Thursday, October 2, 2008

Stealing or Free Marketing: Business on the Web

Lately I have been reading complaints on various message boards about people downloading photos from the photographers’ websites and using them on their own personal websites. The main target of the rants has been kids downloading photos and posting them to their MySpace or Facebook pages. I didn’t really give it much thought until last night.

ISO 200, f/5.6, 1/2500 sec, 112mm

Over the weekend I did an extensive shoot of surfers at the VB oceanfront and posted the images to my website after several hours of processing. During the shoots, I gave out my cards to several surfers and parents alike so that they could view and potentially purchase some of the photos. This is nothing different than I have done in the past to much success. Sunday night I received an email from one of the surfers complimenting the shots and requesting if I would be willing to send him a few for his MySpace page. He said he would give me full credit for the shots. My initial thought was to give him the “that is what the personal download sale item is for” response. Instead, I saw it is an opportunity to reach more people that normally would never know that my site existed. The next day I emailed him a set of photos optimized for the web and requested that he caption each with my name and site address. Also I requested that he send me his MySpace address so that I could verify it looked correct.

The next day I received an email back thanking me for the photos and a link to his account. I checked his page and everything looked cool and the fact that he set one of my photos as his primary picture was somewhat self-satisfying. Then another photo caught my eye. For those not familiar with MySpace, other users are allowed to post messages to your main page. Each message is marked with an avatar, a small picture representing the person that posted the message. One of the messages displayed another one of my photos of a different surfer as the avatar.

I take the normal precautions to protect my photos. My galleries are locked for downloading so that if someone attempts to right-click the gallery to choose “save photo”, they will receive a message saying that the photos are copyrighted and protected by law. Each photo is also marked with my copyright and website address. I do not, however, place a big watermark across the entire photo because I’d rather the public and perspective clients to be able to view the image in its entirety prior to purchasing. Anyone with any computer knowledge knows that there are a plethora of applications out there that enable users to take screen shots of images without physically downloading the image from the site. In doing so, the user knows that they are doing something wrong and more than likely illegal.

So what was my response? Initially I was steamed and began to contact the initial requestor to help me track down this individual so I could demand the images removal and threaten any sort of legal action. Instead I clicked through the link to the posters site and into his photo gallery and saw that under each photo, he also provided my name and website information. Here is where each of us has a choice to make in what is in the best interest of our business. I could make a fuss and loose several potential future sales or leverage these sites for their marketing value. I guarantee that each site probably receives 100 times more hits than mine, especially from people that share the same interests. If just a few of those hits account for a few sales in the future, then it is a benefit to me.

I can understand photographers getting upset at photos being taken from their sites without their permission or purchase. Several measures can be taken to make it difficult to do so but with technology advancing, we will never be able to stop it from happening. I’ve had a few friends in the business (especially high school and little league sports) go as far as to take down their galleries and conduct only in person showings. To me this only limits the audience of potential buyers as well as increasing workflow time better spent shooting more events. Doesn’t it make more sense to find a way to positively use these sites as a vehicle to increasing future business?

1 comment:

Shannon said...

BTW, I was a "right click" and copy image to myspace and facebook person. But guess what, I also bought the images!

It's a double edged sword and the topic is tricky. I guess go with your gut, you'll make the right decision.

I think your awesome, how did the Y thing go?