Crowdsourcing Image Rights, A New Marketing Strategy?

By the way, if anyone here is in marketing or advertising…kill yourself. Thank you. Just planting seeds, planting seeds is all I’m doing. No joke here, really. Seriously, kill yourself, you have no rationalisation for what you do, you are Satan’s little helpers. Kill yourself, kill yourself, kill yourself now. Now, back to the show. Seriously, I know the marketing people: ‘There’s gonna be a joke comin’ up.’ There’s no fuckin’ joke. Suck a tail pipe, hang yourself…borrow a pistol from an NRA buddy, do something…rid the world of your evil fuckin’ presence.
Bill Hicks

Bill Hick’s stance may have been extreme, however sometimes I do look at some marketing and advertising trends and feel this way. After a flurry of news articles this week I do feel as if there is a new trend in marketing and advertising that I will call “Crowdsourcing Image Rights”. I first felt this when I was contacted by Lego about wanting to use one of my images on their site.


It felt great when Lego contacted me on Instagram. The message was friendly and upbeat, of course I knew it was a copy and pasted message. Just saying yes would have been so easy and I would have said yes, if I hadn’t clicked the Link.


I am not a Lawyer or a Legal expert, I do however believe I have a quite a good grasp of the english language. The main part of the license is this;

You grant LEGO® a non-exclusive and non-revocable commercial right to reproduce the image in any form (including, but not limited to, video, internet posting, reproduction, display, email, publication, and distribution), either through our own services or services provided by third parties, throughout the world in any medium now known or later developed and without restriction or limitation. You agree that your image may be used by LEGO either alone or in conjunction with sketches, cartoons, captions, films, art work, textural matter or other photographs. While LEGO will make commercially reasonable efforts to give you credit for your photo and provide a link back to your Instagram account, you agree that such credit is not mandatory and your permission for us to use your image is not contingent upon such credit being given……..

You waive any right to inspect and/or approve the finished work incorporating the image or the advertising copy……….Further, you waive any claims to royalties with regards to your image or our finished work.

I.E. we can take your image and do what we like to it, even copy, re-edit or use it to make our own 3d replica images for our boxes. We will try (our hardest) but cannot guarantee that credit will be given to you.

I got 5 such requests over a period of days. I emailed the social media address and got no response, I responded to the messages on Instagram and got no response. Finally I went to twitter and got a response to my email.



Nikki Guardascione & Miller Lite

I am for one to let things be and with lego I have said my piece to them. It was interesting that this week there was an article telling a very similar story to mine.
Nikki Guardascione was contacted on Facebook my Miller Lite (a beer company), they wanted to use one of her wedding photos of the bride surrounded by the groomsmen drinking beer.
Miller posted a friendly comment; “Great Pic! Mind sending a private message so we can chat more?”.
Nikki did and Miller asked if they could share her picture with the WORLD, without compensation except for the pride that the work would be displayed to their fans. Nikki informed Miller she had more shots similar to this and it would be ok for the pictures to be used also long as there was a shout out to her social media accounts to get some new followers.
Here the tale goes down the rabbit hole as Miller wanted the picture to be used on a TV commercial not social media as the request seemed to imply. To this Nikki said no and questioned the way Miller had approached her.

SourceTony German & Samsung UK

Tony was contacted on Instagram by Samsung UK. They asked to use one of his photos to demonstrate the product ( Samsung Galaxy S3). The request though looks eerily similar to what lego sent me;

We love your picture agfapan (Tony’s name on instagram). Could we and our retailers use it to show what our products look like? Please Reply #yes to agree out terms _____Link.

The terms boiled down to the same as Lego although much longer; Guaranteeing he had the rights to the photo with a license given to Samsung to do what they want plus the ability to transfer the rights to a third party.

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark

I don’t wish to be cynical, three different people (including me), contacted by three different companies via social media, all wanting to use a picture featuring or created by that company’s product and wanting a royalty free license with no guarantee and in one case absolutely no guarantee of credit being given; something is very wrong here.

To me it feels like all these companies have been to a marketing conference where they have been told, “if you want images for advertising campaigns on social media you no longer have to create them yourself. No longer do you have to go out and hire a photographer, model, makeup artist, create a set or find a location. All of this can be done by your “Fans” and “Customers”, they are your royalty free stock library, where you can sweep in and grab images that you can use over and over as well as edit and transform into what you want; for free of course. Go forth friends and harvest the crop that you will find on social media, just search your firm’s name with a hashtag.”

This is where we can argue that you shouldn’t post things to social media. This is a straw man argument because social media is the modern day Yellow Pages, the adverts in local newspapers and posters on the street. A social media presence is needed if you want eyes on your work.
For me this is systemic of a problem of photography being seen as more disposable and has less worth than it once did. I agree that sometimes working for trade or even for free can be beneficial but handing over a royalty free license to a big corporation, in my mind is crazy. Samsung will not give you a phone for the possibility of you showing your friends, so why should you give your pictures to them.

As I said to Lego;

I feel Lego is taking advantage of its fans, whose work is interpreted in the t&c’s as worth nothing and valuing their pictures as worthless. Such wide t&c’s in an initiative to inspire others, looks more like an initiative to crowdsource images and then use your fans creativity as a basis for future lego projects.

The Five Pictures Lego Was Interested In

This Maybe the Future but it isn’t New

Crowdsourcing for image rights is something that has been around for a while, especially with free competitions and is even more prevalent in news media with user generated content. Some big guns have been involved and still involve themselves with this activity including the BBC

The facts are simple, people like seeing their pictures in newspapers and on websites, it gives them bragging rights. News media and corporations want cheap content and if they can get this from their viewers and customers great, because they can spend less on photographers; pushing down the price of photography, cutting trained photographers loose and diluting the value of what is an expensive hobby and profession.
I can understand that some companies want a real world feel to their product images because of the suspicion that everything is photoshopped (even the pictures in the Ikea Catalogue are 3d rendered), at least offer a fair deal for the work somebody has put into their picture.

I would be really interested in hearing your opinion on this issue, you can do so by using the comment box below.

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If you wish to get notifications when I post on my blog, you can follow me on Twitter@apertureF64, on or alternatively be emailed by subscribing below. All images are the Copyright of Benjamin Rowe , ALL RIGHTS Reserved unless credited to another photographer. For more information please read my Copyright Statement

15 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing Image Rights, A New Marketing Strategy?

  1. If these companies think we and our work are worthless, show them the same respect. Stop buying their products.

    • I agree that boycotting companies is an option yet to make a big enough effect I feel there would need to be wider acknowledgement that this practise is wrong, yet the average Joe may not worry about signing away such rights.

      • I was thinking more along the lines of just taking a personal stand. Of course a few of us not buying LEGOs isn’t going to change a thing. But in the case of Samsung who is trying to sell expensive cameras, a few comments like, “I wouldn’t buy a Samsung camera because they don’t respect or support creative rights.”, might get their attention coming from their targeted market segment – us. They in turn might tighten the screws on their expensive outsourced marketing agencies – the real problem.

  2. I am in agreement with your points, some time ago I had a similar, friendly looking e-mIl….can’t remember the company, I just ignored it!

  3. Interesting points. The big corporations are just taking advantage of all the social media and hope that some people will just be grateful for the acknowledgement. As you said it just takes away from those professionals who have all the equipment and studios to do the big shots. You will not have any say in how the images will be used, such as will they photoshop so that you don’t recognise it as yours. Even though many of those who are approached are amateurs, the copyright is theirs, and their’s alone

    • There were many people who I noticed excepted the lego requests. Most i would say we’re not amateur or even hobby photographers more people who took good snap with their phone. I do wonder what they will think they notice a transformed version of their image. I think big corps should treat people’s images in the same way as they treat their products.

  4. Excellent post, Ben. I know this took some time to put together, and I appreciate that you did it. I found it quite interesting and also very useful to know. I have not received any such requests, fortunately. Iy may be because I don’t do Instagram, but I have a number of colleagues who are very active with Instagram, Pinterest, etc.

    • I think this has started on Instagram and Facebook because the work is more likey to be original, where as Pininterest from what I understand your pin collections don’t have to be only your pictures. I doubt they would go to Flickr or 500px though, their users are usually more amateur/pro. It is a shame they are doing this and I hope the practice stops soon.

  5. Great post and a timely subject, Ben. This is one of the reasons I try not to show identifiable products in my photos but a few slip by now and then… I’m also fed up with the requests from companies asking if I would like to “write a post about travel/dining/tourist opportunities in my town” and link to their business so their customers can get see what it would be like to visit. (Uber is the most persistent) They don’t offer anything in return and sound genuinely surprised if I ask for reciprocal links so I say no. 😦 Lisa

    • It can be a minefield sometimes when shooting products as there are rights issues.
      I think a lot of companies want work for free like writing a blog post which they will make money from. I think companies are surprised when you ask for something back because others before have done it for nothing. This is the circle that we are trapped in, people do work for free for the experience which makes people think that others will do it for free. Eventually everyone will be working for free. I think that if someone wants you to work for free then they don’t appreciate what you do.

  6. CEOs make millions, sometimes billions. If they can’t afford to pay a few hundred for a photo that a photographer/artist spent time/money/effort on, then it’s not that important to them. They are being hypocrites by implying that they love our work but yet don’t value it because they want it for free. They are not willing to give their products for free without some sort of gain so why should we? As a hobbyist I feel that any effort I put into creating my photos is not something I’m willing to just give away to a company even though I’m not looking to make any money off my work. To me it would be like them saying “Hey, we love your work but think you are worthless so you should just give it to us.” I know that marketers have a job to do, but they also have a budget. I’m sure that budget is enough to pay a photographer/artist for their work when millions get put into marketing in the first place. It’s called ROI, if they think a photo will make them money, then it is an investment, not a loss, so we should get paid for that investment.

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