I read with considerable interest, if not bewilderment, a letter in the latest edition of Scottish Wildlife, the magazine of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. A well-established photographer had written to all 47 Wildlife Trusts offering them free and unlimited use of his entire British wildlife archive – hundreds, if not thousands, of free images. The premise was that he couldn’t afford a financial contribution so this was his way of supporting the Trusts.
Let me first of all say that it’s a free country and individual photographers are at liberty to do as they wish with their own images. Let me also say that I’m not criticising the photographer personally, simply exploring the motivations for giving away such a valuable resource. To be fair, the conservationist in me applauds his gesture but I can’t help thinking this sets a very dangerous precedent, apart from undermining the livelihood of both hard-working freelancers and profit-stricken picture libraries.
I would like to think I do as much as most to support the conservation community and as a business, we donate significant sums to a variety of initiatives. Giving our hard-earned product away however, invalidates not only my own imagery but that of the community as a whole. Payment for imagery might not be necessary or even desirable for some, but gifting it for free devalues the product and debilitates the hard work of many professionals over the years to convince the conservation community that compelling imagery is something worth paying for.
I don’t know the photographer in question very well and there may be mitigating circumstances that I’m not aware of but in my view, giving away a whole library of images is not just another nail in the coffin, it’s the coffin being lowered into the ground. And just for the record, this isn’t about the money for me, it’s about dismantling the value of imagery, something that this community has fought hard to preserve.
We are undoubtedly at a crossroads in this industry and as much as anyone, I’m groping in the dark a wee bit. We live in tough times when tough decisions are necessary and everyone has different coping mechanisms. I’m not sure however, this is a step in the right direction but I’m happy to be proved wrong.