Jonathan Worth tries out a copy-friendly photography business-experiment

Photog tries out copyleft

By Cory Doctorow

Jonathan Worth is a talented commercial photographer (he shot me for a feature in Popular Science a few years back) who was recently asked for his shots by National Portrait Gallery in London, and asked if he could come and take my pic for it, offering to give me the right to use the resulting print for publicity, book jackets and so on.

The National Portrait Gallery's crazy copyright stance sparked an interesting conversation about copyright with Jonathan (who also shot some killer photos!) and in the end, he agreed to license the photos he took of me for the exhibition under a very liberal Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license, one of the most liberal licenses, allowing for both commercial uses and remixes.

One of Jonathan's pictures showed me in my office, and I went a little Flickr-crazy marking up the photo with notes explaining what everything was. I tweeted the photo, and lots of people came by to see it -- several thousand, some of whom ended up offering Jonathan paying work. It was a win all around.

This got us to talking about how producers of images and other works that are well-known digitally can use that familiarity to sell physical objects (I give away my books as ebooks to sell the print books), and Jonathan decided to try an experiment, producing 111 prints of the iconic image (without the Flickr notes!). I kicked in the 111-page initial manuscript printing of my forthcoming (April 2010) young adult novel For the Win, which I had just finished a week before. I had printed ten copies of the manuscript to pass around, and I had one copy left, and so I signed every page and handed it off to Jonathan.

Jonathan is selling his prints on a sliding scale depending on which manuscript page you get with it -- high numbers are cheaper -- and the one-of-a-kind super-premium offering is page one accompanied by a 100cm x 140cm special edition print that include the contact-sheets from the shoot (proceeds from this go to a local school raising money for new buildings).

I think that this is just too cool for words. Jonathan's a professional shooter who's also an artist, and the portrait shots are fantastic enough. But he's also experimenting with new business-models for photography that leverage, rather than fight, the Internet. I don't receive any of the money from this -- Jonathan did the work and sank in the capital, so it's his reward to reap.

Etsy: Photographs by Jonathan Worth

Blog: Giving things away Pt II

Published 2:00 am Tue, Oct 20, 2009

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About the Author

I write books. My latest are: a YA graphic novel called In Real Life (with Jen Wang); a nonfiction book about the arts and the Internet called Information Doesn't Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age (with introductions by Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer) and a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.

13 Responses to “Jonathan Worth tries out a copy-friendly photography business-experiment”

  1. drivenbyboredom says:

    As a photographer I think this is a great idea and I want to support it, but I am also prohibitively broke so it was great to have an $8 option. I hope this ends up working out.

  2. Carl Rigney says:

    I agree it’s pleasing to have different prices. Even if someone did beat me to buying Page 1. (Was it Shuttleworth again? Shuttlewooooorth!)

    It’s a little sad the local school has to turn to donations for new buildings, when the UK government is spending all that money on CC cameras that aren’t helping vs. crime. Maybe UKGov could sell prints from those camera images to fund school buildings?

  3. mattwestlake says:

    Carl, I am afraid it was me. It’s one of those totally awesome relics of the information age, so I had to buy it!

  4. Pixel says:

    I had an entertaining experience with various “free” copies of Little Brother when I read it.

    I was at a friend’s house, and they’d taken it out of the library, so I spent much of the evening borrowing their copy (which again, they’d borrowed from the library) and reading about 75% of it.
    The next day I went out and bought my own copy of the book on my way to work. Read all but the final chapter, and managed to leave it in my car on lunch. So I ended up reading the final chapter and appendixes via the free online ebook.

    Or the short version, in my one reading of Little Brother I managed to do it via library loan, borrowing from a friend, physical purchase & free ebook.

  5. mrhaydel says:

    Just so I know, is the reason the shipping is $13 a combination of it coming from the UK, and/or it being shipped in such a way that the photograph doesn’t get bent or something?

    I must say, I was a bit surprised that the shipping was nearly twice the price of what I was paying for.

    Still, I, like the others, was pleased to see the $8 option, so even those who may not normally be able to participate in such an exercise can!

    • mrhaydel says:

      And, nevermind.

      “Shipping costs are actual postage costs although currency conversion rates may vary. Artifacts will only be shipped insured (signed for by recipient), in hard-backed envelopes with both Manuscript page and Photograph in Archival Sleeves.”

  6. Nick says:

    I like the picture. It’s the modern equivalent of something like Holbein’s “The Ambasadors”

    The idea of a portrait with all your treasured, or important objects around you is a great way of making a portrait more personal.


  7. Anonymous says:

    Photo annotations are one of the worst things about Flickr, mainly because they show up by default when enabled, and because most people don’t use them properly. It ruins the photo when someone outlines the entire photo to say “Great” or “Haha,” or it’s got a million little squares for no reason other than to have a conversation that should be in the comments, or it has the dreaded and pretentious “suggested crop.”

    Works in this case, however.

    • Itsumishi says:

      I love the photo annotations, besides it’s not like hovering on the photo for half a second to make them disappear is difficult.

  8. Anonymous says:

    It’s a lovely picture and all, but I’d hardly call it “iconic”. Of course, I’m also not Cory Doctorow.

  9. range says:

    Ah well, nice idea. Now if Etsy would only ship to Germany >:)

    But yes, it is a nice idea, I’m always happy when people try out new business ideas.

  10. range says:

    Funny. Now shipping to Germany works. Thanks :)

  11. Anonymous says:

    An update and review to the Copyleft experiment: