Was Robin Hood Right? Stock Photography, License Agreements and Free Imagery

Is the chance of getting something for free justifiable? Was Robin Hood right? Should we be "stealing" from the rich and giving to the poor?
Shaul Hagen
Shaul Hagen
September 3, 2013
February 15, 2024
Robin Hood

Every so often an unforeseen personal challenge presents itself via an unexpected avenue and at times the other party involved is unaware of the challenge they have put before you. A month or so ago I had the opportunity to experience just such a challenge. I had a fellow web developer and great friend send me a quick email mentioning that he had recently purchased the single month stock image package from Shutterstock.com. This package runs in the $249 range and gets you 25 images per day for a subscription cost of one month. If you were to cash in everyday for say thirty days you are looking at a $0.30 per image price tag. That is really good. However if you have ever sifted through the jungle of what is stock imagery and design you know that it can be quite the time suck and so determining if the need and time is worth it is one piece of the challenge. My buddy mentioned that he would only be needing a set amount of images and would most likely not have the time to pursue the rest of the images that would be included within the agreement of that particular package. Therefore if I wanted to I could grab his login, create some light boxes and download the extra images once he had collected the items he needed. At first not only did I think nothing of it, but I was pretty excited about the idea and began putting together a light box with the images, design elements, vectors, etc. that I could see being advantageous to future projects. As I was going through the process I suddenly felt something shift and said to myself, “I shouldn’t be doing this.”

As I dug deeper and read through the licensing agreements of ShutterStock. I realized that both my friend and I had already broken those agreements by just having multiple people log in to the ShutterStock account as well as pass a shared login and username back and forth. I avoided the conviction and left it alone for a day or two. When I did come around to thinking about it again I was convinced it was not the right thing to do. I was not paying for these images and it would be dishonest for me to capitalize off the purchased package even though there would be many “paid for” images that would be going to waste... in theory. The ideas and ways I could justify grabbing these free images began to flow. By downloading the various elements it would not hurt my friend so there was no danger there and later I came to find out from an actual ShutterStock contributor that it actually benefits the image owners more as they are paid per download or a model similar to that. By that time I was thinking I could be Robin Hood! After further evaluation of who the benefit would be going to I found that my decision most benefitted the stock photography marketplace, in this case ShutterStock. I am not sure why myself and many of my peers view them as “the bad guy”, but for some reason that is exactly what I was doing. In my head I wanted to justify it all by saying, “they are huge and have tons of money, customers, etc… plus this will benefit the stock photographer and graphic providers, the little guys. ShutterStock won’t won’t even know.”


After all the contemplation, justification and crazy work arounds I still landed in what I think is the right spot. That in the end I would have have been stealing directly from ShutterStock and although the justifications were plentiful the fact still remained. Some people would say who cares they are huge and they won’t know and it is helping the content providers. My answer to that is, I care. The standard to which I am held to is higher than that. I don’t want to take something that is not mine no matter whom I am taking it from, even if I don’t like their company or business model. In the case of ShutterStock I really have no problem with them although I don't love the pricing on the smaller packages but I understand why they have them setup like that.

No matter how much money or resources a company or person may have it does not give me the right to take it without purchase. Just because I think I got it right this time does not mean I don't struggle with this in other areas and in other ways. Took me a long time to get all my software legit and to get rid of all my burned music, etc. What I found is that the decision to steal usually drives the price up on items in the long run or forces companies like ShutterStock and iStockPhoto to come up with ridiculous subscription plans that don’t really benefit their customer but will cover the overhead from people who might approach this scenario differently. I remember the day when you could go to iStockPhoto.com and grab images for a dollar and you did not have to buy batches of credits or choose some cray cray subscription plan. I miss that. The simple one dollar option simply doesn’t exist anymore in a nice tight competitive package, at least not one that I have found, want to use and enjoy supporting due to awesome services. Until that service pops up I will probably stick with the industry staples.

Is the chance of getting something for free or outside of a user agreement justifiable? Was Robin Hood right, should we be stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, slash (/)... myself? Sound off in the comments below whether you agree, disagree or just think I am a crazy person. Also, if you have any great alternatives to the bigger stock graphic and photo providers out there I would love to hear about them.

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