When is giving it away okay?

As a photographer, one of the greatest compliments to receive, I feel, is being asked by someone if they can use one of my photographs. My photos locally have been used in brochures to promote features of the town by non-profit groups and my Avenue of Honour series now features as letterhead for the local tourist association.

Sometimes these photos are used gratis (and this I give willingly) and sometimes the organisations pay for them although I rarely charge them much because I know they are not all that flush (but then neither am I).

So, when I got a phone call from a Federal Government agency last week asking for permission to use a photo I had taken of one of their education programs, at first I was quite pleased. Having worked in this type of industry in the past I didn’t think it was a big ask to charge a copyright fee and after asking advice from my boss on what she normally charges, I rang the requestor back.

Her spiel was that the program had no budget and was a non-profit education program going into secondary schools. The tone was – you have a bit of a gall asking us to pay you for a photograph!

I considered quickly that perhaps it would be good exposure and then granted permission provided the source is given due credit. I often ponder the fact that many of my photographs languish in electronic form in my computer archives ‘gathering cobwebs’ and in a way that makes me feel quite sad. That was one of the reasons I created by Happenings calendar.

Regarding the ‘education’ photo, basically I thought that was the end of it. But it has popped into my head to visit at times since then and I am now wondering “why give these things away free?”

Is it really worth the exposure? Will I get anything at all in return for the use of my photograph? Or was the initial ‘compliment’ really just a convenience thing for the Government Agency?

How much of our art should we really be “giving away”?

I guess it now rankles with me because the modest little local organisations are willing to pay a token fee for my help and I am always willing to help them when I can whether there is payment or not. That is my sense of duty to the community and I am totally comfortable with it. Yet a large government organisation couldn’t afford a token copyright fee!!!!

Perhaps they will need to try a bit harder with the sweet talk for any future requests.

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