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Free content and bending over backwards
26 February 2008

Every now and then I get a comment or email form people asking why I don't provide all my images for free. Some are even requesting that I should remove my logo from the images and provide high-resolution images. I actually wrote a bit about this earlier, but let me write once more to clarify my thoughts on this topic.

I used to think that only immature teenagers who live with mom and dad and never had to work for a living could make such requests. Now it seems that some of these people are actually adults and I think I can see their line of thinking.

On the outset it seems that a lot of stuff online is free: images, articles, software, services, etc. But the truth is that very little worth having is really free. Most "free" stuff is wrapped in ads, a paid premium service or some other mechanism that in one way or another, directly or indirectly profits the original value creator or provider. The consumer is of course paying for this "free" stuff if not with his money than with his attention, time, effort, hassle, and privacy.

How many times did you download a "free" piece of software that had spyware/adware/viruses in it? Usually you don't know that because these things are invisible unless you start looking for them. And how much time did you waste removing all that nasty malware? How about newsletter sign ups that only get you even more spam? Or how often did you download "free" images from sites that provide copyrighted images they never got permission to distribute in the first place? How about when you signed up for some free service only to find out later that all the better parts of the service require a payment?

Obviously there are quality content providers that can be trusted. But there is a good share of those you can't trust. Although the ones that can be trusted often charge money for some of their content or service, at least you are not being tricked or taken advantage of.

I have a free content section where anybody can enjoy my artwork in the form of computer wallpapers or a screen saver. Actually, a lot of people use the small images from my gallery as their desktop background and that is fine by me. Some of my fans buy my images as posters, a license, or computer wallpapers and this creates a mutually beneficial win-win situation - I receive payment for providing extra value for the fans. This encourages me to crate more and by doing so keeps the fans happy.

But some people apparently like my work a lot yet don't want to give anything back, and only want to take. They want me to give all my work away for free. Steve Pavlina, who is perhaps the most successful blogger online today, wrote about this issue recently in one of his blog posts:

"...you'll surely have to deal with cynics who whine and complain that you've somehow joined the dark side, as if you've done them serious personal harm by deciding to get paid for your work instead of bending over backwards to serve their needs for free. Understand that cynics aren't offering you a fair exchange - they're asking you to commit to an abusive relationship.

Cynics hold the nonsensical belief that they're entitled to something for nothing. They want you to serve them, while they offer you nothing in return. "

I make a living working as a freelance artist. Which means I live through lean times and moderate times. And since the income my site generates helps with the lean times, I can't give its content away for free.

To be frank, even if I could have given my work away for free I wouldn't because I did that in the past and know where that leads to. From the mid 1990s to 2004 I used to freely share all my images as hi-res wallpapers and this is what it got me: I started to see parts of my images, cut out, appear in other "artists" artworks; on many occasions I've seen others earning money from my images without me knowing anything about it; I've seen my signature replaced by somebody else's; there was even a person who claimed to be the true author of all my artwork and wanted to sue me when confronted with it.

These are the unfortunate side effects of sharing too much online today. I've learned from my mistakes. Now I share just enough so everybody can see and enjoy my work, but not enough to exploit it. It's a simple matter of cause and effect.

Art and illustration Studio
of Dawid Michalczyk.


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