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