If you've ever considered uploading your work to Unsplash, you should probably watch these two videos, or at the very least, familiarize yourself with the points raised by legendary commercial and editorial photographer, Zack Arias. If nothing else, Arias wants photographers to understand the risk of facing a lawsuit as a result of uploading their images to the site.
Among a wide variety of topics covered, perhaps Arias's most important point is the lack of model releases when images are downloaded from Unsplash and used for commercial purposes. Arias consults attorney Carolyn Wright who agrees, advising that photographers should "proceed with caution" when uploading their work to Unsplash as photographers "may find themselves in a lawsuit for a variety of reasons."
As Arias observes:
Let me make this as clear as possible. If a photograph is used in a commercial sense and it is not model released, you as the photographer are liable. you can be taken to court and sued. It's that simple.
Trademarks are also of massive concern, especially, as Arias points out, that giant corporations have a reputation for hiring lawyers in response to even the most innocuous uses of their trademarks and logos.
Many photographers uploading work to Unsplash simply do not realize that model releases are required. The situation in Europe is about to become even more complex (and perhaps entail even greater liability for photographers) as a result of the new General Data Protection Regulation that will be coming into force later this year.
After spending a few weeks seething about the new phenomenon of photographers giving their work away via new online platforms, Arias reached out to Unsplash founder, Mikael Cho. In the first of Arias's two videos, he raises several significant points with Cho, and, in the second, he reflects on the situation after having given it further thought.
Arias is almost apoplectic at 24:35 when he discovers that one Unsplash contributor is celebrating the fact that Condé Nast has used an image of hers on the cover of an insert for a bridal magazine, without, of course, any form of remuneration, but also without even a credit.
Arias is skeptical about the number of photographers who are actually benefiting from using Unsplash, despite the editorial coverage given on major photography news websites detailing the success stories. Unsplash makes a deliberate effort to keep its users informed about how many views their images are receiving, tapping into vanity and dopamine hits but with statistics that seem to blow the likes of Instagram out of the water. "No other social network can give you those numbers," says alleged success story Samuel Zeller, forgetting that Unsplash is not a social network, but instead the least generous microstock agency to date.
Unsplash's statistics are bundled with inspirational words about being part of a community, and this is another area that inflames Arias's rage - "these warm fuzzy feelings of contributing and giving back and inspiring others." When multi-billion dollar multinationals are using photographers' work for free, it's anything but charity.
It remains to be seen whether Unsplash will survive given that it currently has no means of creating a revenue and has operating costs of $20,000 per month. Arias fears that the next step will be to ask Unsplash users to pay a subscription fee to have their work featured on the site.
Unsplash says that it is a "platform fueled by a community that has generously gifted hundreds of thousands of their own photos." Others would argue that it is a speculative platform driven by aspiring amateur photographers who are trying to find a shortcut to success, seeking a foot in the door in an industry that is continuing to have its heart ripped out by tech start-ups spending someone else's money and with no interest in the photographic industry.