[by Thomas Werner]
It is difficult to write about social media without addressing the recent changes in Facebook’s terms and conditions. Changes that are a reflection of the value and function of photography and time based media, not only in social media, but in society in general. The implication in terms of our ability to license imagery over the long run is substantive, as what Facebook is proposing equates not only to the current use of imagery for advertising, but the loss of future revenue from one of the most important immerging venues for advertising, sales and point of purchase. The possibility that other social media outlets will adopt the same business model presents a real threat to an important segment of our industry.
Our colleagues removal of their imagery from the site in response to these changes was well informed, yet for a number of reasons their actions left me feeling conflicted. Most important, these small acts of defiance seemed inconsequential when compared to real implications of the event. Over the next few days I began to wonder, as we individually remove our imagery from Facebook are we making a stand or throwing in the towel?
Whatever the answer to the above one thing is certain, every professional photographer could take down their images and Facebook wouldn’t care. They are basing their business model on a million small transactions and minimizing their costs by utilizing free imagery provided by their users which is a good business decision for them. Former ASMP President Stan Rowin had it right, we needed to be negotiating with Facebook and others regarding the free use of our images from the beginning. What we didn’t see was that the damage was not going to be done by individuals reposting imagery on the blogs and their pages, but by the company itself.
So where does this leave us? First we need to be honest with ourselves, in the same manner 7,000, or 30,000 photographers have little leverage in congress or with large publishers, we have little leverage with the companies that comprise social media. We are neither united nor financially influential enough to make a real difference. There was a time when professional imagery drove economies, that now is rarely the case. Time, Life, Look and other publications brought photography to the general public in a manner that emphasized its importance. Those magazines informed the general public of the value of a photograph in a way that contemporary publications do not. It is now our job, and the job of our representative organizations, to do that work. To re-educate not only young photographers, but the general public regarding the value of photography and its importance in the market place.
If we are going to bring about the kind of cultural change that needs to occur we must look beyond our borders and participate in a more public dialog. We need our leaders to engage the mainstream press and reach out to news organizations with a clear and focused message. We need to be seen online and on TV, to be quoted in editorials beyond the photo industry and to enter the kind of contemporary, multi-layered media campaign that social media allows. Facebook has provided us a chance to affect the dialog, we need to take advantage of that to make the general public aware of the value of the imagery that we and they create. Ultimately, we need to engage Facebook and the public directly, or watch the our clients become increasingly comfortable with the idea that imagery can be used for free, thereby diminishing our ability to make a living on a daily basis.
We missed an opportunity a year ago when Instagram changed its terms and conditions. The general public was up in arms, and finally, people were beginning to understand the value of their images, more important, they were listening. Yet we as an industry did not seize the day.
Facebook may be offering us a second opportunity, we need to take advantage of it.
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