“Sorry! We can’t pay. But…”

Thoughts and conversations on licensing creative work for free

  • brianhirschy

    I’m going to comment first.

    First, I want to make sure we all realize that creatives aren’t the only ones that this happens to, however, the difference is that the requester is usually more apologetic to other industries. Maybe no one is worried about offending and then getting beat up by a creative.

    Second, everyone has a budget. Everyone. Even ‘free’ events have budgets. The statement ‘No Budget’ is absolutely a value judgement. If you are a photographer giving away free stuff to people with no budget, you are quite literally part of the problem… Please stop.

    Third, large ‘real life’ networks of friends that don’t necessarily understand what you do can lead to this phenomenon as well.

    I’m interested to know what you guys have to add!


  • Perhaps the “no” response could be accompanied with a link that offers a thoughtful general response to the request and provides the requestor with some context that will help them better understand what they are really asking.

    • brianhirschy

      This is good and something I’ve thought about doing.

      Maybe I should have spent time on THAT vs. writing a quick blog post about it.

      I’m really interested in everyones experiences in this field and I’m glad an artist who isn’t a photographer (you) stopped by to comment.

      Hope all is well,

  • Sabrina Henry

    Hey Brian, when you posed the original question on Twitter, I actually answered with all seriousness that I was willing to give you something I perceived as valuable. The interesting thing was that you did not see the value in it (or you thought I was joking and didn’t take me seriously–probably that was what it was) but your response is reflective of what we perceive is valuable. What is valuable is in part determined by supply and demand. Create something of value and I truly believe people will pay for it. We also have to make the value proposition and many photographers in general over-estimate what they bring to the table. Too much imitation out there makes it really easy for people to get something for free. Let’s go back to the real meaning of what it means to be a creative (not steal like an artist and all that crap) and make something worthy of being a called a creative.

    *I have lots more to say on this but I’ll limit my response to the thoughts above with the caveat that I know it is not as simple as I’ve stated.

    • brianhirschy

      Hey Sabrina – not sure exactly which part you are referring to in the first part of the comment. Sorry about that! Shoot me a message on twitter and lets talk!

      Per the supply and demand comment, I whole-heartedly agree. That being said, I highly suspect that creating demanding won’t stop folks from asking for free images from photographers. I think that’s here to stay. You know this and I’m quite confident that this is what you would have said in your caveat.

      Back when I was working web development and design full time, explaining why I couldn’t give free work was very beneficial and resulting in a much higher retention rate (over 50%).

      I’d be interested to discuss more about the imitation market and how that satiates demand by creating a larger supply.

      Really great thoughts, per usual!

  • Erin Wilson

    I think some of this comes down to who is doing the asking. Folks involved in non-profits, community events, etc. are always asking for free stuff. Perhaps they think that because they are excited about the initiative and are willing to give their time and talents, that everyone else will feel the same way. Perhaps they also tend to be folks with “jobs”, as opposed to self-employed, who simply have no idea of the value of the product or service they’re requesting.

    I seem to find the asks happen less with people who own their own business, or are directly responsible for creating generating their income. They already have an innate sense of the value/cost, even if it’s in a different line of work.

    • brianhirschy


      You are right. It does depend on the sector. What I have noticed lately is that there is a new generation of folks very much willing to pay the value of a creative. I can think of a few great examples.

      Unfortunately, the culture of ‘freebies’ does run rampant in that community – but I see it getting better.

      I’ve licensed a ton of free work to a couple of NGO’s because I really believed in what they were doing and I saw the benefit. That’s one thing. The other thing is folks who obviously have a budget for something but are ‘google image treasure hunting’ for work and then canvasing what they see w/ free requests.

      The second scenario is really folks asking for free commercial licenses – like in the screen shot I included at the header of the post.

      I’m more curious from a social POV why it’s seemingly acceptable to ask creatives this question!

      Thanks for stopping by, hope all is well,

      • Erin Wilson

        Hey Brian- I didn’t have the NGO sector in mind when I wrote that comment. I come from the museum field, so that what I was thinking about.

        But thinking further… I doubt that creatives are asked more. Local community groups constantly ask electricians for favours when staging events, for an example. Folks try to barter with my farmer friends to get their produce or plants for free or nearly free.

        So I doubt the asks are going more to creatives… but my guess is that creatives make better use of social media, and so the stories spread more.

        • brianhirschy

          I think you might be right – only difference I see is that when the requests came while I was in web dev that they seemed much more apologetic vs. the last 8 years as a photog.

          Could very much be coincidence.

          Thanks for your thoughts – always a valued addition.