from the it's-a-fucking-lighthouse dept
The fact that the law is so hostile to the public domain is no accident. If you look at the history of the debates about copyright shows the legacy copyright industries being actively hostile to the public domain, and making a variety of silly, nonsensical (and flat out wrong) arguments about the public domain. They've argued that putting works in the public domain removes all value from the work. They've also claimed that putting works in the public domain will cause it to be over-utilized, since it's free, thereby harming its value in a different way. The fact that these two arguments seem to conflict with each other was more or less ignored. And then you even have the extremely ridiculous claims that the public domain is theft of private property. Paul Heald has done some tremendous research on how all of the hyperbolic statements about how awful the public domain is simply aren't true. But that's looking at historical data.
It appears that some content creators are realizing the value of the public domain as well. A Swiss photographer, Samuel Zeller has written an absolutely brilliant piece on how much value he's received by putting many of his works into the public domain via CC0 licenses (he also uses CC-BY licenses on many of his other photos). Zeller focuses on a wonderful tool that I've made use of many times myself over the years: Unsplash, which is an absolutely amazing community of photographers all sharing their brilliant photos (in high res) under CC0 public domain dedications (as an aside, if you sign up for it, Unsplash will send you a regular email every week to 10 days showing a selection of their latest photos, and they tend to be stunning). Zeller explains his own discovery of Unsplash:
About two years ago I stumbled on Unsplash, a website with free (do whatever you want) high resolution photos. I love the concept instantly, people could just upload their images and give them away for free under a Creative Commons CC0 license.And from that, good things result:
So Far, I uploaded 184 images on my Unsplash profile, they've been viewed over 63,000,000 times and downloaded over 613,000 times.
Just insane numbers.
The amount of traffic Unsplash generate to my portfolio is huge. The number of referrers I have is constantly growing, many websites and blogs use my images and give a link back. My website is no longer just a small island in the sea that nobody see, it's a fucking lighthouse...From there, Zeller addresses the common myths around why you shouldn't give your work away for free. First up, by giving away his photographs this way, is he losing money?
My latest and biggest client found me because of Unsplash, in fact I never really searched for clients, they found me in the first place. (isn't that what every photographer dream of?)
It is a a matter of perspective. If I put all my images on a stock photography website I could make some money out of it.This goes back to a point we've been making for years: your past work acts as an advertisement for your ability to be hired for future work. And if you give that work away for free, it acts as free advertising. Zeller seems to have discovered that to a fairly extreme level.
But stock photography is dying, people pay less and less for images. I know, I worked for years in a design agency where we regularly had to buy images for clients, and our clients budgets were always getting smaller.
Why should I need to sell images if I have clients paying me to shoot specific images? To me working for a client face to face is rewarding, way more than making money on digital sales to people I will never interact with.
On to the next myth: giving away your work means that it somehow "loses value."
This is something people asked me before and the answer is: no.Later he notes:
My photography keep improving, more people stumble on my work and I've got more contacts, more projects and clients than before.
An image has value because someone has an use for it. It has absolutely no value if it's sitting uselessly in my hard-drive or if it's just on social media waiting to get liked. Sure it has emotional vlaue but don't get me wrong, I need money to live and pay the bills.
the images I give away for free are like a teaser of what I can do. Think of it as a "try before you buy" option.
There's no point in being talented if nobody can see what you do.Now you can make a totally reasonable argument that Zeller's situation doesn't necessarily apply to everyone. There is a combination of both skill and luck in getting your work so widely recognized. If you're just not that good, it's going to make things that much more difficult. And even if you're good, sometimes you just don't get seen anyway, but that's got nothing to do with copyright. Freeing up images certainly increases the opportunity that people will discover your work. If luck is the issue, freeing up images is like giving luck many more chances.
The other argument, obviously, is that photography is different than other creative works -- and that's absolutely true. However, I will note that independent photographers historically have often been the most aggressive and vocal about wanting stronger and stronger copyright protections and being against relatively modest improvements to copyright law. Many have become so focused on licensing images they've taken in the past that they haven't even considered alternatives or how freeing up images and how that might help.
Anyway Zeller's photographs are pretty damn awesome. Check out his Unsplash page and his larger archive of photos as well. Here's one of his many cool photos, because I feel like we shouldn't write a whole post about him without including at least one image: