Earlier this week, the UK Government came under fire over a “crass” campaign photo. It shows a young ballet dancer and a caption reading: “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet). Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” Atlanta-based photographer Krys Alex shot the original image, and she spoke up about the incident. She says that she was “devastated” when she found out how her photo was used, and that she would have never allowed it.
Coronavirus has hit all of us, but artists and creators are among those who were hit really hard. UK Government decided to hit them even harder in a marketing campaign that completely devaluates their jobs. Not only does it mock artists, but it also uses free photos found on Unsplash, So, it’s no wonder that it faced a strong backlash and it was soon taken down.
The “free” image website Unsplash – a site that remains as controversial as it is popular – has released what it describes as “the most complete high-quality open image dataset ever”. The “dataset” in this instance is essentially the keywords and search metadata of a whole bunch of images that can be downloaded in one big lump.
There are two datasets available. The “Full” version contains information for over 2 million images from more than 200,000 photographers around the world and is available for non-commercial use only. It covers over 5 million keywords and 250 million+ searches. The “Lite” dataset is limited to 25,000 nature-themed images and keywords and 1 million searches.
Unsplash has in a short time become a major player in the photo-sharing industry. 174,000 photographers have uploaded images to the site. The platform this month boasts 5,000 views and 27 downloads per second. (PER SECOND!) People download images for blogs, classes, and other purposes, but also for commercial use. There is a big debate in the industry asking if Unsplash is good or bad, but it is not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about the legal risks you face when you upload work to Unsplash. Not as the end-user, but as the photographer.
Photographers use Unsplash for exposure because of the enormous traffic the site generates. A company may hire a photographer for commercial assignments or simply want to license a high-resolution version of an image it found on Unsplash.
It is now exactly 2 years since I started uploading stock photos to Unsplash -the slightly controversial stock photo platform where everything is FREE for everyone.
And I thought this is a good occasion to review what I gained from my presence on Unsplash.
In this article I want to answer the question if giving away one’s photographs for free on Unsplash has benefits for photographers.
Of course, these are just my own experiences. Your mileage may vary…
Let me give you the short conclusion first. For me as a professional photographer publishing photos on Unsplash was (almost) completely useless and had no tangible benefits.
Yet I am not negative towards Unsplash and I am going to tell you why.
Many photographers argue that Unsplash is a disaster for the industry. But it seems that it can also be harmful to those who download and use photos from the website. Photographer, cameraman, and presenter Simon Palmer recently got into legal trouble after using a photo from Unsplash on his blog. Although the photo was from the “source of freely usable images,” Palmer got a copyright infringement notice from Copytrack requesting him to pay a license fee.
On May 30, 2019, controversial free stock photo site Unsplash announced that it crossed the 1 million images uploaded mark.
That had much of the photo blogosphere up in arms.
Many photographers hate Unsplash because it encourages people to give away their pictures for nothing — not even credit.
But, I’m going to argue that Unsplash’s 1 million photo milestone is no big deal — outside of stock photography, at least.
Imagine a website that convinces its users to upload free content and builds social signals (e.g. likes and view counts) to make the site addictive. Then imagine the company using the usage data as a referral mechanism to make money without compensating the content producers. It’s not Facebook, it’s Unsplash, and it’s terrible for photographers.
Now imagine a huge website provider partnering with Unsplash to distribute the photography for free, and basically send the message that photography has no value. Stop imagining because Squarespace just did it.
I watched a video from Atlanta-based commercial photographer and OneLight wizard Zack Arias last night. I hadn’t planned to watch it all as I was headed to bed, but I found it very interesting. So, I ended up watching the whole thing and going to sleep far too late. The video covers Zack’s thoughts on Unsplash, and it makes Zack’s position quite clear. He’s not happy.
Zack had the chance to talk with Unsplash founder, Mikael Cho to voice some of his concerns. He feels betrayed, and I can understand where he’s coming from. In the hour-long conversation, Zack raises some fantastic points, on which some I completely agree, especially releases. There are definitely wrinkles that need to be ironed out with this type of platform. Overall, though I don’t agree with Zack’s position on how it will affect the industry as a whole, long-term.
We recently featured an article by photographer Samuel Zeller touting the virtues of giving away photography on Unsplash for free: I’ve Been Sharing My Photography For Free On Unsplash for the Past 4 Years, Here’s What I Found.
I have to admit, I was really confused – why would any legit photographer ever consider giving away their work for free – or as Unsplash puts it:
Download free (do whatever you want) high-resolution photos.
I am also very confused why any designer would risk significant legal liability by using an image from Unsplash without a model release, property release or trade mark release.
So I decided to check out Unsplash for myself – here is what I found…