For quite a while I raved about Unsplash, I uploaded to Unsplash and I also downloaded from Unsplash. I fully bought into what they were doing and supported it no end. I have also in the past written about why I upload there and actually wrote a whole blog post about the subject.
For those that don’t know about Unsplash here’s a little quote from their website.
I mean who doesn’t love free photos? The quality of the photos on Unsplash is above anything you’ll find anywhere else, I truly believe this. Think of the best Instagram images that you’ve seen and it’s that sort of quality.
Whilst uploading my images to the site I was getting 1m+ views a month, thousands of downloads and the odd mention on social media thanking me for making the photo available. Over time a few things jumped out, the first was when I discovered my photo for sale on an America website where you could buy mugs, canvases, prints all with my image on. I dropped them a quick email and they took the image down and I thought nothing of it.
I uploaded a few more and moved on. Every now and then I’d Google my images to see where they’d been used and for what projects as it was lovely to see and I was proud that people enjoyed my work. I mean who doesn’t like a little ego boost every now and then?
The problem came when searching I came across one of my images on a stock photography website, straightaway I raised this with the site and they were amazing. They were so good I set up an account with them and they transferred the image to my account and I started to upload a few more photos. A couple then flagged up saying that photo was already on the sight. After digging I found it was the same account. This person had 28,000 images all from Unsplash and none of them his own. Looking he had received downloads on these images well over 12m. I know it’s not lots of money but it’s not far off £1,000 if not more, money that they don’t really deserve.
Spending hours and hours going through every one of his images and claiming the ones that were mine and proving they belonged to me. It’s a slow process and it turns out 20+ where mine and that’s the only account I’ve found but I bet other photos of mine are on different stock sites and I’m not spending my hours combing these sites to claim my photos.
I have no issue with people using my photos for a blog post, for a piece that needs a photo to complete their story but I draw the line at them making money off my photos without me getting a penny. If they want to license one of my photos that is perfectly fine and I’m happy to do this for people. It’s the downloading them for free and them making out the photos are their own.
I’ve looked through a lot of terms and conditions on stock sites and they all make a point of saying that the photos must be your own and you own the copyright to them.
The outcome is that all images have been deleted from my Unsplash account and images used and shared on social media and this blog are going to be watermarked. I’m not sure of this approach and I know watermarks can be removed but it’s a step to hopefully put people off using and taking my photos.
I know it’s not the fault of Unsplash but it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on the service they provide and on research I’ve come across photographers who’s photos have been used by magazines that they downloaded from the site. This means that photographer hasn’t earned any money and that seems wrong to me. Photography isn’t a profitable profession and things like this aren’t helping.
I’d be interested to know other peoples comments and views on this.