Reddit vs photographer – Symptom of a bigger problem

A popular photographer recently uploaded and published a photo of his golden retriever to the subreddit /r/aww. That post got quite a bit of attention. With over 6’500 upvotes in a 25 million strong community a lot of visitors will have seen it. What happened next got even more attention.

A little backstory

After John Wingfield (@johnwingfield) uploaded his photo to the previously named subreddit, a Reddit team member messaged him and asked if they could use the post for promotional purposes. The photo was after all uploaded to Reddit and not some other image hosting site such as imgur.

The photographer replied asking how they’d be using his photo and what they would pay him for it. The Reddit rep again replied stating that they wouldn’t credit him and the only “payment” they could offer was Reddit Premium.

The offer was declined and Wingfield had some choice words to say about their valuation of photography.

An open-and-shut case?

It all seems like a pretty open-and-shut case. Reddit is trying to take someone’s art without payment or credit. Thus, Reddit is evil. But should we be damming Reddit or is there a broader issue at play here? I think there might be.

Reddit has it’s fair share of critics. Most of them deservedly so. But I think in this situation they actually deserve a bit of credit. Just a bit though. Social platforms will generally grab all of the rights to an uploaded image or video in their terms of service. One such example that comes to mind is that any advertiser can set any YouTube video as a pre-roll ad, without the creator’s consent. This happened to the popular creator MKBHD. OnePlus started using his review as an ad and he only found out once his viewers told him what was going on.

In fact, reddit has the same rights grab baked in to their TOS too. They could have just used that photo without informing the original creator. Credit is given where credit is due and at least someone from Reddit asked whether they could use the photo.

The value of photography

But here’s where I see the issue. Reddit is a company which has a revenue of around $100 million each year. Just over a year ago a Chinese company invested $150 million into Reddit. And yet, this massive company doesn’t view photography as something worth paying for. They were essentially trying to use someone else’s art to make more money for themselves without paying the creator. And that just doesn’t sit right.

And Reddit isn’t alone here. There is a widespread issue where big corporations don’t value photography. Being a photographer isn’t a valid career path anymore because the art just isn’t valued. But unfortunately that’s the truth many have had to come to live with. The era of making a decent wage out purely out of photography is pretty much over. There’s too much competition, the market is pretty much saturated, and photos of fairly high quality are easily and freely available.

Photographers have to be clever

Obviously there are certain sectors this doesn’t apply to. There will always be a need for wedding or real estate photographers. But think of landscape photography. How many photographers do you know that are just purely landscape photographers. In today’s market you’ve got to be clever and get creative. Just about every landscape photographer out there will be offering workshops, or has a YouTube channel, or writes reviews.

The truth is that Reddit and social media sites are merely tools that should be used to move towards money rather than a resource to generate money. The photographer in question was doing just that by posting photos of his dog with a link to his Instagram profile in the comments.

The truth is, he got lucky. He’s using Reddit to gain followers on his Instagram account and Reddit could have used his photo without asking any questions. And he couldn’t have done anything about it.

Let this also be a lesson to you. Only use social media if you’re fine with others taking your photo and using it for their purposes. By accepting the Terms of Service you are usually signing all the rights you have to that photo off. Don’t go around expecting to get rich by posting on Reddit, Instagram, or Twitter. Use whatever popularity you gain on these sites to make your money elsewhere.


Photo by Kon Karampelas on Unsplash
Story on PetaPixel

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