Mar 2, 2018 · 6 min read

So unless you live under the proverbial photographic ‘rock’ and haven’t heard about Mr. Arias’ video with the owner of unplash, Michael Cho here it is -

It’s caused a little bit of an internet storm for the owners of unsplash and I’m sure the last week has been an interesting ride for Mr. Cho.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading through the comments and views of a lot of photographers and I wanted to distill some of the best of the soundbites I’ve come across.

Without a doubt and probably the biggest concern for photographers and unsplash is the model/property issue. In a nutshell, if you as a photographer take a photo of anyone and then that photograph is used for commercial use, you MUST have a release form from the person in the photograph to use that image, and you need a release from every person whose in the image.

This has caused some great responses from photographers all over the web:-

Mark see’s this ending up in the courts.

Unsplash is licensing images for commercial work without ensuring the images are properly released. Its a lawsuit waiting to happen. Its a lawsuit that is going to happen. Zack is trying to stop other photographers from getting into serious trouble. — Mark Fa’amaoni — February 7, 2018 — FSTOPPERS

Dave thinks “The photographic profession is now very much an uncertain profession with no guarantees of reliable livings to be made.” Hasn’t it always been this way?

The legal aspects that you and other commenters raise are real risks and something like that may put paid to Unsplash and its rivals but the genie is fully out of the bottle and the photographic profession is now very much an uncertain profession with no guarantees of reliable livings to be made. Whether we regret that or rue the disruption to traditional industries, technological disruption is a fact of life that isn’t going to go away. New business models will be needed for long-term survival. It may be the case that the photographic industry can re-invent itself as a profession that offers value people are prepared to pay for even in the face of free competition. It’s down to you guys in the industry to find that niche as the traditional industry withers… DAVE MILLIER FEBRUARY 6, 2018 AT 1:55 PM DED

Whereas Desertsweeper thinks the battle is already lost and that the young people of today don’t get the value of anything. Personally, I feel that’s a bit of wide sweeping statement that may cover a few people but surely not all right?

I see this as a largely generational problem. The advent of the smartphone, social-media and “instant-sharing” has created a lack-of-ethic amongst its relatively young users. I asked someone recently, who re-published my images, what gave them the right to do so, without my consent, and they were genuinely confused. “But you put them on the internet!” They really don’t get it: “If I was there, with MY camera, I could have taken that picture right, so why do you ‘own’ it?” This is a battle already lost to the masses. Game over. — DESERTSWEEPERJANUARY 31, 2018 AT 11:57 AM

So as you can see, there is a lot of doom and gloom out there. Photographers are generally concerned about how unsplash is able to flout this law and get away with ‘Daylight phorobbery.’

Also, Zac and a lot of other photographers were bewildered at why any photographer would give his or her stuff away for free:

The sports fisherman that tosses a line into the local pond isn’t the issue. Imagine if suddenly those weekend sports fishermen came trawling alongside you with affordable semi-commercial boats every time you went out and they brought their catch into the pier and gave all their fish to your customers. That is what professional photographers are dealing with. A different viewpoint, don’t you think?
As has been said, there is a definite paradigm shift in the mentality of the image consumer in the age of the internet. Imagery is everywhere and the easy access to it has given rise to the thought that, “if it’s within reach therefore it is open game to do with as I please.” The recording industry went through a similar battle and they actually won. Not because individual musicians complained, but because they had a strong industry backing with studios, distributors and organizations to protect them as a single, cohesive force. Something the photography industry does not have. CHARLES UNITAS FEBRUARY 1, 2018 AT 12:13 AM

This is a scam taking advantage of ‘photographers’ who probably have a very slim chance of making any money anyway and whose work is more than likely pretty mediocre but I’d think ego comes into the idea that their images might get used by someone. There are simply far too many ‘photographers’ about- almost everyone and their dog. This practice of stealing people’s copyright has been lurking for some time now with various different laws. I’d say forget being a pro photographer and find another job or do it as a hobby. Look what has happened in the music industry. MARTIN KOSTYRKA FEBRUARY 1, 2018 AT 8:25 PM

So it all comes down to the perceived value of the image.

There needs to be a distinction made between professional photographers who make photographs for money and talented people who make photographs and then give them away.
No matter how hard you try you are never going to stop the second group from doing what they are doing because they do it for fun. They don’t care about the money. That is irrelevant. The reward is in the accolades.

So we all know that sites like unsplash exist and will continue to exist for a long time to come. The best we can hope is that along the way unsplash adapts and changes its image upload process to include the relevant releases which in time I’m sure it will, let’s just hope that no photographer gets burnt during that process.

Also it’s key that it really concentrates on educating it’s photographers about the model release process, to ignore this any longer would be tantamount to self destuction.

To survive as a photographer today is about much much more than taking pictures anyhow. You need a multitude of skills of which photography is just one part. I’ve been a photographer with SODA over the last 10 years and if we’d relied solely on photography to survive, I’m not sure whether we’d still be here.

As technology has changed at such a pace over the last 10 years, we’ve had to master all sorts of skills which enabled to land a variety of different work. The key to survival I think is having has many strings to (one’s) bow. Being able to master photography + cinematography + editing + grading + sound makes you a hell of a lot more marketable and a lot more commercial for many businesses.

Bottom line is this, knowledge is still power but the access to that knowledge is now much more accessible than it’s ever been. Learn as many new skills as possible, and in time you become more commercial and attractive to potential clients. Be careful about what and where you upload your images and educate yourself on the model release process. It’s the least you can do.

Thanks to Zac for highlighting this to so many photographers, whatever your thoughts on the whole unsplash affair, the fact that people are now talking about the issues makes the world a better place for everyone.


Written by


Photographer, London UK. www.paulbence.com

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