Deborah Key, L.L.C. | Why Not Being Free is Key

Why Not Being Free is Key

June 30, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

“We don’t ask you for free iPhones. Please don’t ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation.” Taylor Swift in a letter to Apple challenging their intent not to pay royalties to musicians as it appeared on her Tumblr page recently.


When did we become a society that thinks it’s ok to take, take, take and not to remunerate for fair use of intellectual copyright or original content?  In the past decade there has been a proliferation of online sites that promote free downloads of music, imagery and the written word.  Improved gadgetry, storage capacity and the means to share digital copies in an unlimited capacity makes it hard to “put the genie back in the bottle”.  Just as the publishing, movie and music sectors have hemorrhaged, the photography profession has also been cut to the core.  


Books, newspapers and magazines are struggling as an industry while blogs push out so much free content it’s overwhelming.  Try making a living as a journalist, graphic designer or photographer contributing to traditional media or relicensing stock.  Unless you already have an established track record or deep contacts, it’s harder to freelance.  The world has changed but I am not sure it’s for the better.


Who coined the phrase “starving artist” was romancing the notion of creativity, not addressing the reality of earning a viable living.  We have mortgages, insurance, professional membership fees, equipment, software licensing costs, ongoing technical training, work premises to maintain, props, marketing materials, business overheads and taxes just like any other company.... and that’s not even placing a value on time or originality of creating art.  We are in business to stay in business so please respect and pay accordingly.


Do you photocopy architectural plans but not pay the architect for years of study and knowledge that underpinned that design?  Do you pay just for the cost of plaster to set a broken arm but not compensate the doctor for the investment in medical knowledge acquired over years of expensive academic training?  Just leave a few dollars on the counter for the new oil and spark plugs instead of paying the mechanic for the labor, tools and overheads that were essential to be able to service your car?  I don’t challenge my hairdresser’s fee because I know the cost of her scissors and the products she uses.  I happily pay for her skill and creativity, returning every 6 weeks for a new look or refinement, even tipping generously for the experience of being pampered by her service.  Yet many people continue to baulk at a professional photographer’s session fee, price for prints or management expertise for major projects because “they can do it with their iPhone”.  There’s a big difference between cutting your own hair or going to a professional: same for photography!  


I am dismayed by the number of requests I receive to photograph an event for free because it “will be good for me” yet these same fund-raiser or gala events have no hesitation paying for the venue, the caterers, the wait-staff, the cleaners, the bar, the flowers, the music, the printed invitations and all the decor while charging supporters a hefty ticket price.  For every service or product I purchase, whether it’s landscaping, home help or personal, no one assumes they have to provide it for free “because it will be good for them somehow in the future”.  There’s a cost, plain and simple.  Why assume the photographer is not needing to cover his or her costs and earn a living also?  


I was astounded a few years ago when a mother told me in great detail and with some pride how her daughter had downloaded one of my photos from a supposedly secure site then used photoshop to erase my watermark.  The irony is that proceeds from the sale of those photos were going 100% back to the team as a fundraiser so the act of cheating was hurting more than me.  There was no connection with the lack of integrity that simple act took: in her view it was a nuisance her daughter had to spend so long covering the traces of her theft because that’s what it really was.  Would the same parent be as open discussing her child’s talent at removing store security tags from a garment and leaving a store without paying?  The principle is the same: it’s just a question of degree.


Please don’t get me wrong.  I actually do a lot of pro-bono work in the community.  The difference is I chose where and how to share my talents to give back to help causes I believe in.  It’s just a question of balance and the commercial side of the business has to offset the complimentary offers.  Just think about the implications when you want something for free because there’s always a cost somewhere.  It just depends who pays as you go down the slippery slope.


Thanks for raising the debate again Taylor.  The principle of fair remuneration for fair work needs to be honored and you rock this message.


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