You might think that Unsplash is just another stock images service. Everything looks pretty legit, images are put into categories, all you have to do is register for free. But there is one thing which remains unclear – the copyrights of the pictures you are going to use.
A lot of photographers decide to upload their photos on Unsplash because it boosts recognition pretty fast. Views, downloads, likes – they can see the statistics growing! Soon they may get an impression that their pictures are becoming popular on the web. They might be indeed but at the same time, the photographers are not getting a single penny for it. This is what they agreed for, some may say. That’s true but would you think that some pictures might have been uploaded not by those who own the copyrights to them?
Unsplash grants you an irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide copyright license to download, copy, modify, distribute, perform, and use photos from Unsplash for free, including for commercial purposes, without permission from or attributing the photographer or Unsplash. That is how the service is described. On Usplash, everyone can upload pictures but since the knowledge of copyrights is not widespread yet, it still happens that people would upload the pictures which they did not take and have no rights to. This brings a potential threat to everyone using pictures from Unsplash. You may commit a crime not even knowing about it.
People are using images from Unsplash on their commercial websites, T-shirts, bags and mugs and making money from them while the photographers who made it possible might be unaware of it. It was probably not what the founders of Unsplash intended while setting up the service which was just a small project back then. But once they grew, moved away from Tumblr and set up a new profile system for photographers, a lot of things changed. All the photos which were submitted to the website once by photographers, also those which were not initially accepted, automatically entered the public domain – meaning they can now be copied, distributed and modified without obtaining the photographer’s permission. Such changes were not consulted with photographers before making them applicable. What most photographers often complain about is that the ‘remove’ feature was never developed and the company does not seem to care.
What stands behind the credibility of the agency is the level of indemnification. The more they back the legal safety of their images with indemnification, the safer the pictures are. Unsplash does not provide any indemnification for photographers in contrary to other services. If you don’t want to take advantage of photographers’ work, make sure you do not use photos from Unsplash. There are other stock agencies out there.
Since there are millions of pictures taken every single day, photography is surely losing its value. But it does not mean that you should contribute to it. It requires time and money to take a good picture. If you want your work to be respected and fairly paid, respect what others do as well. Next time, before you use an image for free, make sure you are 100% sure you have the right to do it.