Every week fotoLibra gets requests from companies, charities, bloggers and individuals who want to use photographs — your photographs.

This of course is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately for you and me they have one thing in common. They all want them for free.

Oh, the reasons they give are wondrous and manifold; way above ‘the dog ate my homework’ level. They plead to our better nature, they claim poverty, they cite numerous examples of unparalleled generosity from picture libraries who modestly (and surprisingly) request anonymity, and, most common of all, “we’re a charity so we shouldn’t have to pay anything”.

I’ve just seen a correspondence between a Large Wealthy Production Company and a struggling musician. It makes fascinating reading.

I have redacted the copy to remove any direct references to the LWPC because their lawyers are undoubtedly larger and wealthier than ours, and anyway they don’t need the free publicity. ‘Xena’ is a made-up name. The only indicator I haven’t changed in the name of the musician, ‘Whitey’ N J White. I can’t find his blog at the moment, but I’m sure he would appreciate any messages of support you may care to offer. This material came from the excellent PetaPixel newsletter.

All I want you to do when reading the following correspondence is substitute the word ‘photography’ for ‘music’. Then see how you feel.


Thanks for emailing me, I have emailed your label but not heard back yet so thanks for getting in touch. Unfortunately we don’t have any budget for music but would be great if we could use the track but it is up to you, but would appreciate anything you could do?

Many thanks,


and now Whitey’s reply:

Hello Xena

Firstly, there is no label — I outright own my material, so I’m not sure who you’ve been emailing.

Secondly, I am sick to death of your hollow schtick, of the inevitable line “unfortunately there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law Of The Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget.

So you have chosen to allocate no money for music. I get begging letters like this every week — from a booming, affluent global media industry.

Why is this? Let’s look at who we both are.

I am a professional musician, who lives from his music. It took me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard-earned property. I’ve licensed music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on earth; from Breaking Bad to the Sopranos, from Coca Cola to Visa, HBO to Rockstar Games.

Ask yourself: would you approach a Creative or a Director with a resumé like that, and in one flippant sentence ask them to work for nothing?

Of course not. Because your industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work.

Or would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying “So sorry, I’ve no budget for food”? Of course you would not.

Because culturally, we classify that as theft.

Yet the culturally ingrained disdain for the musician that riddles your profession leads you to fleece the music angle whenever possible. You will without question pay everyone connected to a shoot — from the caterer to the grip to the extra — even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing.

Now let’s look at you. A quick glance at your web site reveals a variety of well known, internationally syndicated reality programmes. You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognised company with a string of hit shows.

Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a West London office, with a string of awards under your belt, you have real money. To pretend otherwise is an insult.

Yet you send me this shabby request — give me your property, for free. Just give us what you own, we want it.

The answer is a resounding and permanent NO.

I will now post this on my sites, forward this to several key online music sources and blogs, encourage people to re-blog this. I want to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians [and Photographers — Ed.]

This was one email too far for me. Enough. I’m sick of you.

N J White

And the one thing Xena from LWPC Inc left out was “Of course, we’ll give you a credit. It’ll be great publicity for you, because we’ve sold this project to 597 planets across the universe. You should be SO grateful to us!”

What can we say? Thanks A Lot.

And well said, Whitey! N J White is hereby awarded the 2013 fotoLibra Award For Speaking Out.


Add your comment


33 Responses to “Give Us Your Work For Free”

  1. C. Henderson says:

    I am also a photographer as well as a musician. Publicans expect us to work for beer but mostly for nothing! They pay their bar staff a wage, takes a few hours to get the hang of serving beer. How long does it take to learn an instrument or a camera?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Since leaving college I’ve spent eight years in paid employment, two weeks on the dole, and thirty-eight years being more or less gainfully unemployed.

      And working for beer is my basic ambition.

  2. Nick Jenkins says:

    Very coherently put together – excellent reply. And, I will bet, that was not/will not be replied to.

  3. Paul Groom says:

    Wonderful, wonderful letter. I just love “…shabby request…”

  4. Dodie Ulery says:

    I do give my work to groups and magazines who share my enthusiasm for certain causes need donations to continue their work……otherwise I charge for my work and always will.

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      That’s the right answer. We are still human beings at heart. But as MD of fotoLibra it’s not in my power to give our photographers’ work away.

      Sometimes if the cause is close to our stony hearts we will forego our commission. The photographer will always get paid full whack.

  5. Well said!! This has been the culture amongst lazy corporations who feel that anyone working for them should be grateful for the opportunity to showcase their work, thereby doing it for free.
    Thanks for posting Gwyn

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      Working as a publicist in the distant past, every other call asked me for a freebie with the same old line — “Just think of the publicity you’ll get!”

      • Gordon Longmate says:

        What is the point of publicity if you are not going to get paid for your work?

  6. John Cleare says:

    Yes, an excellent response from Mr Whitey.
    He’s covered most of the crucial points.

    I get similar requests all the time but from “poor students” who “only want to borrow the file to print off a poster for my wall”. Today’s rich begger was in India for heavens sake. I assume these poor students will eventually grow up to be rich executives who still want something for nothing. Should I blame the Welfare State mentality ?

    • Gwyn Headley says:

      We’ve just turned down an unemployed Nigerian poet who wanted a free picture of an orchid for the front cover of his self-published book of poems.

      But on the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

  7. Peter Cope says:

    Interesting. In my ‘other job’ (that is, when I don’t have a camera to my eye), I help develop educational software, software designed specifically for school children in the age range 3 to 11. This software is designed to be used by schools to fulfil their curriculum objectives and teach their children.
    You won’t believe (or may be you will) how many schools ask us for the software for free – because they are a school and shouldn’t have to pay for educational resources. What’s worse, some have even pirated our software and, when caught, told us, “it would be really bad publicity for your company if you tried to take it off us or sue us because you will look bad”.
    So this trait of demanding ‘something for nothing’ is all pervasive!

  8. Stuart says:

    Hi Gwyn,

    I am a member of FL, and I have always appreciated your efforts to support and publicise the plight of photographers. But I am afraid the situation is now far worse than perhaps many could have thought possible.
    It has reached the point where an industry has now developed that makes money by facilitating the exploitation of photographers for the likes of LWPC.

    They do this by charging the photographer a fee for the privilege of applying to freelance job listings, the vast majority of which are unpaid job posted by commercial entities of various types.
    I am afraid that professional /commercial photography is now defunct as a means to earn a living unless one is fortunate enough to be operating at the high end in the advertising sector.

    I also receive direct solicitations from Large Wealthy Publishing Companies just like the one our friend the musician received. On one occasion it was from a famous ‘American’ publisher of travel magazines seeking to use one of my photos for free. More recently I have also received a generous invitation from a publisher in China. The wording is always very similar, like they have a prepared script which is sent out when required. What worries me is that I suspect there are many photographers, pro and amateur, that get taken in by this. In the case of the ‘American’ publisher they promised a photo credit in their internationally famous magazine. I declined their offer and when the edition was published I checked the article, and surprise surprise none of the alternative photos that they used were credited. It is quite frankly just a scam.

    Keep up the fight !

  9. Erik Strodl says:

    Obviously a very well educated musician, and succinctly put…., this scrounger will no doubt try the same ploy again until some poor soul accepts the bait. The proverbial two fingers to Xena!!

  10. Derek Metson says:

    The bigger they are the greedier they are!

    In forty years of photographing weddings we had one album unpaid for from distant cousin we did at half price as a present and one MILLIONAIRE who didn’t pay our usual deposit and wanted to buy all the rough proof prints at a knock down price with no album.

    As his wife was a fellow high street trader in a small town we had to go along with his bully boy tactics. At least he didn’t get the negs!

    Nowadays we stand up to bullies – with particular success against the power supply companies.

    Well done Whitey!

  11. Chris Fagg says:

    Unfortunately I have no budget for comments. But — way to go Whitey!

  12. Rob Taylor says:

    All well put and I whole heartedly agree, if its worth having then its worth paying for.
    I get this with other things I make…comments like …you have a skill ( I do, thanks for recognising it and I work at it to make it better), you are quick at it so it won’t take you long….well thanks, now how about recognising that with a little of the folding stuff.
    World is full of freeloaders getting rich off other peoples backs.

  13. George Sampford says:

    Terrific response! and one I can well appreciate having worked in the advertising industry and seeing liberties being taken by so-called ‘creatives’ (in particular). Why anyone should think that the ‘sweat’ of another is available for free, or cheaply, beats me…

  14. Peter Bolton says:

    I get occasional ‘requests’ asking for free images. The company or whoever is requesting usually thinks the promise of a credit is what rocks my boat and the resulting recognition will fill my order book. I always use the same response before terminating the conversation. “So what is it you do?, how much do you charge? Oh really, as much as that! And do you sometimes work for free just on the promise of recognition and the possibility of getting more work. Now go away and think about what you are asking me to do. – oh!, and don’t call me again unless you want to pay upfront to use one of my images” End of chat.

  15. Brian Murray says:

    This sort of thing happens all the time. It’s like planning a car journey and not “budgeting” for the petrol because you don’t like paying for it.

    A local puts together a calendar of local scenes. Usually, the photos are pretty dire, so he was overjoyed when he saw some of mine. “I could use them for my calendar” he said. Free of charge, of course.

    I agreed, on the strict condition that he gives the calendar away, free of charge. He was shocked: “But it takes time and money to put that together, have it printed etc.”. So do my photos……..

    Needless to say, the photos are just as bad as ever, and none of them are mine.

    My other job is fixing computers, and just about every school, organisation or charity that gets wind of this wants me to donate time keeping theirs running, free of charge of course.

    Peter Cope: I used to fix computers in schools, and they have a very cavalier attitude towards licensing. Our friends at Microsoft would have a stroke if they knew that “One CD and license equals many installations of MS Office”.

    • Peter Cope says:

      Brian – yes we had exactly the same problem: “We bought a single user licence because technically the head bought it and he is the single user who decided to install it on all computers” or ” we are a single site therefore a single user licence was what we obviously needed” (ignoring the fact we sold a keenly priced ‘site licence’.
      And, as I alluded to above, “I’m making a stand – educational resources should be free”. In the latter case, when challenged and asked, how do you expect the designers, programmers and support team to be paid, the answer is “not my problem”…. then there was the empty DVD case returned with a post-it note, obviously designed for internal consumption saying “return this as I’ve made a copy”. You can’t, as they say, make it up!

  16. Mike Mumford says:

    Give us something for nothing is what society has grow-up to expect. Education is poorly taught, standards are low, nobody fails, results are fixed too high. Competition is diluted, everyone is a winner. I used to tell my students you cannot half pass your driving test. The education system saids you can. Measured against the real world and a country goes into decline, recession or not.

    The same can be said for the art and antique trades, real quality has been diluted, rubbish art is elevated. Where true art and craftsmanship is undervalued. No wonder the taste and values are undermined by over valued rubbish against quality products. Educate the mind, into seeing the truth will take a long time, we have to start somewhere.

    Until the media start to promote common sense, and good sound judgements the public mood will reflect the take-away society we have today.

  17. Howard says:

    This would be fine if everything was free, petrol,food, rent,etc…

  18. Jamie Waddell says:

    Brilliant, well done.

  19. Mark says:

    Whitey! has a good point. there are too many folk out there who want to make a killing from a hard working artist , with out spending a single cent . It’s down right wrong .

  20. hlaingmoeko says:

    I went to upload photo in your website but i have a little problem so that i can try to your web load my photo see me next time

  21. Maria Galan says:

    Excellent letter!

  22. A well-deserved award.
    Reminds me of the time WestDeutscherRundfunk offered me 50 Deutschmark for a song (“Don’t Mess Around”)that went on to do very well on my own label and is still being sung all over Germany by various folks, I’m happy to say. 🙂 Well done Whitey!
    Richard H. Jones

  23. My usual response to these chancers is: “Ok, you can use my picture for a credit, as long as you agree with your boss that you don’t want paying this week, you just want him to give you credits so everybody knows what a great job you are doing”

    Works every time, and it’s usually a very short conversation.