A rather big parallel universe to the photo industry is the copyright industry. According to the Copyright Alliance, “The U.S. core copyright industries accounted for an estimated $819.06 billion or 6.56% of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2005.” That, of course, includes music, graphic, video on top of photography. One has to assume that this number is about copyrighted and licensed products.
No wonder it has become a battlefield. On one side, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and its followers who preach that the internet and everything on it should be free and exchanged. Its a virtual world, after all, and all content should be distributed equally as to facilitate new creations. A global, unrestricted mash up. They are behind the Orphan Work bill and would probably like to see copyright laws disappear entirely, at least on the internet. Not a completely insane proposition if you believe that there is more to life than making money and that we could all be more creative if we did not have to worry about our budgets. I get to use your image and you get to use mine. We share. It would be great if photographers and agencies where also in the business of creating websites for consumers. But besides Getty and its upcoming Jamd.com, none are. Since photography is a raw material, like oil, and used in the process of creating something new, like a magazine, book, or ad campaign, it is hardly exchangeable. But, regardless, the free-for-all, “private property is evil”, lets trade community is here to stay.
On the other side, you have those who would like a piece of the pie. Take Creative Commons, for example. Currently a non for profit organization that has managed to raise a lot of money since its creation. By redefining how work of art can be used, albeit in a very simple way, it is positioning itself to become a major and inevitable player in this field. Right now, it is entirely free to use, making it extremely viral. But just think that even if they charged 1 cent ( euro, canadian, US or other, you decide) how much would that generate. If they grabbed just 1 % of the copyright industry, it would be $8 billion a year. And that is for the US only.
Besides the CC, the photo industry is familiar with the PLUS coalition, also in the same space. PLUS intends to charge a fee per license used. Recently, the very rich and powerful newspaper industry has also launch its own standard, the Open Access Data. Without going into long and boring details, it is obvious that whomever manages to create a worldwide standard will be sitting on a mega goldmine.
Where does that leave the photo industry that solely depends on copyright to defend its turf ? Well, depending on who wins the “copyright/license definition” battle the outcome will be completely different. But one can already envision a not too distant future where, one way or another, every image licensed on the web will have an additional fee that will have to be paid to one of these “Standard license owners”. Probably a “service fee”, it will resemble a tax on copyrighted material and proceeds will go in the pockets of those who have no other creative talent then bending the rules in their favor. The idea is simple : you create a standard and you make people pay to use it.
Most people would enjoy paying for a service that simplifies the licensing model and will not mind. If it makes RM licensing easier ( as easy as RF !!), it is sure to attract more buyers to the game. Considering the volume, the fee will probably be extremely low per transaction. Imagine, getting a fee for every image licensed on the web. Quite an income, isn’t it ?