Some Thoughts on Soliciting Uncompensated Photography

I was recently involved in an interaction on a photography list where the CEO of a non-profit posted a note  asking for images, and full usage rights of those images, for free. This is becoming a more and more common technique for searching for photographic content. Professional photographers, and particularly photojournalists are being progressively replaced by end user images. Current Event Photography is being, effectively, crowd-sourced. This is an inevitable result of digital technology. Digital has undermined most, if not all, areas of photography, not just photo journalism. But where should the line be drawn? What is the ethical component of knowingly attempting to get images for free, when the sources for purchasing them are right in front of you? There is no single answer, but the question is worth pondering.

So here is the full body text of the original note, posted on a photography group on-line:

“We need some photos or video footage showing coastal and marsh area debris in NY, NJ, & CT. The photos must be yours and given to us for unrestricted use. We need them pro bono but since we are a 501c3 we can provide you with an in-kind donation receipt.”

The CEO who posted this note was honestly surprised at the negative responses it triggered. So here is the note, as I edited it, to attempt to make it as photographer friendly as possible; making the situation clear, and generating results, instead of objections and criticisms, from photographers:

“Hi, I donate my time to a non-profit organization which is attempting to achieve (insert description of worthwhile goal here). We are looking for photos or video footage showing (insert topic here).  We cannot afford to purchase such images and footage from Getty, Corbis, or individual professional photographers, which we would prefer to do, if funds allowed. Since we can’t afford that, we are soliciting images and footage as a charitable donation in-kind. In order to use images, we would need a signed document, a blank copy of which is included below, assuring us that rights to the images belong to you (so that we do not infringe on the rights of anyone else, if the shots are not actually yours) and assigning us the limited rights for use that are described in the document. These are the minimal rights we would need for the uses we have planned, and we would recontact anyone supplying images under these terms if the situation changed and further rights were needed. Since we are a 501c3, while we unfortunately cannot compensate you for your work, we can at least provide you with an in-kind donation receipt. Full credit will be given in print or on screen, for all images and footage used, including a URL, if the photographer includes one.

Thank you for your consideration,
Your name
Your title (the term Volunteer in it would be good; aka: Volunteer CEO, even Uncompensated CEO)
Organization name
Include URLs so people can see what you are doing
Include Personal Contacts so people can see you are actually available, ideally including an organization email address, so that they can see you really work there, instead of being an outside resource.

Appropriate contract included here, so that the actual terms can be seen up front. Include what YOU promise to do (image credit statement, recontact for extended uses) as well as what THEY are signing away in the document.

I will be interested to hear people’s views on this issue.

Credits: C. David Tobie, Copyright 2012. Website: Return to Blog’s Main Page

7 responses to “Some Thoughts on Soliciting Uncompensated Photography

  1. A number of photographers have regularly worked grattis for the Port Townsend Film Festival over many years. This very issue of recognition of our work came up seriously for the first time this year and was resolved through a friendly discussion with the Film Festival management. This is a great idea and I am sending it out to some of the folks that were involved. thanx David

  2. I appreciate this. I have restricted my donation of images and time because of the assumption that there are so many non-professionals that are willing to give for free in exchange for the ambiguous reward of just seeing their work reproduced.

  3. I like the approach; I’ll be watching for what you turn up. I am on both sides of the issue. I contribute my (amateur) photos to publications of the park association at which I volunteer. I also solicit permission to use others’ botanical illustrations and text, without payment, in those publications. (I’m not even an amateur illustrator!)

    • I’m on both sides of the issue as well. As posted, this is intended to make it possible to get donations without undue grief from the very sensitive photo community. But on the other side its also a checklist for those considering asking for freebies: if you, your cause, your organization, and your project can’t meet the criteria in this sample note, then take a close look at your halo, and be sure its not tarnished, before moving forward with your request…

  4. I also saw that thread and was pondering it. The thing that immediately struck me when reading the original “request” (more like a demand) was how stupidly it was written. Notice the words “need”, “must be”, “unrestricted use.” These are words from someone who is either: (A) a child, (B) someone completely oblivious to the issues of photographic rights and uses, or (C) someone who does not understand how to ask tactfully and sincerely for a donation of something of value. I’ll be watching to see how you and others respond on that thread. May I point them to this post with your well-written sample request?

    • Feel free to reference this; that’s why I put it up here. But I suspect it’s been pretty well beaten to death on the list where it occurred. I did a bit of bludgeoning myself…

  5. Important topic cdtobie, anytime i see “unrestricted use” in a request to use my work it raises a red flag. i applaud your effort to help the organization have a more informed method for requesting images from artists.

    good post

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