Earlier this week Life.com and Getty Images; "joined forces to provide you instant access to millions of breathtaking photographs - for free.” … “When you find a photo you like, you’ll be able to share it, print it, and sometimes even buy it.”
When I see the word "free" attached to something that I place a high order of value on, I have to force my brow not to furrow. I know that in this age of creative commons, freely transferred 1's and 0's and the overall lack of public knowledge regarding intellectual property; that copyright is gasping for breath. Life Magazine's catalog of imagery is the highest regarded in the world. Many of the photographic masterpieces created in the last century reside within it's confines.
While I know that this isn't a copyright issue, it does speak to the larger issue of the value of an image. If my clients can go online and download Karsh, Penn and Capa for free, what value will they place on these images? What value will they place on mine? Does the inexpensive/free availability of this massive archive alter our perception of the intrinsic value of a photograph? Do we now shift the balance towards art over commerce?
I recently had the opportunity to discuss some of these issues with one of the industry's leading commercial photographers. I saw one of his images, produced for an ESPN Magazine cover, being sold online as the main component of a screensaver. His response to learning of this was as surprising as it is telling, "Copyright is dead man."