On Copyright, Clients and Catfights

What's the most important aspect of your business?  What is it that matters most?  Think about it for a minute... of all the things that matter to your business, what is it that drives all other decisions?  I'm guessing it's not copyright.  Sure, copyright is a big deal to photographers.  If it weren't for legal protection, it would be almost impossible to earn a living creating photographs. 

Copyright exists for two basic reasons - so that the person who created a work can 1) control what happens with it, and 2) make money off it.   It used to be that if you couldn't control what happens with your work, you had little chance of making money off of it.

What never ceases to amaze me is how so many photographers seem to be far more concerned about #1 than #2.  Photographers worry about clients taking images and adding Instagram filters to them, and then posting them with their name attached.  Photographers worry about clients editing their own photographs, and people thinking that was the work of the photographer.  Really?

If your client doesn't know any better than to screw with their photos, what makes you think any of their friends are smart enough to know the difference. 

Speaking of your clients - let's be honest.  They don't care about what you care about.  When they hire you, they are paying you to create images.  Most of the time, what photographers do for commissioned work falls outside the original spirit of copyright protection anyway.  It's essentially work for hire.  Of course, protectionist minded photographers would certainly argue differently.  Back to the clients -  what do they care about?  Well, let's think about what they hired you for.

Most likely, they hired you to capture either an important event in their life, or important people in their life.  They've invited you to be a part of the most important thing in the world to them - their family.  They've asked you to use your talent, your skill, your experience, and your abilities, to help them remember. 

When a client pays you to create images for them, they are asking you to provide a service.  Let's be honest, when you turn around and tell a client that the photos they invited you to take,  of the people most important to them, aren't "theirs," there's a huge disconnect.  

So, again, I ask you - what's the most important thing in your business.  Is it creating images?  I think the gut instinct might be yes - but I'd challenge you to get past the easy answer, and get to the real answer.   I don't happen to think that the most important thing a photographer does is create images.  In fact, I believe that images are simply a tool photographers use to create value.

You create value you when you enable people to remember the way they feel as they walked down the aisle on their wedding day.  You create value when you help a mom remember the way she felt as her son took his first steps.  You create value when you help a family remember the way they feel when they spend treasured moments with grandpa.  The images are the tool, but the real value is something more.

That's not a small thing, by the way.  In fact, it's such a big thing that very few photographers ever figure it out.  And if the images are simply a tool to something bigger - creating value, how does that change the way you approach things like copyright.  How does your perspective change when you stop worrying about things like "what will my clients do with these images after I hand them over?" and instead focus on "how can I create value for my clients?"

That, by the way, is how you create value for yourself, and your family. 

Of course, this is a well-argued topic by now.  Many photographers have spent a lot of energy picking sides in what might be the biggest industry catfight I've seen in a very long time.  I guess my question would be - is that really the most important thing to your business?  Is choosing sides, and worrying about what some software company founder believes about your images, really the most productive way to invest in your business?

Let's be clear, I think it that DJ's comments were rather inelegant.  But they weren't wrong.  They bothered a lot of photographers, but they weren't wrong.  Were they self-serving and controversial?  Sure.  And for the record, I don't think I've ever agreed with anything "shoot and share" related, either philosophically, or in practice.  But it comes down to this:

Are you more concerned about controlling your images, or adding value.  One of those will, for sure, make you far more money than the other.  Focus on value.