I've previously alluded on this blog (and fairly grumpily, even by my standards) to the problems that can be caused by the tendency for many people to give away pictures for free. The explosion of cheap dSLRs and photo sharing sites has generated an unprecedented boom in the quantity (sadly not always matched in quality - but that's a whole different subject) of images available for viewing. And it's a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by image buyers, who have become ruthlessly adept* at exploiting the average amateur's vanity and blissful ignorance of intellectual property rights in order to take what they want, usually for commercial gain in some form or other, and to give in return... absolutely nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.
'So what?' you may be thinking. 'If amateur photographers want to give away their work for free, where's the harm?'
Well... as I've hinted in the past, this behaviour contributes to the devaluing of all photography. So, whilst arguably no harm is done to the legions of genuine amateurs who demand nothing more than the fuzzy glow of satisfaction of seeing their work in print, every freebie is another nail in the coffin of photography as a viable profession. And the ultimate irony is that the dream of a full-time career is often dangled as a carrot in front of the wavering would-be photographer: 'if you give us this picture we'll make sure you're credited, and the publicity will be really good for you...'.
It's nothing more than a confidence trick. Don't fall for it.
And it's not just photographers who are affected in this way. Here's a fantastically entertaining Hollywood rant (warning: contains some strong language):
I've lost count of the number of times I've politely declined to supply images in exchange for a byline or a link to my website. I frequently have to bite my tongue and resist the temptation to descend into the kind of sarcastic rant that Harlan Ellison does so well... but it's getting harder.
So, please - whether you earn your living from photography or not - don't give stuff away for free. If you do, you'll be contributing in a small way to the destruction of photography (and, in a roundabout way, other creative arts) as a viable living. And a world that doesn't reward creative individuals for the sculpture, poetry, music, painting, plays and photography that they provide is one that will, I think, be greatly impoverished.
* It's not always blatant. One of the most common current tactics is to run a photo 'competition' in which the conditions of entry will stipulate that entrants will give up some or all of their intellectual property rights. Result? A free photo library for the cost of a bit of publicity and a couple of prizes. Big household names are amongst the worst offenders, and the rights grab is always buried in the small print. You have been warned!