Friday, August 25, 2006

to schmap or not to schmap

Okay. I owe Paul at locussolus some answers.

Q. So, will [Schmap] pay you for the use of the photo?
A. There was no offer of payment – but they did include a statement – which I’m cobbling together from memory because the page is no longer available – that said, in effect: we need your approval to use your photography because, even though you’ve allowed the use of your image under your Creative Commons license, Schmap does sell advertising. From that I inferred: Commercial Use.

Q: I'm curious, why the non-commercial restriction?
A: In the spirit of free play and filling the world with more-derivative-work goodness I choose to assign the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 license to the work that I post here at detritus and at flickr. For folks who may be unfamiliar with Creative Commons, this flavor of licensing allows others to:
• Copy, distribute, display, and perform the work

• Make derivative works

So long as they do so under the following conditions:

• By Attribution. You must attribute the work in the manner specified by the author or licensor.

• Noncommercial. You may not use this work for commercial purposes.

• Share Alike. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Here’s the part where things got turned around when I gave Schmap my consent to use my image for commercial use:
• Any of these conditions can be waived if you get permission from the copyright holder.
Now on to the meat of the discussion. I suspect we don't disagree all that much, Paul – but I do think I was sketchy about explaining what I meant in my original post. In response to my post you wrote:
But I also see a tremendous value in having the vast majority of that professional world go away. It's not inconceivable now to think about everyone in the entire world having the opportunity to photograph, write, create music, and publish all of it. Surely this possibility for unlimited human expression is more important than the interests of a few professionals whose services aren't valuable enough to really differentiate them in the first place. There will still be professionals; their numbers will just be limited to what the market can support (and yes, there will still be a market) or how much a government is willing to subsidize.
I think we’re all agreed that the publishing Tsunami that’s sweeping across the Internet right now is on par with the changes Gutenberg brought to Medieval Europe. It’s power to the people and it’s all good.

But I don’t think this next comparison is applicable to the current context:
I mentioned pop music before because I seriously doubt that suttonhoo would be conflicted if she were a singer releasing pop songs on her blog for free. What if I posted a novel in this space tomorrow? Nobody would worry about the harm it might inflict on Jonathan Safron Foer's next offering.
If I were promoting my own music or my own novel I’d be all over that – because I’m promoting my own work with the intention of gaining something through that promotion – either for myself, or for someone I designate.

Schmap is – or certainly will, at some point – be making money off of their product, which is a mash-up of royalty-free and copyrighted content. (It’s also, by the way, pretty cool – except for the fact that they require a client-side install rather than running it as a web app.)

What left me uneasy about accepting their terms was this: I compromised my right to collect royalties on creative property that I created that will, if the folks running the show at Schmap do their jobs right, make somebody some money. (I was director of an ecommerce operation for awhile – I can attest to the dollars that come through the door when these businesses are run right – even through advertising alone.)

A quick search on Technorati reveals that hundreds of people were contacted by Schmap in the last few days with a request to use their imagery. That’s a lot of shooters who aren’t going to share in the profits that will be generated by a product that relies on their work. And I suspect that’s only a sub-set.

My concern is that, as photographers, writers and musicians who share our work online, we have a responsibility to police ourselves -- Guild-like -- so that the power remains with the People – because if we don’t, the Man will be all over it and make it his.

The pop music allusion resonates strongly with me because my father is a musician and, as a result of signing a bad contract when he was young and trusting in the 60s, he was precluded from making much money from his own music – because the contract he agreed to ensured that the lion’s share of the profits from his work wound up in someone else’s pocket.

That hurt my father, and that hurt my family. And not just financially.

He went on, as a man with a hard won savvy about the music industry, to try another side of the business and wound up making Elektra and Windham Hill a ton of money -- and yeah, he got a good salary out of that for himself and for his family. But it was always someone else who was making the music at that point and, knowing what a brilliant musician he is and how much he loves to play for the people, that has always made me tremendously sad.

His story is part of our family database -- it shaped me and my outlook on what matters and it taught me this: Nothing’s more important than creating. Nothing’s more important than sharing what you create. And nothing’s more important than owning your story at the end of the day, so you can feed your family and feed your soul.

The fear that I might be compromising that ownership was the hidden penalty that was nagging at me when I posted earlier today.

1 comment:

paul said...

Wow, you write a lot. This is all the way down the page and it's only Wednesday.

Your post is interesting... I'd definitely defend your right to that photo if you'd chosen not to allow its use. But I was dead serious about being willing to let professional art basically disappear... and so in that context I'm not all that concerned about artists needing to self-police. The overwhelming increase in supply will make that fruitless and also unnecessary, I think.

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