Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Susan and William Brinson. Susan and William are a New York-based graphic-designer-and-photographer couple, and today they share some important details and regulations of photo usage. From copyright issues to usage fees, Susan and William offer a comprehensive guide to properly using outside photography for your business, blog or website. Thanks to both Susan and William for this informative post! — Stephanie
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Photography usage is the Wild West right now in the blog-o-sphere! I am so happy to discuss and educate on this topic. I feel a little bit of background is in order for context. I am an art director at an agency, so photo usage has always been something I have worked with professionally, whether I work directly with the photographer and their agent or use stock photography. My husband is also a photographer, so I often hear about some of the behind-the-scenes issues that are part of the photographer’s everyday work. In the professional design world, there are strict standards for using others’ work. Professionals who contribute to the success of a promotion must be paid — from photographers, designers and writers to font designers. But what are the photo usage rules for blogging? Because there are no strict rules for photo usage pertaining to blogging, I thought it best to look at three unique points of view: a blogger (me), a photographer and a photography agent. First up, let’s talk about the photo industry and some best practices.
The Photo Industry in a Nutshell
Understanding how images are created is step one to deciding whether you should use an image or not. Here is a quick overview of the commercial photo industry: a company hires a photographer, possibly a magazine or advertising agency. The contract and fee are determined on usage and the complexity of the shoot. Fees are based on usage and how much it will physically cost to produce the shoot. Often there are stylists, retouchers, producers and assistants involved in a shoot, in addition to the photographer. These are the basic professionals involved in a magazine shoot, for example. So even though we look at an image and think there is one photographer standing behind a camera taking a photo, that is generally not the case.
Questions to Ask When Using Photography
Here is a quick Q&A you can follow to find out if you should use an image. If you can’t answer most of these questions, I’d do some serious considering before using the image.
What is the source of the image?
Did a business provide this image as a promotional image, or did you grab the image from another site? You should always know the original source of the image. If you see it on a blog, unless that image is original to the blog, that is not the original source of the image. Track down that original source because you can give credit to that source.
Who owns the copyright?
If you do not have any idea, this could come back to haunt you in the future. It is critical to understand copyright for photography if you are using images in any form of published media (like a blog). For instance, when photographers shoot for magazines, the magazine has a contract to use the image for a certain amount of time, but the photographer owns the copyright. Or the magazine has a “buy-out” contract, meaning the magazine owns the image outright. If you use an image that you do not have permission to use, you could be sued for it. It doesn’t matter if you take it down, you will still have to pay back royalties. This is serious and has happened to bloggers in the past. Can you imagine if it happened to 10 images on your blog? That could get expensive!
How am I using this image? Am I promoting the photographer/source or my blog?
This is the ethical question that shows your intention. If you are using the photographer’s work to say how talented the photographer is, great, that is generally okay. Everyone loves promotion. If you are using the photographer’s work to express your own idea or to promote yourself, that is something to stay away from. At that point, the photographer is a contributor to the expression of the idea and should be compensated.
The bottom line on ethics? Grace wrote a great deal about this topic here. Here are some best practices that must become a standard:
- Credit the photographer and source. Provide the photographer name/magazine name, company or publication (This must be written under the image, not just a link when you click on the image.)
- Link to both the photographer and the source, but if possible, ask for permission to use copyrighted work or the work of any creative individual.
- The best situation is to make sure your blog is promoting original content. I have often seen images on blogs where just the image is the post. There are no words or context. So 100% of the post is reliant on the photographer’s content. I do not think it is ethical to create content that is not yours. If you like it, promote the artist. Say something nice about their work and give them credit.
What do you think about photo usage and blogging?
Susan Brinson, Blogger (me)
I am relatively new to the world of blogging, and was shocked to see that photo usage was not the same for blogs as for other media. My husband and I started a blog that only uses original photography. When I began seeing our images used around the interweb, I started asking, “Where do you draw the line when allowing others to use your work?” I admit that when an image we spent our money producing and our weekend shooting was being used by others for free, I was frustrated. (Keep in mind, I am not referring to promotional posts, which I love about the blogging world.) Anyone who creates something original can understand this feeling. We now have a photo-usage policy for our blog. It basically says that if you are not promoting our blog/us, you may not use it. If you ask, we will consider the context, and most likely say yes. If we see our images used without credit, or as promotion on a blog with advertising, we will ask for it to be removed. We drafted form letters so this is not an emotional decision. When we started out blogging, I had no idea this would become an issue!
William Brinson, Photographer
As a photographer, photos are my livelihood and my full-time career. When a photo is used without permission, that person is stripping away my livelihood. There is no compensation, and I am unwillingly giving it away for free. Because people take photos and use them at will, it limits me as a photographer to use them as additional income, such as stock. Now those images have been over-saturated, and I am limited on the amount of income I can earn on those photos because they have been overused free of charge. Being a photographer is being a small-business owner with overhead such as a studio, equipment, the electric bill and insurance. You would never go to another small business and take a product without asking or expecting it for free. I love the world of blogging and what it has done for us and seeing my photography floating around the Internet when credit is given. In most cases, I am completely willing to share my photographs in that nature. But when that blog or website has advertisers, then essentially they are making money on my content without compensating me.
Marnie Rose, Photography Agent
Once upon a time, blogs were little more than personal journals that people maintained on the Internet, accessible to anyone who could find them and had any interest in reading it once they did. In the beginning, blogs were mostly vanity pieces for people who might not ever publish anywhere in mainstream media; a venue to let their otherwise silent voices be heard.
Today blogs are very different than their precursors and need to be viewed as “new media” if they aren’t already. As such, how contributors handle usage and rights when dealing with blogs needs to change. Once photographers would grant usages for exposure, although most times uncredited, or because they truly believed in what the blog itself stood for and said. All of which are perfectly valid reasons to allow your art to run anywhere. However, today blogs are not the obscure digital platforms that they once were and are an industry of their very own, driving serious revenue.
To this day, more often than not photographers are expected to grant rights to their work gratis, which simply put, isn’t fair to the artist. Certainly not when the blog and other contributors such as the writers are making money for their time and efforts. I don’t think anyone is arguing that strong, compelling photography plays a key role in what drives a successful blog for any genre. With that being the case, some basic standards should be accepted as common practice.
Look to the closest relatives of the blog, which would have to be the traditional print magazine, the burgeoning digital magazine and of course the website. By and large all three have in place a set of standards, or at the very least an accepted understanding of usages and rights, even if the rates for those vary widely from company to company.
The perfect example is the editorial market for print magazines. Each and every one has vastly different rates; flat fee, day rate, day rate against page rate, etc., and the contract terms can range anywhere from a three-month embargo to a complete buyout. Some publishers will state that they retain the rights to the photos in perpetuity so long as they run in context to the story that they were originally shot for. Others will come back and negotiate re-use on an ad hoc basis while making sure that the artist is credited for his or her work.
A similar set of practices exists for digital magazines, website/e-commerce and all other areas of photography as commerce. It stands to reason that the same should apply for blogs today, as a way to strengthen the relationships between photographers and bloggers so that they can better understand and support one another and help to grow what is proving to become an extremely exciting new industry.
Across all areas of media, there is one golden rule, which is that the photographer always retains the copyright to any image that they create unless otherwise negotiated to another party. Simply because an image is on the Internet doesn’t mean that it is public domain. In most cases, it is not.
In all fairness, most bloggers don’t have a background in the photo industry and can’t be expected to know about the ins and outs of rights and licensing. However, that’s no reason not to learn!
Part of the issue is the accepted practice of “linking” which usually isn’t a problem if the photographer’s work still appears in the context in which it was shot and with the client for whom it was shot. However, when a photo is pulled from the original piece it was shot for and used out of that context, the photographer’s rights for that image are being infringed upon.
Photographers don’t want to have to play the villain, but they of course have a right to protect their work and their financial interests in an ever-changing “new media” society.
It is understood that most bloggers pull images because they admire the work and feel that it will strengthen their content. In most cases, both photographer and blogger are happy to work together to boost their own causes. If a blogger does want to use an image, the right thing to do is to ask permission so that you know you have the green light to use a photographer’s work. If you cannot track down the artist, you should at the very least make sure that they are given credit. It’s one of the safest ways to show that you never had the intent to steal their work.
As blogs continue to emerge and photography continues to play a key role in blogs, it is a hope that bloggers, contributors and photographers can work together to educate each other and set some fair standards of compensation for the use of photography, just as it has evolved in other areas of media.