It’s time to say goodbye to the copyright

I wasn’t always a photographer. Back in the 90s I was a disc jockey. I can remember many times getting into heated discussions with young people who had called into the station about whether or not the record companies were within their rights to sue people who downloaded music. No matter how hard I tried to explain that music was a business and record companies as well as artists had a right to charge whatever they wished for the fruits of their labor, people just didn’t get it. They acted as if they had a right to the music. They believed that once they bought a song they could do whatever they wanted with it, including reproduce it and distribute it to thousands of people.

And so it was that last weekend I laid in bed unable to sleep. The more I thought about it the more I began to believe that I have become the record companies. Like most wedding photographers, I offer my clients the ability to buy all of the images from their wedding on a compact disc. However, like most portrait photographers, I don’t sell digital images for any kind of portrait work. I now believe that I am fighting a losing battle. The young generation takes pictures with their cell phone, they take pictures with a camera in their pocket, and they usually look at the pictures on the computer as opposed to actually printing them and putting them on the wall.

It started slow at first. I had a client come in for a boudoir photo session and afterwards wanted to buy the digital images. When I explained that I only sold prints and books she said that she didn’t have a need for prints. What she wanted was something she could look at on her computer, something she could keep forever. So, I started selling digital prints of my boudoir sessions. But the more I thought about it the more I began to believe that I was pushing against an inevitable tide.

And so, I made a choice. Now, my clients have the option to buy an original retouched full-size digital copy of any image from any session that they book up with me. The image comes with a limited release of copyright so that they can print their own copies or share them with their friends or put them on facebook or whatever they feel like doing. Is it the end of the world for photography and copyright protection? I don’t think so. I think that the times they are a changin’ and if we don’t change with them the new young generation is going to start to look at us like they did the record companies. I think the best thing I can do as a photographer in this instance is to get out in front of the trend and roll with it. I don’t like the idea of someone taking an image I spent 20 minutes retouching to a photo lab that’s in between the hardware department and automotive but I have to face reality. I think there will always be a market for high-end portraits as art for clients who appreciate good photography but the young people, they just want something they can show their friends.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Seems reasonable to me. Customers, I take it, are amenable?

  2. Don’t know… have only offered it to one so far. We’ll see…

  3. This is a perfect example of giving your customers what they need. You’re not abandoning copyright, rather using it precisely as intended – your profiting from your work and your business sense.

  4. This is all a bit off topic from the actual copyright issue, but what about providing digital versions of any final photos taken in a low res format, suitable for online media and printing up to a reasonable size – say 5″ x 8″´- restricted by the resolution you cut the photos at.
    This gives the customer the flexibility to use them for most general media, but restricts them from printing any larger framed prints, reserving you some cross-selling ability.

  5. I know of photographers who do just that.

    My concern with selling “low-res” images, etc is that it won’t prevent people from printing the image but merely prevent them from printing a good print. Case in point: I was shooting a Bar Mitzvah and had sold the client a B&W digital headshot for the newspaper announcement. I sized it small at 75 DPI so it would be unsuitable for printing but fine for the paper (and priced it as such). When I showed up to shoot the reception, there was my print blown up to 8×10. It looked awful. (now when someone gets a print for the paper I send it direct to the paper).

    I don’t like the way my prints look when they are printed un-retouched at a drugstore but that’s nothing compared to how they look when they are blown-up bigger than they should be. If you give people small prints it won’t stop them from making big prints.

    One of the things I’m experimenting with now is adding print credits to my wedding packages at a big discounted rate. I don’t stand to make much money off it but maybe I can better encourage people to get their prints from me so at least I will know they look their best. 🙂

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