Sunday, October 21, 2012

Snapping up photos without paying is wrong

A husband and wife send their kids to a camp for three weeks each summer. They like the camp and their kids will choose to go there for at least 10 years.

In addition to the fee they pay to send their kids to this camp, the couple pays an additional $100 to be able to send and receive emails from their children. Since the camp is, as their mother reports, "a technology-free place of fun," the emails the parents send are printed out and given to the children. The children then hand write replies that are scanned by camp employees and emailed to the parents.

This is all a bit convoluted, since an old-fashioned postcard might do the trick and be cheaper. What really is bugging the parents, however, is that the camp also offers a picture-sharing service that allows them to see their kids in camping action. Parents sign a release and then a photographer regularly snaps pictures that are then posted to the camp's website. Parents can buy a 4 by 6 photo of their kid for $1.65 plus shipping and handling.

"I can get a picture printed from Walgreens for 19 cents," the mother wrote me. "This past week I realized that I could pull pictures off the website without purchasing them." Even though she says she is not really a tech-savvy person, she notes that the procedure is as easy as "copy and paste."

The mother has expressed her concern to the company providing the photographs. The latter would not negotiate the price. "Customer service is not a strength they have," she explains.

She's quick to acknowledge that the company should make a fair profit for the product it provides and charge accordingly. Copying photos from the site without paying anything is not an option for her, since she would consider that stealing. But she wonders whether it would be unethical to pull the pictures off the site and then also purchase enough so the photographer gets a fair profit -- "say, 50 cents per picture."

"Or is it just outright stealing?" she asks.

She is considering the action, but it just doesn't sit right with her, not passing her own "gut test."

I could quibble that it seems nuts for the camp not to embed the cost of a $1.65 photo or two and the email "service" into the general fee charged to attend the camp. I could also ponder why a photographer wouldn't protect the photos online so that they couldn't be copied and pasted without purchase. But the convoluted way the camp chooses to provide this service has no bearing on whether it's right to simply take the photos off the website without paying for them since they are deemed to be overpriced.

The mother's gut test serves her well and she's right to avoid taking the photos without paying for them. The right thing is to pay for the photos they take and continue to talk to the camp about changing this process. The alternative is simply to get enough parents to refuse to pay the $100 fee and to refrain from buying photos at the marked-up price until the camp recognizes that there's a better way to service the needs of the parents who send their kids to enjoy a technology-free three weeks every summer. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today's Business and The Good, the Bad, and Your Business: Choosing Right When Ethical Dilemmas Pull You Apart, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

(c) 2012 JEFFREY L. SEGLIN. Distributed by Tribune MediaServices, Inc.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jeffrey,

You and I have already discussed this topic before and so you know my view on it! You are so right to tell that Mother that she should not steal the images. Just because someone thinks something is over priced does not give them the right to steal it. Someone might, for example, think that designer clothes or a Mercedes Benz car might be over priced but you still can't steal them.

As for whether they are over priced, well I think they are actually pretty inexpensive! That price includes the cost of the staff member taking the images, posting them on line, getting them printed and sending them to the client. In my opinion the $1.65 doesn't begin to cover that cost, let alone the additional cost of the camera, computer usage and room to store the images on the computer, the overhead cost, etc.

My guess is that it is not a professional photographer taking the images because the cost would be substantially higher, in the $10-$15 range. It is probably also why the images are not more protected on the website. Although, I will say that in this day and age it is really hard to protect any image on the internet. There are programs and websites they could use but they are not easy to find and would cost the camp extra money to use, which would add to the cost of the images. The camp should at least have a notice on the images and on their website claiming copyright and informing the public that the images should not be downloaded.

Yes, maybe the camp should roll the cost of the images into one of their other fees, but really the parents should stop complaining about a cost of a mere $1.65 per print and should count themselves lucky it isn't $10-$15 a print!

Just my two cents worth.


Anonymous said...

Penney has covered it all well. Stealiing is stealing and it is sad to see the mother trying to justify what she wants to do.

Charlie Seng
Lancaster, SC

Anonymous said...

This whole thing is too odd to be real. if it is real, the MOM should just go to another camp and forget it all. No she shouldn't steal but she need not be subject to a theory out of the days when I grew up. Something is amiss and maybe more than photos.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma

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