear for a few seconds onscreen. You would be credited as a photographer in the closing credits of that episode."

The approach: all-business.

The response: done and done – I opted for the book, and downloaded a nicely-made podcast on North American wood warblers (which look to be accessible now only via their website and a registration process).

The ask: the web services coordinator with the City asked about using my hot-air balloon panorama of downtown (above) as the header of the City of Winnipeg’s redesigned website. Since it was not mentioned in the initial message, I led with a more open-minded variation on my canned response.

The approach: professional, informative.

The response: through a dialogue, a two-year lease of the image was agreed upon and a contract was signed. I did not opt for selling the image outright, another option that was presented.

The outcome: my image is now poster child for the City of Winnipeg website for the next two years.


Heather said...

This is a really important issue and I am glad you are taking the time to discuss it here. It is something that is important for all artists to keep in mind when asked for use of their work.

Anonymous said...

This is so important, and really informative, Thanks Jeope!

Dave said...

Bah! Still waiting for my first chance to have such problems...

Ian said...

You're gonna see a spike in hits on your blog as I am passing the link on to SO many people!!

It would also be great article as a follow up to your initial one in the GDC newsletter.

kaepe said...

Hey Jeope, This is great! as someone who had to ask people for images this year as part of my parks programing, its really nice to know how to approach, and what photographers think about the askers!
I promise, i received no financial gain for promotion of people's photos! My events were free!

Jeope said...

Thanks for your reply, kaepe. I should note that not all picture-takers are as militant-sounding as I am here. By and large I'm certain you'll get friendly responses.