Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Social Network Rights Grab!

Everyone loves social media. There's Facebook for everyone (as of this writing) and there's instagram and a 100 similar sites for photographers. There's social networking sites for musicians, and, I assume, for every other conceivable interest group. Everybody loves this stuff. Nobody will pay for it. Why should we? There's always a new site willing to give it away as part of their effort to build traffic. We won't pay up front, we won't click ads, we don't like ads. The tech-savvy will block ads entirely. Anyways, ads aren't selling for what they used to, because they don't really work.

I think I am justified in asking what the hell is supposed to pay for these services.

Consider a picture you have taken. What is the value to you of this picture? In general, in almost all cases for almost all photographers, the value is emotional and personal. The picture is a thing we made, and perhaps it records a person, event, or object that matters to us. We derive pleasure from looking at the picture, and from allowing other people to look at it. These two things are essentially the only things we will ever do with the picture. A few pictures we may print or place inside of a larger derived work (a photo book or video slideshow with music, that sort of thing) which is just a bigger version of the same thing -- we want to look at the larger work, we want to show it to other people. In the bundle of rights that are attached to a picture, we really only will ever exercise a non-exclusive license for a small set of personal uses.

The bundle of rights associated with the picture has no hard value to us, we won't be getting any money nor will be we bartering, or otherwise converting any of those rights into value. Protecting those rights is of no consequence either, no harm will come to us if some of those rights are acquired by another party, always assuming we retain the aforementioned personal-use rights. There are, of course, exceptions. More on that in the sequel.

Every time some web site makes a "rights grab" by asserting some sort of usage policy which grants the corporate entity some sort of rights to content you upload, we are urged to rise up in rebellion. We are told that this is unacceptable and outrageous. Those rights which have, to us, exactly no value whatsoever, must be defended at all costs. So now we won't pay for it, we won't click on ads, and we won't even give up something of no value at all to us in exchange for the use of a service? What kind of society are we? This is insane.

Now, more on those special cases where the bundle of rights does have some value. If you happen to be selling licenses to your content, it would certainly behoove you to read and understand policies of this sort carefully. It's not likely, but you certainly could end up in a situation where you have explicitly sold a license, and then by uploading some content somewhere have accidentally given away a license which conflicts with the one you sold. Now you have a problem, and potentially quite a big one. Be careful and pay attention.

For most of us, most of our pictures have a bundle of rights with zero value to us. Be generous, share. I don't like giant corporations or even small ones any better than you do, but I do know that if I'm using a service they provide, they gotta get compensated somehow. If they can figure out how to turn my straw into their gold, more power to 'em. It's just straw, to me.

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