Finding Photo Owners

Posted on 12/4/2000 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



December 4, 2000

Michael Turnbull has written a book manuscript called, "The Best of Dot Com Humor." He

has selected 26 photos from Internet web sites that he wants to license to use as

illustrations in his book. When he contacted the web site administrators to determine

where they originally found the pictures they either told him they had no

idea, or that the pictures were in the public domain. Some are definitely not in the

public domain.

Some images have obviously been manipulated in a way that turns them into a parody of

the original image. In such cases at least two people may have rights claims -- the

creator of the original image and the creator of the parody.

These images can be viewed at

If you have any idea who took these pictures you can contact Michael Turnbull at:

Some photographers could be making money if Turnbull can figure out who to pay. He is

trying to do the right thing, but it certainly isn't easy. I'd like to ask as many of

you as can to take a look at the site he has set up for the sole purpose of trying to

find the legitimate owners of the images. See if you can suggest how he might locate

the owners. Send any suggestions directly to Turnbull at the e-mail address above.

There are two pictures for which Turnbull has some information. He knows who shot the

Elian Gonzalez picture and that AP owns it. What AP can't help him with is who did the

parody. There is also a picture of a group of teenagers with Bill Gates in the lower

left. This has been used in a magazine recently, but where? Corbis does not own the

picture and couldn't be of any help.

Things To Think About

This situation offers some very interesting food for thought.

  • Certainly there is a lot of stealing going on. In this case by the original

    creators of the web sites, not by Turnbull. I repeat. Turnbull is trying to do the

    right thing.

  • There are no credit lines under most of these pictures. If we want to be

    paid for second right we have to insist more forcefully that names or some trackable

    identifying number be attached to every image. Interestingly, this is something that the

    publishers who are so intent on grabbing rights from photographers should also want. If their

    purpose in obtaining these rights is to generate revenue from the images they own

    then they ought to be interested in

    getting paid whenever an image they own is used. Why aren't they helping us?

  • We (photographers) do not make it easy for someone to find use when they want

    to legitimately

    license a use. Even if a credit line was under the image, how would

    someone like Trunbull find a way to contact that person. There is no central database.

    Several years ago, I tried to set up such an on-line database. It is I

    asked for a small one-time fee for people to list their names and contact information to

    cover the costs of promotion. The problem with this site is that very few people either

    learned about it or listed their information. I get people contacting me regularly

    wanting to know how to find certain copyright holders and usually I have to turn them

    away because the name they are looking for is not listed in any of my databases.

    If you want someone to pay you, you must provide some way for them to find you.

  • What rights do you have if one of your images is used as a parody?

  • A service is needed where researchers can post images that they want to license

    if they are having trouble locating the owner. Agents and photographers could check this

    site frequently to see if they happen to own, or could identify the likely owner of the image

    shown. Researchers

    would greatly appreciate any help they could get, but it would only work if lots of image

    suppliers checked the site frequently. Currently, there is a major disconnect between

    those who want to license rights legitimately, and those who own the rights.

  • Copyright © 2000 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

    Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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