Creativity as a Service

Dr. Michael Brown, CREATe investigator and Human Factors Research Fellow from Horizon Digital Economy Research at the University of Nottingham offer a perspective of his recent experiences interviewing semi-professional photographers.


1186873_76609070Over the last few months I’ve been interviewing ‘Pro-Am’ photographers to explore their practices, especially around the use of information about photos themselves (meta-data). These photographers are people that have been paid for their work but don’t do photography as their ‘day job’. They reported capturing and using all manner of meta data: Time, date and place of capture, camera setting and social setting. How this information is captured is as variable as what is captured with various combinations of digital and non-digital solutions used for the management of meta-data. Pens and paper, smart phones, complex multi-level folder systems and even social media sites are used to record this information. While most seem to have quite a relaxed attitude towards controlling information, for others it seems the flow and control of meta data is almost as important as the act of photography itself.

However, what was the most surprising for me was the lack of interest or engagement with rights management. Not that I’m naive to the fact that those who do creative work in their spare time don’t necessarily have the time or interest to engage appropriately in protecting their creative product, but more that they don’t even see it as an issue. Despite being paid on many occasions to take photos in personal and professional contexts, the majority of those I have talked to did not consider their photos creative work. Sure they acknowledge the skill taking and editing photos requires and the creativity inherent in this nuanced artistic practice, but the product of this practice is see as basically not worth protecting. In essence they see themselves as selling a service rather than a product.

Do these attitudes exist beyond Pro-Am and the photographic domain? Do digital artistic of other types have such a relaxed attitude towards their creative works?

I wonder if this is one of the implications of the digital revolution in photography, when your creative work is digital and the potential exists for near infinite replication of the final outcome does the process become more precious and valuable than the outcome? Related to this is the lack of tangible outcome from digital photography. While it is obviously possible to print out you digital photos, few bother and for many photography has become a purely digital practice.

The nature of photography itself may also play a role. Considered in isolation an individual image requires what those who work in other creative mediums would consider a minimal investment in time and effort. A day long photo shot followed by a day or two of editing could produce dozens of high quality images, compare to say painters who could work for weeks on an individual work. Naturally the opportunity costs of producing exceptionally good photos means that these are just as costly to produce as other forms of creative product, but when you are creating a vast about of works there appears to be a psychological imperative to associate very little value to each one even if that one is the pinnacle of weeks, months or even years of work.

To me it seems this trend could have profound implication for policy and legislation. Focusing too much on the protection of creative product and you could miss the process which some creatives seem to value more. However, given the rapid and easy dissemination of knowledge that the digital economy allows is to practically feasible to legislate for and subsequently enforce the protection of creative process, especially in informal or semi-professional domains?

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