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December 19, 2007

Masa Acher magazine exploits Flickr photographers

A few days ago, I received message from Tomer Pratt, deputy editor at the Israeli magazine Masa Acher. He described the publication as "a leading geographical and cultural magazine."

Pratt was seeking permission to publish my photograph, "Snowy Owl," for an upcoming story about the arctic.

I wrote back asking about Masa Acher's rates. Like many professional photographers, I use Flickr to display my work. Photo editors use Flickr to locate hard-to-find images. I've sold pictures to TIME, Shock Magazine, Aften Posten, a newsletter published by the London School of Economics, and a variety of other publications through the site.

Pratt replied: "unfortunately' we dont pay for photos tham comes from flicker. we pay  to  many immage banks, but not flicker' which considered to be sharing website based on on principle of give and take. i hope its not too disapointing' and i wish you send us your photo in sake of publication."

I was appalled that a professional editor would try to convince me that Flickr photographers don't deserve to get paid because Flickr is a "sharing website" that is "based on the principle of give and take."

For those who reserve the rights to their work, Flickr is no more about free "sharing" or "give and take" than any other portfolio site where potential customers to view images and download comps. Just because Flickr is an honors system doesn't make it a free-for-all.

A double standard for Flickr users vs. image services is unethical. If a magazine is willing to pay for photographs through a broker, they should be willing to pay photographers directly.

Flickr is home to talented amateurs as well as professionals. Some unscrupulous publications take advantage of the fact that many Flickr users don't know the value of their work. I'm disappointed to learn that Masa Acher is one of them.

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Comments

It's only "unethical" if he used your work without permission.

By asking, and not publishing when you said "not if there's no money in it for me", that's a-ok.

No doubt there are plenty of flickr users who would be happy to see their work gain wider circulation, even without the money. I doubt they'd believe they're being exploited. It's the market at work, LB.

Some people are willing to do the job for less than you. It might hurt, but it's hardly unethical.

It's only "unethical" if he used your work without permission.

By asking, and not publishing when you said "not if there's no money in it for me", that's a-ok.

No doubt there are plenty of flickr users who would be happy to see their work gain wider circulation, even without the money. I doubt they'd believe they're being exploited. It's the market at work, LB.

Some people are willing to do the job for less than you. It might hurt, but it's hardly unethical.

If you think that the complaint was that some people do work for less, you missed the point. The criticism was that the magazine is using a double standard- it pays for photographs from some sites, but not others. That is unethical. If the policy were "We don't pay for photographs, period" that'd be one thing- but to say "We pay for photographs from over here, but not from over there" based solely on the site they're getting them from is ridiculous.

And, yeah, there are people who'd love to get their photographs published at all, even without pay. So? That doesn't mean that they don't deserve to get paid, or that it's not unethical to fail to pay them when you're paying your other photographers. If a company is paying product testers $100 apiece to test their product if they apply at a college, but then offers only $10 to person who applies at a Walmart, that's a double standard, and, yes, I think that it's unethical.

Roy, what if the position of the magazine is "We pay for photographs that come from sources that advertise their purpose as selling images, but we don't pay for images that come from sources that advertise their purpose as sharing." Lindsay writes, For those who reserve the rights to their work, Flickr is no more about free "sharing" or "give and take" than any other portfolio site, but that might come as news to people who learn from Flickr's own website that Flickr is an amazing photographic community, with sharing at its heart and Flickr is almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world.

The magazine (reasonably, I think) thought that finding a photograph on Flickr indicated that the photographer might be willing to share it. They inquired, the photographer demurred, and the publication apparently honored the request. I'm missing the part where this is unehtical.

Roy, what if the position of the magazine is "We pay for photographs that come from sources that advertise their purpose as selling images, but we don't pay for images that come from sources that advertise their purpose as sharing." Lindsay writes, For those who reserve the rights to their work, Flickr is no more about free "sharing" or "give and take" than any other portfolio site, but that might come as news to people who learn from Flickr's own website that Flickr is an amazing photographic community, with sharing at its heart and Flickr is almost certainly the best online photo management and sharing application in the world.

The magazine (reasonably, I think) thought that finding a photograph on Flickr indicated that the photographer might be willing to share it. They inquired, the photographer demurred, and the publication apparently honored the request. I'm missing the part where this is unehtical.

Maybe "sharing" is at Flickr's heart, but there are different senses of the word "sharing," and Flickr, like any other web entity, has grown far beyond its heart to include head, limbs, and even tentacles.

I'm too little of an ethical philosopher to argue the fine points of whether the publication is acting ethically, but I do know that it's acting stupidly. If they don't want to pay for the photo, they should just say, "Sorry, we cannot pay for use of your photo" and walk away. But to say, in rather poor English, "Sorry, we were just cruising for a deal because we like to guilt people into giving away their work based on who they associate with" is pretty lousy PR.

It was preferable of them to ask first, rather than just stealing the image. But otherwise this makes them appear either cynical, naive or cheap, and the latter two are not things you associate with a "leading" publication.

I have been hesitant to use Flickr to display my work for precisely this reason.

This sounds like a variation of that old "There's no copyright on the internet" urban legend.

I've had it with people who don't create intellectual property for a living telling those of us that do, that we should work for free because they don't feel like paying.

it pays for photographs from some sites, but not others. That is unethical

Wrong.
It pays for photographs that it uses from some sites, but does not pay for others AND DOES NOT USE THEM without explicit permission. Presumably, they didn't use LB's picture. So she has lost nothing here.


I've had it with people who don't create intellectual property for a living telling those of us that do, that we should work for free because they don't feel like paying.

Wrong again.
Nobody is telling LB to "work for free."

What you're really doing is demanding that those "who don't create intellectual property for a living" should not be displaying their "work" on flickr, or permitting other to give it wider circulation without demanding pay.

Think of it like a "right to work" state where unions are dominant. You might not like it, but everybody should have the right to determine their rate of pay -- if at all -- for their "work".

It sour grapes. If you've sold things off flickr before, wonderful. If this particular organization has a policy of only using paid images off an image bank, that is absolutely their right. If you don't like their policy, tough grapes. flickr is not a professional, paid only service and their are a lot of amateurs who would willingly "share." Let's allow those folks to have an outlet too, and not demand that all who don't share our freelance needs shouldn't be allowed to participate or see their work displayed in commercial publications. Because in the long run, that's what you're arguing here.

If and when enough folks like LB decline to allow their work used without payment$$$, then perhaps the publication will change their policy.

(What if they pay for something on flickr, and it turns out it wasn't the person who posted it's to sell? Using only a professional image base almost pre-screens, eliminates these potential liablities about who the work belongs to. )


I agree with Lindsay, this is an obvious attempt to downgrade flickr for profit under the guise of sharing. Mary seems to mainly think rights are business first. Especially the threatening language of tough luck pal comments fits right in with businesses can do what they want whenever they want. That is precisely why Lindsay is a standard bearer for fairness and equable treatment of image makers. This magazine reflects it's status of gate keeper of the rules. That is outlawry. Let's see what we can do to give them some pay back!

I agree with Lindsay, this is an obvious attempt to downgrade flickr for profit under the guise of sharing.

Quite. Looks like a) this chap doesn't understand that Flickr is more than just a social networking site; b) he has no clue about how photogs on Flickr may choose to reserve the way in which they 'give and take' their pictures (if he'd looked closely at Lindsay's photo page on Flickr, he'd probably have seen a little logo showing how many rights she as photographer had chosen to reserve, from all rights reserved, in this case, to public domain and the various Creative Commons flavors in between). That Mr Pratt chose not to opt for this photograph and that he did have the decency to ask for permission is beside the point, which is that he did it in a way that demonstrates both cluelessness and arrogance.

Sorry to interrupt for a second, but this is just a test-post.

I don't know what's going on with the spam filter, but in some way I can't determine, my comments on this topic are restricted commercial speech.

A good faith post followed by a tedious comment thread:

Mary does not seem to understand the fine distinction between "ethical behavior" versus "legal behavior." The magazine editor meets the definition of legal behavior by asking in advance to use a certain photo. The editor fails the ethical test in presuming that a working photojournalist works for free, with no entitlement to earn a living, put food on the table, and pay the bills. This is offensive in the extreme, and I can well understand and appreciate Lindsay's consternation.

I have seen people order up a $50 or $100 meal in my favorite local restaurant and leave no tip for the waitresses. I know these waitresses. One is a young woman working to finance her college education. Another is a single mom trying to support two kids. To leave no tip is to deprive these fine people of a living that is driven mostly by gratutities. This meets the definition of callous and unethical behavior, although no laws have been broken.

Mary, I have a question to ask. I have a minor legal matter requiring the engagement of counsel. Since I am such a celebrity, your taking my case will bring you fame and notoriety. With profound regrets, however, there will be no retainer. Will you take my case anyway?

I didn't think so.

Swampcracker:

The editor fails the ethical test in presuming that a working photojournalist works for free, with no entitlement to earn a living, put food on the table, and pay the bills.

Perhaps I was just in the journalism business a bit too long prior to attending law school... There is no ethical obligation for any publication to support the freelance lifestyle, sadly enough.

I am certain there are plenty of freelancers who would "voluntarily" permit use of their work product, if they thought it would "bring fame and notoriety" and most importantly, subsequent offers. Also, there is less potential liability in making purchases through a professional broker.

So long as the rules are being applied consistently (no payment for those images found on flickr; no images used without permission), I think you are barking up the wrong tree here. You may not like the magazine's policy -- you may find it harder to make a living as a freelancer than you'd imagined -- but clearly there is nothing "unethical" about it.

Rather than calling names and pouting, did you consider finding out which image banks he was authorized to pay to, and submitting your work to show there? It might be more effective in the long run.

. To leave no tip is to deprive these fine people of a living that is driven mostly by gratutities. This meets the definition of callous and unethical behavior, although no laws have been broken.

Unfortunately, these "fine people" assume that risk when they agree to work for tips, rather than a set rate. There are no guarantees -- if the food is unsatisfactory, or the service poor, there is always the risk that there will be no gratuity at the end of the day.

Even if the party was satisfied, and just acts as a jerk, one presumes at the finer estabishments there is less a risk that you would experience often. Also, many places charge a mandatory gratuity on larger parties, to avoid this from happening regularly.

If you're suggesting a "mandatory gratuity" be paid to those exhibiting on flicr, again I fear you will drive the amateurs from the site who will lose an outlet to display their work as the publications would choose to work only through professional brokers of images.

Mary: Swampcracker ... Rather than calling names and pouting, did you consider finding out which image banks he was authorized to pay to, and submitting your work to show there? It might be more effective in the long run.

I am not looking for a stock agency. I am not looking for freelance work. I did not ask you for marketing advice. In fact, I am quite retired and comfortable (even considered wealthy by Palm Beach standards), thank you very much.

I do know the New York marketplace inasmuch as my former company (the one I sold 20 years ago) was a major consumer of creative talent. To deliver the highest possible quality to my clients, I hired the best talent available and paid top dollar to attract this talent. This is what is called "good business practice," not the cheap pennypinching attitude of a second rate editor who will never attract more than second rate talent.

BTW, you did not answer my question. Will you take my case gratis to better position yourself in the legal profession?

Let's see if a hypercondensed version of my comments works.

It's sad that "stuff found on the internet should be free" is now such an entrenched attitude. But it is.

"We'll pay for work if we have to but we'll grab some slave labor if we can" is not a consistent policy. If you use others' work in a publication you either pay for all of it or pay for none of it. Using the internet as an excuse for something in between is sleazy and should be denounced.

Wait a minute... did this publication run LB's work? If so, totally unethical, despicable, denounce away... I guess I missed that in the original post.

In fact, I am quite retired and comfortable (even considered wealthy by Palm Beach standards), thank you very much.

Most freelancers, as well as public interest lawyers, I found, are indeed wealthy in order to afford to pursue that low-paying lifestyle.

Since when is Mount Dora in Palm Beach??

No, I won't take your case for free. But that doesn't somehow make you "unethical". Often, lawyers do take high-publicity cases pro bono, either for the good feeling it brings or for the publicity or future business anticipated.

. I am not looking for freelance work. I did not ask you for marketing advice.

LB is.

good photo.. weither it is a snow owl. from the artic, or north america , where it snows.. or... we articers have photos for I... but want to get p.. don't get to wraped up L for xmas enjoy the season .. blue huskey wolf ralph g.

Mary: Even if the party ... just acts as a jerk

You see, Mary, your logic always seems to default in deference to the "jerk." Yet, you fail to grasp the meaning of the word, i.e. that a jerk is considered a jerk for cheating or conniving or demonstrating a callous disregard.

Since you cannot make the distinction between "ethical" (unethical) versus "legal" (illegal) behavior, I retract my offer. Your services will no longer be needed.

Unethical... sort of. They, in effect, told Lindsay that since she chose to hang a shingle on Flickr, instead of with a stock agency, that she lost some level of merit, which would justify paying her.

I think, my opinion, they count on the general Flickr user to be unaware of what their work is worth. They are exploiting that ignorance, by offering less than the market rate for the work.

If they were a free publication, then there might be some merit to the request (and I've let such publications use my work; one time, with credit). But no. Not here. They are paying a writer to produce the copy. They are selling advertising to make money from the copy, and they hope the Flickr participant will just kick in for free.

This is where the Mary fails to see the ethical dilemma. When a POD scam tells a writer who doesn't know it that they need to "pay for a critique" or no publisher will look at their work, that's unethical.

When the non-pro photographer's ignorance of the market is used to get something for nothing, that's unethical too.

That it harms the professional, when the ignorant fall for such a ruse, is a different issue (and taking cheap shots; and absent evidence) that Lindsay's complaint is out of avarice, or penury, is an attempt to derail the real issue.

It's not sour grapes. It's a basic expectation that those who are ignorant, not be exploited. It's an expectation that a publication which pays for solicited work, should pay for solicited work.

Mary: Do you know what it takes, in terms of time, effort and money to get a place in a stock gallery/image bank (and they are different).

Most demand that one provide a given number of usable images per month/year, as a condition of acceptance. Some require a contract of exclusive contribution for works which fall in their scope.

They also want a portfolio contribution to start (often a 50 image prospectus, and then a couple of hundred; usable, images). The lead time, is months. After that the magazine in question can negotiate for the use; then again, they are probably past deadline.

Those are high burdens to bear, just to sell one picture. If is making a living with the camera, and has a catalogued set of images which can be whipped together to submitl; and want's to go out and find 20-40 usuable (and that's a pretty high standard of work, that image suitable for publication) images a month, for a few years (until the agency has a large enough backlog of one's pictures that the sales are steady enough that they aren't beating up on you to keep submitting).

If Lindsay want's to be a stock photographer, that's fine. If she want's to be a different sort of photographer, that's something else altogether.

If she want's to be a different sort of photographer, that's something else altogether.

Absolutely.
And she should accept how the freelance market works. Nobody is being "exploited" here.

And it's not unethical to ask someone on flickr if they are willing to share their work in a publication that will reach a wider audience. Nor is it assuming that only the ignorant will say, "Yes."

You kids are so cute when first confronting the "real world". It's your cries of "exploitation" and charges of "unethical" behavior that make me realize what soft lives you lead.

I used to get ticked that only rich females (yes, it for some odd reason was only females) could afford the do-good public law jobs too, because they had trust funds or inheritances to pay the bills. Hey, I'd like to do that work too! But sadly, they couldn't pay me enough to live on, and it was good enough for the women who had... "help".

I imagine there are lots of people who would love to work as professional freelance photographers too. Often, they're not more talented than the amateurs, people who pursue it as a hobby. But they do have resources to pay the bills, wheras others have to work more stable jobs for a living.

In the same way, not everybody is a waitress for life either.

Can we compromise? If y'all drop the "exploitative" and "unethical" charges, I'll give you... unfair. And it's so cute that some of you are just learning now, after a long life of presumably not paying your own bills, that yes Virginia, life is often unfair like that.

"God bless the man who will do the job for less."

If she want's to be a different sort of photographer, that's something else altogether.

Absolutely.
And she should accept how the freelance market works. Nobody is being "exploited" here.

And it's not unethical to ask someone on flickr if they are willing to share their work in a publication that will reach a wider audience. Nor is it assuming that only the ignorant will say, "Yes."

You kids are so cute when first confronting the "real world". It's your cries of "exploitation" and charges of "unethical" behavior that make me realize what soft lives you lead.

I used to get ticked that only rich females (yes, it for some odd reason was only females) could afford the do-good public law jobs too, because they had trust funds or inheritances to pay the bills. Hey, I'd like to do that work too! But sadly, they couldn't pay me enough to live on, and it was good enough for the women who had... "help".

I imagine there are lots of people who would love to work as professional freelance photographers too. Often, they're not more talented than the amateurs, people who pursue it as a hobby. But they do have resources to pay the bills, wheras others have to work more stable jobs for a living.

In the same way, not everybody is a waitress for life either.

Can we compromise? If y'all drop the "exploitative" and "unethical" charges, I'll give you... unfair. And it's so cute that some of you are just learning now, after a long life of presumably not paying your own bills, that yes Virginia, life is often unfair like that.

"God bless the man who will do the job for less."

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