...Except when it isn't!
This image, which obviously should contain a whole lot of red, white, and blue, comes from "The Commons on Flickr," a collection of mostly rights-free images that anybody can download and use however they want. Take a look at this imposing contributor's list. Whew!
I've been looking into the microstock and penny-stock controversies a bit recently—they're mostly historical at this point—and one thing strikes me as...well, let's say "ironic," because to call it "funny" would offend a few people, and I wouldn't want to do that (seriously, I wouldn't). It's that the whole furor over microstock essentially mirrors the outrage and anxiety that attended the inception of regular stock agencies, going back to H. Armstrong Roberts in the 1920s, and (an era I'm more aware of) to the 1980s, when photographers switched over from largely dumping their unwanted seconds and overstock on stock houses and began shooting specifically for stock, some of them making a living exclusively from stock sales. I'm not sure there was any such thing as a "stock shooter" in 1950, although there's always that exception waiting out there in the weeds to bite me on the katuschka.
The gnashing of teeth I'm reading from traditional usage-dependent stock photographers about microstock pretty much echoes what traditional assignment and staff photographers were saying about the new breed of stock photographers in the 1980s! Like I say...ironic.
The issue isn't black-and-white, of course; there are two understandable sides to most arguments. I guess where I come down on the whole thing is that if you provide a valuable enough service to people, then they'll pay you for what you provide; but if they can get the same value for cheaper elsewhere, then they probably will. It's why nobody will pay me $30 an hour to do what a guy in China will do (with more determination, fewer breaks, and far fewer sarcastic comments) for $11 a day. Again, not trying to offend anybody.
The best thing, of course, would be if I were the only person in the world allowed to use a camera. Then all subjects would be exclusively mine, and I could charge $100,000 for every usage of every one of my photographs. Clients would line up for my services and throw cash at me to get me to work for them. The public would flock to my amazing gallery shows*. My books would sell in the millions. All the rest of you camera-wielding bastards are just taking wealth out of my coffers, when you look at it that way.
(Thanks to Bob Burnett)
*My dog would be famous.