Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Just What is Mine? And Yours?

In America, the concept of personal property is well established, really a fundamental belief system in the system. It extends to intellectual property as well, although this belief continues to be eroded by pervasive piracy, plagiarism and perhaps the moral corruption of American citizens.

But in Ukraine, the legacy of Communism means that the idea of personal ownership of property is vague at best, nonexistent at worst. I did a photoshoot last week for a friend of a friend. She needed some professional photographs for a new job, so I offered to shoot them for her, gratis. I told her up front that I would allow her to select 10 images that I would edit and deliver to her in both small and large resolution formats, for web use and for printing.

After the shoot, she was quite excited about how they turned out (I'm a fair photographer with 20 years of experience doing this as both an amateur and pro in America). She selected about a dozen images, and I even edited several more because I wasn't so busy and thought it would be nice.

But when she arrived to pick them up, she got upset with me that I wouldn't give her all 350 images (the unedited images that I didn't think were of sufficient quality to let other people see). I tried to explain to her that shooting hundreds of images was part of a process to produce the best ones for her use. She had no need for all of them for the job; she just wanted to print a bunch more up to show her family. I have never given out unedited images to my models; it's bad advertising for me, and really useless for any of the semi-pro and professional models I typically work with, anyway. Nobody actually ever asks in the USA.

I ended up giving her the 17 images, plus low-res photos of the rest for her own use on the computer, just to make her happy. But that wasn't enough. She wanted them all, in full resolution, so she could print them up and do who knows what with. I wouldn't go further than that, and even what I did was really a violation of my principles regarding having my work out in the world. But she wasn't happy at all, and she couldn't understand why I wouldn't give them all to her, or even why I had the right to deny her.

And from some perspectives, I understand. If you live in a country without intellectual property rights, then it is hard to argue that my time, experience, equipment, and talent give me the right to control the photos. After all, they are photos of her. But it sure makes me wary about doing trades of any sort in this country. Why use my $60,000 of equipment, 25 years of experience, and whatever "talent" I have just to see my worst photos out there in the world?

Lesson learned.

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