Is User-Generated Content Harming Professional Media? – Part Two

by on May.03, 2012, under copyright law, Publishing

I’ve covered how I’m dubious about user-generated content (UGC) and amateur content’s role in harming the market for newspapers and magazines. However, amateur content has greatly impacted a photographer’s landscape, where anyone with a point-and-shoot is suddenly a “photographer” willing and able to shoot everything from a wedding to a birthday. However, here is where a more pragmatic attitude toward copyright can bolster business.

The older photogs who still insist that they retain all rights and only sell “packages” to their clients (with an assumed amount of business coming from clients returning for more photos to which only the photog has access) are going the way of the Dodo. Instead, forward-thinking photographers relinquish most or even all rights to their content the moment the transaction is complete – often by surrendering a disk of full-size or even lossless image files, and also with many “doctored” shots that the photographer cares little about thereafter.

While it’s understandable that this increases the upfront “sitting fee”, clients simply don’t want to be nickeled and dimed any longer; they want to own and be able to share their photos with the world, without the fear of stepping on any photographer’s toes.

And since a photographer’s own overhead has shrunk enormously with digital technology, gone are the days of costly packages anyway. Photoshop demands a fraction of the time light room development required, and there’s no question digital storage media are practically free compared with the erstwhile costs of film.

This doesn’t mean all photographers exist on a level playing field, however; there are still plenty high-end shutterbugs out there, and their work indeed stands above. Just as it’s unlikely that bootleg Louis Vuitton’s entice or take away customers who want the real deal, it’s equally unlikely that amateur point-and-click photographers are taking business away from these higher-end professionals.

Certainly, there are ways in which UGC has edged out other professional content, as well. For instance, I used to buy computer books on any program I was interested in learning or already knew but wanted to develop a mastery of. But where the book is static – having to teach assuming that each reader is going to have the same goal, the same problems, the same projects – I can go online to any of my favorite forums and tap into the wisdom of hundreds of people who work with that program daily. Who love to solve other people’s problems, and who custom-tailor their responses to my questions or problems.

I have received invaluable bits of code, shortcuts, tweaks to my workflow, and all for free. My contribution is that the solution remains online for anyone who has that same problem in the future (and the very sparse moments where I can contribute to the solution of someone else’s inquiry).

I had no problem paying for computer books and I might still buy one here and there if they are very visual and can be treated more for a quick reference (though responses on many message boards are equally quick), but it’s certain that my patronage of computer book publishers has waned almost to non-existence, and in this I am not alone.

Is this to be mourned? Is it any more impacting than the moribund nature of encyclopedias after Wikipedia? In the case of my computer issues, I don’t believe I am any worse off learning from other users than I am from a professional writer. And as much as I enjoyed a well-crafted encyclopedia, I think it’s naive to believe that there is so great a difference between Britannica and Wikipedia that the former is to be idolized as the pinnacle of human knowledge while the other is subject to perpetual ridicule for being “amateur”. Even a cursory glance at a popular Wiki’s edit history will reveal intense scrutiny and refinement. Is this so dissimilar to the sort of scrutiny entries for Britannica underwent? Dissimilar enough to disregard Wikipedia as worthless? Doubtful.

Check out Part Three, where I keep peeling the onion on what is happening to professional content creation, or go back and read Part One if you missed it.

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