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[OPINION] Why Your Photos Should be FREE

The joys of letting go!

Cory Schmitz recently published an article called “Why Your Photos Deserve Your Name.” See, I disagree completely. Now I respect Cory and admire his work greatly – it’s just this issue of copyright and payment I disagree with. Perhaps controversially so.

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Public domain hippy

On my end of the spectrum, I give all my astrophotos away for free, without watermarks and don’t require attribution. I actually think the “Creative Commons” [CC] license is too strict. [PD] Public Domain however – now there’s a licence I can get behind! Copyright free – a gift to the world – now and forever. No need to attribute. Did you know if you don’t specify a licence it’s copyright to you as the creator by default? It’s only by explicitly releasing your images with [PD] Your Name 2017 for example that you relinquish control and let it go into the world.

I recognise that professionals want to charge for their work, and if they can find a buyer – great. But they have to compete with people like me (and NASA, and ESA) who give away free photos, easily sourced images from search engines, or pilfered images from social media to which, I should remind you, you relinquished full copyright control of when you uploaded them to the site, remember?

Everything has changed

The media landscape has changed as information is intangible now. Photos used to be physical objects that used raw materials to print. News used to come on a newspaper. Traditional media outlets for news are struggling – why would it be any different for photographers? Or musicians? The game has changed – you just have to learn to play it!

The same network that threatens the value of your work, also has the power to make it go viral in a way never before seen in our history. It’s for this reason I actively release my images to the public domain. This gives permission to any busy journalist, author, student, meme creator or artist to use my astrophotos however they like without asking. And guess what? My images go far and wide. People actively search for “public domain astrophotography” and guess who is on page 1 of the Google results? Me. Right next to NASA and Hubble. Also [PD] Public Domain.

Making everyone happy

Now if a company or journalist wants to use my image say, in print, but finds the web version too small – they ask me for a bigger copy. You know what happens next right? THEN I charge them a fee to retrieve and prepare the high resolution digital file for them. Everyone’s happy!

A few of my images have gone viral.. and many have ended up in well regarded books that I have no idea about until someone notices and tells me. And most of them even credit me out of the goodness of their hearts. Some even pay me because they feel bad! That’s great! If that’s the outcome I can hope for for setting my work free – who cares if someone else uses your “hard work” without your permission?

Let it go

You want to know how to kill the passion for your hobby? Start making it your job. You’ll learn to resent it, just like you resent your current work obligations.

I didn’t go to the effort and “hard work” to take the photo for money. I took the effort because I love space, and anything on top of that is a bonus. People send me photos of my work hanging in their homes, or being used in an academic presentation, or being remixed for art. The public *engages* with them and ask me endless questions about the science or the acquisition. That, for me, is a far better outcome for my work than having it languish on a hard drive or behind an ugly low res watermark version online and be forgotten in obscurity all because I was waiting for the right buyer to shell out a few bucks for the privilege of “owning” one of my photos.

Here’s a photo I just finished of M42 Orion and the Running Man recently. Go on, take it. It’s yours. 

It’s not important who took it. It’s more important that you’re looking at one of the most beautiful nebulae in the sky.

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About the author

Dylan O'Donnell

Dylan O’Donnell is an Australian web developer, Director of DNA Digital and zen10 Australia and public science communicator. He has a Masters of Information Technology and his astrophotography been featured by NASA and ESA among others. He is also a member of Team Celestron where he also contributes. To date, two of his images have been selected for NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day (APOD).

See more of Dylan’s work on his website.


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  • Hi Dylan,
    this is an interesting point of view. I’m a fan of Cory’s and your astrophotography. My astrophotography hasn’t progressed to the point where I could even think about selling photos. My opinion is that there at least a few trains of thought on the topic.

    1. People are happily producing images that they are proud to show off to their friends, family, and public. They hope that their images will eventually be good enough to compete with people like you. This is me. 🙂
    2. People have invested their time to perfect their skills and money to purchase equipment so that they can make money on some of their images. I think this is Cory.
    3. Your point stated above.

    I doubt I’ll ever get to #2 primarily because I do this for fun. My day job as an IT consultant often bleeds over into the night and weekends and then throw in travel…. My imaging time is limited. I’d be ecstatic if someone wanted to use one of my images publicly and I’m sure I’d like my name on it just for bragging rights. lol

    Great article!

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