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Should I let a cable TV show use this photo for free?

Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope

Last week I received the following message regarding this photo of the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope), which I posted on Flickr in 2008:

ABC Studios is seeking permission to use some of your photographs of the Green Bank, WV Radio Telescope as incidental set dressing / props in an episode of “Perception.” The storyline includes scenes that take place in the Green Bank, W. VA area and we’d like to use the images to help establish our location, a local diner.

“Perception” centers on Dr. Daniel Pierce (Eric McCormack), a neuroscientist who uses his outlook to help the government solve complicated cases. With knowledge of human behavior and an understanding of the mind, the professor uses lessons from his unique and odd perspective on the world.

We typically do not offer payment for images used as set decoration / props. It’s more for the fun of having one of your photos on an episode of Perception.

If you’re still interested, I will connect you with our clearance guy at ABC who will send you a materials release.

Should I let Perception use the photo?

Reasons for

  • It’s not as if I’m likely to make money on the photo any other way.
  • If I say no, rather than offer me money, the studio likely will just find someone else who will let them use his or her photo for free.
  • I have no clue if selling a photo would violate my contract with Aol. And I suspect the money I’d make from doing so wouldn’t even be worth the time spent investigating Aol’s policy.
  • Bragging rights from a swanky photo credit

Reasons against

  • Do I really need bragging rights about a show I’d never even heard of previously?
  • Maybe they will counter with a little money
  • ABC Studios is owned by Disney, which has a market cap of $134 billion and—spoiler alert—is significantly higher than my net work. I shouldn’t give it anything for free.

I’m leaning towards saying no, but am very interested in other people’s thoughts.

(Also, the argument to never do something for free because it hurts other people in the industry doesn’t hold much sway with me. There’s a time and a place where it may be advantageous for a person to work for free—and that’s up to each individual to determine.)

Anyway, please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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3 Responses to Should I let a cable TV show use this photo for free?

  1. John Rambow April 14, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    I think that you should investigate your contract, just so you know for next time! And the Mouse should pay up (a little). “Money” is fun.

  2. Paul Brady April 14, 2014 at 11:03 am #

    I think you should hand it over for free and take your payment in the form of cocktail-party invitations that will flood in after you tell people that your photo was once in an episode of Perception, which—I’m just guessing here, maybe it’s a really great show!—will not be successful enough to materially impact Disney’s market cap.

  3. Mike Barish April 15, 2014 at 7:38 am #

    I get one or two of these requests every month or so (byproduct of tagging the crap out of my Flickr photos). I always respond that I do not license any of my work without financial compensation. Often they say that they cannot offer any money, to which I reply, “If that is the case, I must decline.” Other times, however, they ask me how much I want. Then I use the Getty image licensing calculator to gauge the value. Just received a check in the mail yesterday from one such negotiation.

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