Sell Your Camera and Buy Shares in Social Media

by valrac4_a3kqdy
Image No. 700-00017117:  This was my first successful stock photograph taken about 20 years ago. It is copyrighted, and the metadata is embedded. I’ll curious to tack its whereabouts and how many sales might be realized from my agent Masterfile.

Image No. 700-00017117: This was my first successful stock photograph taken about 20 years ago. It is copyrighted, and the metadata is embedded. I’ll be curious to track its whereabouts, despite not being authorized for redistribution, and how many sales might be realized from my agent, Masterfile.


As posted in last week’s blog entry, in which I introduced Séan McCann going indie,  I decided to follow up on the discussion that draws reference to the parallels of visual and performing artists as they struggle to redefine the parameters that afford a living wage for their work.

Before I dwell further, however, I have to clarify that most disciplines of image-making have been independent since inception. Very few industrial, commercial, portrait or wedding photographers work through large conglomerate agencies—stock photographers, such as myself, do.  So, thank you to those two souls who brought this oversight to my attention.

In a post last year I brought attention to some numbers behind social media, and more specifically how many users were actively posting on a daily basis. What I purposefully omitted was how that burgeoning global use translated to dollars for the site owners and shareholders—it is simply impossible to interpret its totality with any accuracy.

Well, some of the 2013 numbers are in. The Jan 29, 2014, issue of Business Insider reports that Facebook had a 2013 revenue of $7.87 billion. Yes, that is with a “B.” In large part, this came from more than one million advertisers, where 750 million people visit and generate six billion “Likes” per day.

Meanwhile the relatively new social media upstart Tumblr has taken a different approach to social media. This is a site that encourages microblogging—a place to write and share your musings to the world. It is also a site that encourages re-posting other blogs.  However, this raises one large concern: the images that are licensed for use in one blog post may not be licensed for subsequent posting by the person re-posting. And that act of re-posting could very well be in contradiction of copyright. It most certainly has eroded the capacity of the original content author—the photographer in this case—to earn residual income from his or her copyrighted works.  I raised this point in an earlier entry as well: “Has Copyright Lost its Teeth?

For our music-creator friends, it would also be interesting to see how Tumblr reacts to claims of copyright violations when its bloggers start sharing music through one of several supported open-source web music players. If, indeed, our music friends experience the same dilemma as photographers, Tumblr will claim indemnity through the DCMA and provide the option of providing a take-down notice. The benefit to the musician is more work without compensation.

So I again fail to comprehend how the unfettered distribution of creative works can possibly benefit the creator.  My logic is best explained by Eliot Van Buskirk, who writes in “Emily White, a summer intern at NPR’s All Songs Considered, didn’t know what she was getting into when she wrote her now-infamous screed about how, despite being a hardcore music fan and college radio station manager with 11,000 songs on her computer, she has only ever paid for 15 CDs-worth of recorded music with actual money.” White was accused of belonging to the “entitled generation” that supports Fair Trade Coffee yet refuses to support artists who provide listening entertainment.

With this in mind, I simply can’t see how the much ballyhooed attribution provision (which is required by law under Moral Rights anyhow) by the social media hosts will provide commercial benefit to the artist. I am hoping against all hope that someone can explain to me that I am wrong and will embrace my invitation to use my work, and that of my fellow artists, to channel a fair and equitable distribution of those billions of dollars that social-media owners and shareholders are making back into the pockets of the rightful owners of the work…the creators.

I believe the iGeneration is right insofar as they want to use technology to its maximum. At the same time I haven’t seen how, to date, misappropriation of music or photographs has come back to benefit the creators. Therein lies the challenge: only by ensuring the means are available for creators to create, will we create.

In the meantime, go over to McCann’s site and slip him 15-bucks for the record Help Your Self. It will be the best damned bottle of red wine you’ve bought in a long time…and it lasts longer.

Related Articles