We received a cheery sales enquiry this morning:

Good morning,

I work for the Social Security Administration (SSA) in the Dallas Region. The Dallas Region is comprised of Social Security offices in 5 states (New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas). The Dallas Region is separated into 6 parts called Area’s [I think he means Areas]. One such Area has Social Security Offices in two states (Oklahoma and Arkansas).

We are creating a banner for the Area front page that would represent 2 states (Oklahoma and Arkansas) and we would like to use one of your pictures as part of the banner to represent the State of Arkansas. This front page would exist on a Secure intranet and would only be visible to Social Security employees. This Intranet is not accessible to the general public or anyone outside of the Social Security Administration and serves as an information portal for SSA employees.

Please consider allowing us to use your image shown.  As a government entity we cannot pay for rights.

Yvonne was on it in a flash:

Hello Tony

Many thanks for your message and for your interest in one of our images. I’m sorry to read that as a government entity you can’t pay for rights because, as a stock agency, our business is selling usage rights for our many contributors.

I regret that I can see no reason why we should give you free rights to use one of our images and wish you luck in persuading someone else to give away their work for no reward.


Yvonne Seeley

What a model of restraint. It’s fortunate she responded before I had a chance to vent my spleen, otherwise Anglo-American relationships could have been irreparably damaged.

This scenario is becoming increasingly common. I wrote about it in a blog last November, Give Us Your Work For Free. Yvonne was more concise and to the point than Whitey. Why should anybody, in any organisation, in any country, anywhere in the world, expect to be paid for what they do and yet expect you and me to hand over the fruits of our investment, creativity and labour for nothing? It’s contemptuous, patronising and demeaning.

Mind you, Yvonne has form where this sort of behaviour is concerned. Some years ago when she was working for BASF and Sir Peter Hall was Director of the National Theatre, Hall’s secretary rang up to order 10 reels of recording tape. Yvonne’s question was to be expected: “To whom shall I send the invoice?” In a flash Hall (as he was then) was on the phone, fulminating “Don’t you know who I am? I’ll have your job for this!” Yvonne answered evenly, “I don’t think so. Now do you want to buy these tapes or not?”

Collapse of stout party, as they say.

Only one good comes of this. It shows that a picture library set up in a remote corner of North-West Wales can be seen and used by a US government department.

The next step is to get them to pay $600 for our lavatory seat. Older readers will recall the reference.


Add your comment


31 Responses to “So This Is What We’re For”

  1. Arno says:

    So where in the law does it state that government entities cannot pay for image usage rights?

    I’ve licensed images to government entities, so as far as I know government entities not being allowed to pay for image usage rights is a load of horse crap.

    I think that this was just another variation on the “we don’t have a budget for licensing images”.

    Contacting a professional stock agency with a request like that just makes you look incredibly stupid.

    Well done, Yvonne, for putting the lid on their nose.


  2. Nick Jenkins says:

    Were they genuinely from a Govt.agency? I wonder as it seems dubious.
    The right answer from Yvonne, whichever way you cut it!

  3. Brian Murray says:

    I think I’ll try that. Next time I get my car serviced, I’ll say “As a permanently skint writer/photographer, I cannot pay for this service”.

    Incredible. What makes it worse is the way that they come with statement like that, with absolutely no explanation for why they can’t pay. Can’t, don’t feel like doing.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      There’s a famous story about a composer in the C19 having dinner in Paris. The house band was playing one of his numbers, so at the end of the meal he walked out without paying. That was justified! But I can’t remember the composer’s name? Vinteuil? No, he was a Proust creation.

      • Phil Dawson says:

        It could have been Chopin as he was renowned for jealously guarding his music against unauthorised (unpaid for) performance!

  4. Brenda Skinner says:

    So proud of fotoLibra!

  5. My son-in-law was taking a course and the lecturer handed out notes that comprised print offs from my horticultural web site and some pages photocopied from one of my books.
    He casually asked if she had permission to which she responded “He’ll never know”. I think that implies she knew she shouldn’t be doing that. Apparently her face was a picture when he revealed our relationship.
    When asked by teacher I have been known to send a free book and packets of seeds.
    Fact is people generally, including many who should know better, do not respect intellectual property.
    Love the loo seat reference.. skunk works. I believe the KGB paid highly for the photos 🙂

  6. C. Henderson says:

    As a photographer and musician there are close similarities to both professions. I am asked regularly to play in pubs for free. When I point out it takes several years to become proficient enough to play and sing in public but only a couple of hours to train someone to pull beer they cannot see my point! Pay the bar person but not the entertainment!

  7. Walter Rawlings says:

    This was going on even in the Sixties before the heyday of picture agencies and respected photographers. When Le Corbusier died suddenly the Architectural Review desperately looked for a suitable memorial issue cover photograph and used one of my snow scenes of Ronchamp.

    Naively I had not agreed a fee in advance and none was forthcoming, so I phoned them. A horrified voice gasped out loud before answering ” But…But…I…I..should have thought that it was a privilege for a student to be published by the Architectural Review…”

    So I sent in my invoice for £30 which was quite a decent sum in 1965 and was paid. By the way, Gwynn, you weren’t the editor of AR in 1965 were you?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Even I am not that old, Walter. But in 1967 I was earning £9 a week and £30 was a fortune. I paid £30 for my first car, I think. Well done for getting the money. The pleasure has clearly lasted almost 50 years!

  8. paul homsy says:

    Glad you answered the way you did Yvonne.
    This is not a real government entity. It’s a scammer asking for something for nothing. Each state is independent in the U.S. There is no such thing as the Dallas region being comprised of social security offices in five states. Dallas is in Texas, period. The governement in the U.S pays fair market price. This guy is a liar.

  9. Lola Clark says:

    Couldn’t agree more with Yvonne!!

  10. Brian says:

    Well done Yvonne, a robust polite victory V!

  11. Bhaswaran Bhattacharya says:

    Good reply. It is ridiculous that somebody asks to use an image for free. I have no idea why a Government Entity cannot pay. I reside in India and have sold images to Government bodies several times against competitive payments for usage.

  12. Ann Parry says:

    Lovely response Yvonne gave to that snow job, Gwyn.
    With great luck, the next people they ask for free images also won’t misinterpret it as reasonable, let alone an honor.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m not sure what is worse, calling you or perhaps sponsoring a “rights grab” contest encouraging photographers to submit photographs to be used on their site for free as the “reward”. Now, they haven’t done this but this is where I see this heading in many cases for private companies like villa rentals, tourism agencies, cruise lines, ect.

  13. Michael says:

    I’m glad to see you did not cave to their request. They ARE able to pay for these items. They just might not have it in the budget. But, as a tax payer, I would be mad if they didn’t try.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Depending on what side of the fence your legs are dangling, I can understand the PoV. There are good points to be found in both fascist and communist manifestos. We are tax payers too, but we won’t be for long if we don’t have any income.

  14. Rob Weaver says:

    HI Gwynn,

    If you really want to know how I feel about this?

    The age of earning money fro photographs is past. Apart from using your web site almost on a charity basis, I used to sell Wildlife pics in South Africa and there was a demand, since very few people had LSR cameras etc. I was requested via an assignment to get the pic usually obtaining expenses for travel, petrol, accommadation had time ..now we receive zilch ..we are expected to go and risk going out to take pics at our expense with the hope that our pic is selected .How gross is that !
    Getty Images pay naught for pics ..National Geographic may do assignments but also source Flickr etc and expect photos to be sent to them .When last odd a photographic magazine pay for a pic ?
    With all the point and shoot cameras and SLR about these days and travel is so vast even less photos are sold.
    Authors of wild life fiction have approached me for free photos , and since none are selling I have given them the right to use them. that at least gives me some satisfaction as a photographer.
    Large companies or Government Organisations may agree to pay for a photo or two but it is one heck of a problem to get the payment out of them.
    So having spent the money on travel taken the photo ..it has become a non worthwhile business…then their is the aspect of pics being copied and pasted onto web sites ..the business world these days have few ethics..in the old days we used to speak and talk to the graphics and design departments in Ad agencies .now little if any contact unless one is Famous …no stock images days are limited ..Stock images companies should be run as a charity and maybe the users will donate the money . What I cannot understand is that companies can claim tax rebates etc on advertising, yet they do no take this into consideration when purchasing photos..it seems that photography is not seen an occupation ..only as a hobby ..
    So that is why I am no longer even a bit excited if I sell a photo .i do not expect a photo to be sold..the effort to upload photographs onto your site for example is great..this size ..this DPI etc ..so I have stopped uploading photographs ..I use Flickr who do not have restraints , who publish my photographs with high resolution etc and I am able to show these pics to a very large audiance ..and my friends ..Fotoliibra site does not have this facility ..
    Organisations will continue to take a chance and request free photos ..someone will give in and supply them ..but understanderably not for FotoLibra as that is not the business model.
    I think that the days of making money to live on for a photographer is not via stock images but through concentrating on one specific project like weddings, school photographs, events etc..or fashion cooking etc
    The days of variable interesting photography which includes people,travel,scenery,wildlife etc on numbered .
    Thank goodness I am now 71 years old …what will the youngsters do in the future?
    Or Stock images companies ? unless they have internstional and strong marketing financial back up…I see Facebook, Google, Yahoo etc going into this business SOON


    Rob weaver

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Rob, that is a pessimistic outlook which sadly has a grounding in truth. I have no figures to back me up, but I guess there are at least 1,000 digital photographs taken today for every one on film taken in 1999. So as is always the case in times of surplus, the unit price has tumbled. And even if 99.5% of the new images are crap, that still leaves you with 5 good ones.

  15. Jim Walker says:

    As an American, I am offended by the SSA even asking to use one of our images for free. Obama, and his minions, can waste $650 Million Dollars for a web site that never worked because a friend of his wife’s ran the company. But, they won’t spend a few hundred dollars to license copyrighted material from a legitimate business? It shows this government has no respect for business, or those of us trying to earn an honest buck.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Think of Microsoft commissioning Ariel because they didn’t want to pay a licensing fee for Helvetica. Yet they made their moolah through licensing fees!