The Republic of Ireland celebrated a huge victory for same-sex marriage this weekend, but one family perhaps wasn’t celebrating quite so vehemently after a photo of the couple and their toddler was picked up from a stock-image website and used in support of the “No” campaign.
Almost two-thirds of those who turned up at the polling stations last week backed the proposed legislative amendments, making Ireland the first country anywhere to legalize same-sex marriage through an open referendum. In the campaign leading up to the public vote, however, Mothers and Fathers Matter — a civic group formed in Ireland last year to oppose a number of proposed bills including an amendment to legislation around marriage equality — used this family image in support of its message.
In a statement released through Amnesty International in the lead up to the historical vote, the couple — who don’t live in Ireland but have chosen to remain “anonymous” — explained that they had been willing participants in a photo shoot with a photographer friend in 2014. No money changed hands, but in exchange for copies of the happy family snaps, the photographer would be able to boost their own portfolio and offer the snaps for sale through a stock-photo website.
“Naively, we imagined that on the off chance that any was ever selected, it might be for a small magazine or website,” the statement reads. “We were surprised and upset to see that the photo was being used as part of a campaign with which we do not agree. We completely support same-sex marriage, and we believe that same-sex couples’ should of course be able to adopt, as we believe that they are equally able to provide children with much needed love and care.”
They also acknowledge that there is little they can do about it now.
“The photo was not stolen from us… we have no claim over (or rights to) the picture, and we do not claim otherwise,” the father explained to the BBC. “We just wanted publicly to say that we disagreed with the No campaign and were unhappy about their use of our image, but we acknowledge that they’re allowed to do so.”
The stock photography industry is big business. One of the best-known stock image sites, Getty, was snapped up by the Carlyle Group for $3.3 billion in 2012. And in December last year Adobe acquired stock photo company Fotolia for $800 million, almost three years after Fotolia raised a whopping $150 million. One month later, stock photo behemoth Shutterstock revealed it was acquiring Rex Features, a photographic press agency based out of the U.K, for $33 million.
With the advent of smartphones that essentially put a camera in everyone’s pockets, there are a huge number of smaller players in the field, including EyeEm and 500px, while some are trying to gain traction by offering superior royalties to the incumbents.
There has been a number of amusing and/or embarrassing cases involving stock-photo models in recent times. Back in 2013, a model named Samantha Ovens was stunned to find a picture of her used in this rather racy column. She tweeted: “Why not model for stock images?” they said. “What could possibly go wrong?” they said.
"Why not model for stock images?" they said. "What could possibly go wrong?" they said. pic.twitter.com/oF8icpgsqp
— hrtbps (@hrtbps) November 1, 2013
For others, a career as a stock photo model will haunt them forever with false images of a life they never really lived. Victoria Bond, a former model, wrote:
Part of what gets under my skin about the stock photos is that my image is used to sell values that alienate me and a lot of other women.
And this perfectly highlights the perils of being a stock image model — it’s impossible to know how an image will be used. For this reason, it makes sense to check the details of the contract — while you may not always have much influence in how the photo is used, if there’s an issue you’re particularly opposed to you can always ask to retain some rights, such as forbidding the photos from use in politicized campaigns.
Bond says that in the release forms she signed, the photos were usually prohibited from being used in “HIV or STD pharmaceutical ads,” but that didn’t stop them from being used in laxative ads.
That is about as good as you’re going to get — modelling for stock-photo sites can be an easy way for students and young people to make decent cash, with some shoots offering as much as $500 per day, often more for established models. This means there is no shortage of less fussy people willing to fill your boots.