“Shares well with others.” or “Like it? Link it!”

“Shares well with others.” or “Like it? Link it!”

Over the past few weeks, I have been having several conversations with photographers about sharing images and about copyright. I will be sharing two of these with you in upcoming Depth of Field interviews. The first is with Marco Ryan with Focus for Humanity; Marco explained in simple terms the principles and philosophy behind  net traffic and building up blog readership. The second is with Trey Ratcliff, a photographer and author with Peach Pit Press about his work, his website (Stuck in Customs), and how he has managed to gain millions of readers. The thing that kept coming up again and again was building “Internet trust,” that is building a community of online readers that trust your content and link their sites to your own. Building Internet trust builds up your readership through outside links and it also increases your Google rankings.

Marco and Trey discussed several approaches to doing this but it was Trey’s counter-intuitive approach that got my attention. It appealed to my creative bent to think “out of the box” and, as Hercule Poirot would say, it “exercised my little gray cells.” Trey’s philosophy is “create it and give it away… up to a point.” He does this using the Creative Commons licensing model which is an approach that lets you share your creative work in a way that allows others to share and build upon it but with certain restrictions that you specify. This is different than the “All Rights Reserved” approach that you probably have used and might sound a little scary. But scary as it sounds, I think the benefits outweigh the risk.

Here is how I understand the approach and it seems to be working for others. On a regular basis, I post one of my images as a part of the blog post or just a single image posted to share with my users. The image is large, an average of 950 pixels wide. I invite anybody to use the image for anything they want subject to certain conditions: They cannot use it for commercial purposes and they have to link my website. This gives my readers something to look forward to and establishes a regular flow of information across my blog. And, when the image gets used and the link to my site is established, it builds Internet trust.

Now, I can hear the skeptics moaning, “What about the people who take the images and do not link them?” According to Trey and others, those people are in the minority and most people follow through and link their images. It’s a matter of trust and integrity. Trey says that, using this approach to image release, he gets dozens of licensing requests a week. I can honestly say I don’t get that kind of requests for my images.

Another question is, “What does this mean for your clients?” of course, those images remain “All Rights Reserved.” And I just don’t post images that I shoot for my clients on the blog.

Do I have this all figured out? Not yet. It is an experiment. I’m going to give it a year, maybe two and we’ll see what happens. I feel I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Spread the word: The Digital Trekker shares well with others.

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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Matt’s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.


  1. Ed

    Matt, thanks for posting on this topic, it seems hotly debated. I have followed Trey for a while and think he makes a compelling argument. Chase Jarvis also has a post today on this topic with a link to a free day-long symposium on the matter in NYC http://bit.ly/aS2mjD. There is also the adage that a photo on the internet is a stolen photo, and it doesn't matter even if it is copyright protected. Now there are things you can do to minimize damage from theft of your photos like adding a watermark, embedding copyright info, limiting the size and quality of image available on the web – but then why post them for people to see. As a viewer I prefer to see images in their unadulterated glory. So, as you say Matt, if you [Royal you ;-p) have images you have composed for yourself or clients that you would class as copyright-all rights reserved don't post them on the web. Ultimately I think Trey is right, those who steal your work on the web are in the minority. The two instances I have found so far where CC licensed images of mine have been used elsewhere both linked back to the original image as per the terms of the license. I don't know if Trey mentioned it in the interview with you also but when you build up internet trust and the huge loyal following he has I am sure that helps you police any infringements against your licensing if they see it “Hey, I know that photo, it's a Trey Ratcliff, hmm, how come there's no credit?” Cue email to Trey, cue take down notice etc. Ultimately the benefits do seem to outweigh the risk by sharing in this manner. After-all, you don't have to share everything, it may even help to keep a little back – adds a bit of mystery and all that to keep the curiosity quotient up. Thanks for the post Matt, looking forward to the DOF interviews.

  2. heber vega

    I always had the impression that sharing/linking was a great strategy for photographers; I also thought CC was somehow a good idea, but here's the thing… You are the first (serious) photographer that I know of using CC. And recently I read about how CC was destroying the industry of photography, and how clients that used to pay for shots now they were taking advantage of this. And I know that with CC you can set your photos to not be commercialize by others.
    Now, if I use CC but I want to show the work of another photographer in my website, as I do in 10.Q then I want to be clear that those shots are under another license type.
    So, how can I manage that?
    How can I use CC and All rights reserved in one blog?

    This is a good topic Matt, thank you for bringing it up and having the guts to have changed.

  3. cfimages

    I experimented with CC a year or two ago and promptly stopped when a potential editorial client told me that they'd have been interested in an exclusive licensing deal on a particular image if it hadn't already been marked as CC (marked as CC long before I became aware of the client).

    It might work if new work is All Rights Reserved, and older stuff (say, older than 2 years) gets CC.

  4. Benny

    How do you know that people who steal images without asking are in the minority? It's not like they tell you, “I'm going to use this image without crediting you.” No, they download it, and use it how they want whether it be online or print. Still on the fence about this, I'm just curious as to how you can really know the stats on that.

  5. TOEIC

    Insightful read. I have just bookmarked this at stumbleupon. Hope others find it as interesting as I did.

  6. Matt Brandon

    This is always the biggest risk with CCed images in my mind. But, my work outside of my NGO clients and workshop works is so limited. So I would rather risk the few images I post on this blog and invest in being seen (in theory) than sit back and hope that someone might find me and an image they'ed like to license strictly by chance.

  7. Matt Brandon

    To be frank, I don't know. But this statement comes from people who are doing this type of CC licensing and their experience. There are way to look for your image online, you can use tools like tineye.com. Plus, as has been stated by Ed in these comments, there is the trust of the others that are linking as they should and they known and even become self appointed police your you at times. I have seen this happen first hand.

  8. Damien Franco

    I believe that's the right way to look at it.

    You can own 100% of nothing or give a little to gain more.

    Besides, in this day and age, all photographers, regardless of what niche they work in, are going to have to constantly adjust their marketing.

    So are the art buyers.

    If you sit by the wayside you risk being irrelevant and going unnoticed.

  9. Rims

    Its can be called effective communication where exist sharing, transaction, and willingly share anything. its a good social interaction which means understanding the approach and seems to be working for others.



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