This blog is my attempt to keep track of some of the things I learn along the way, with my Canon 7D, G12 and accessories. All images copyright Brad Calkins, not to be used without permission (or purchase). I do not attempt to monetize my blog, other than to promote my stock photo portfolio on Dreamstime.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

RAW = Copyright?

Boys at school
There is a lot of talk on stock photo sites about whether you can prove ownership/copyright if you sell the RAW files. A second issue is whether it is worth selling the RAW files to subscribers to sites (who may pay the same small fee for a RAW file as a tiny JPG).

The copyright issue revolves around the idea that selling the RAW file is like selling your negative - now the person holding the RAW "negative" can prove they took the jpg, just like the original photographer can. While this would certainly complicate a legal battle, my guess is that you would still win the case. The RAW file has embedded information about the camera and lens used that one could presumably prove you owned at the time, or the photographer can 'prove' they took the photo by showing others taken at the same time. The latter strategy helps jpg only shooters too. There is nothing that says you have to shoot RAW to win a copyright case. That said, I have a simple solution for people who do want to increase their stock photo revenue by selling RAW files - convert the RAW files to DNG and post those. Keep the native manufacturer's RAW files for yourself only. Since going to DNG is a one way process (you can't go from DNG to the native RAW file) you still retain the ability to show proof of the original RAW file - just make sure you don't select the option to include the native file when you do the conversion! This has a secondary benefit too - you increase the chances that a buyer owns software that can do the conversion, a problem for anyone using a very new camera.

The 2nd issue is whether selling a RAW is worth it. I sell RAW files on Dreamstime and have probably only sold 5 RAW files for full value. When that happens it seems worth it as you can get $10-$15 for a sale. The rest usually go for $0.42 (I'm exclusive) - though DT changed the pricing this year so level 3-5 files sell for $0.84 or $1.26. What selling RAW files do on Dreamstime is raise the level of the file. I have had many buyers buy both the large jpg and the RAW - double the dollars earned for that sale and boosting future revenue as well. Finally, on Dreamstime a buyer can search for files with a RAW option - in many cases I feel this helps a buyer find your file. They may not actually buy the RAW option, but they may get to you in the first place becuase of it - think of it as another way of increasing exposure.

Cubed beef
What I don't understand are those who are selling stock who feel the low subscription prices aren't good value for the RAW file. I'm producing content to sell to buyers who need photos - and many of those are graphics editors who will want to process the files themselves to get the highest quality result. How can I shoot RAW, argue that you should shoot RAW to maximize quality, and then expect the buyer to make do with an 8-bit jpg processed on my potentially uncalibrated monitor?

I think the answer lies in your motives for doing stock. If you are spending hours submersed in a pool of water to get a shot of lions feeding on the shore you probably won't be happy with a $0.50 sale (RAW or JPG) - and probably shouldn't be selling it as stock in the first place. If you are happy getting $0.25 for a large quality jpg, why do you care if the buyer pays the same for the RAW file? They want to publish it - give them the quality they want!

If your focus is on Art - and your final image presentation is very important to you I can see why you might not want someone processing your original RAW file and then crediting you, but then I don't see why you would sell your files as stock in the first place since there is nothing stopping someone from doing a bad job post processing your jpgs...


Luis said...

It may be very amateurish but I don't shoot in RAW, my case is .NEF! I only shoot RAW for panoramic shoots or travel (places that maybe won't come back), because other shoots I almost don't touch them!

Brad C said...

Interesting - I'm not a Nikon guy but isn't .Nef Nikon's RAW format?

Luis said...

Yes it is like I have said the previous post :P