Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Is it wrong to use watermarked race photos?

Runner's World has a column by Mark Remy about the propriety of using watermarked race photos without having paid for them, which turns out to be convenient timing for me because I received an email today from the photography company at the not-quite-5K race I ran this past weekend. Not that I've ever copied watermarked photos. (I suppose it helps to avoid being tempted when I don't look so good in most race photos . . . .)

Here's the gist of Remy's (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) argument:
As I mentioned earlier, I have shared a few of these PROOF photos on my own Facebook page. I have also purchased the full-size versions from time to time. But never – not once – have I seen a race photo that I loved, that I really wanted, and thought to myself, You know what? That's a great photo, but instead of paying for a nice, big, clean version, I think I'll save 30 bucks by grabbing this tiny, pathetic version that's plastered with watermarks.
In the lengthy comments section, Remy and others debate whether this is like illegal downloading/file sharing of MP3 music files. It seems to me the "hey, the photographer hasn't lost anything" argument ignores one of the central tenets of intellectual property law, which is the right to exclude others. Whether the copyright infringer has profited from the infringement may be relevant for the purposes of establishing how much the infringer has to pay, as the Copyright Act includes "additional profits of the infringer" as part of that measure.

The more interesting debate in the comments, though, is, "why are race photos so freaking expensive?"

A number of professional photographers chimed in, pointing out that theirs is an art that requires training, experience, equipment, and effort (quickly matching photos to runners), and that the photo prices simply reflect all of those inputs. Numerous runners responded that they would be willing to buy photos (digital or print) if they were cheaper, but not when the photos cost as much or more than the races did.

This comes down to asking whether the photographer makes more money from a low volume/high price approach as compared to a high volume/low price approach. Generally, I would expect that a business has thought about profit maximization issues and concluded that it does better with what it's currently doing, so I can't say that the photography companies must be wrong. (Of course, it often doesn't work out that way - just look at the carcasses of dead and dying companies that didn't realize was going to eat them for lunch.)

Anyway, what seems like a reasonable price to pay for a single race photo? I clicked through the email I got today and was surprised to see that there were a couple of decent-looking pictures of me, and the price for one 5x7 printed and mailed was $13, which seems merely expensive as opposed to outrageous, so I might be ordering it.

Although it seems that if you can wait a month or two after the race, the prices will start to drop, or you get a discount offer....

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