2004 SELLING STOCK
Volume 15, Number 2
(c)2004 Jim Pickerell - SELLING STOCK is written and published by Jim Pickerell six times a year. The annual subscription rate is $120.00 to have the printed version mailed to you. The on-line version is $100.00 per year. Subscriptions may be obtained by writing Jim Pickerell, 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, fax 301-309-0941, e-mail: email@example.com. All rights
are reserved and no information contained herein may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the editor. Jim Pickerell is also co-owner of Stock Connection, a stock agency. In addition, he is co-author with Cheryl Pickerell DiFrank of Negotiating Stock Photo Prices, a guide to pricing stock photo usages.
Thought For The Month
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
Thomas A. Edison
October 26, 2004 (Story 672) - Photographers and small stock agencies have a new option to consider as they attempt to compete with Getty and Corbis. Some will call StockPhotoFinder.com
( www.stockphotofinder.com )
(SPF) a portal, but it is really more of a search engine - think Google - than a portal because, unlike most existing photography portals, it does not take any percentage of the license fee paid for images found by using the site.
For the customer looking for images, SPF offers some tremendous advantages over Google in that all the images are provided by pre-qualified image sellers. Google can be a nightmare for professional users when they want to clear rights and get a high resolution file of images they find. In addition, searchers usually have to wade through lots of low quality images in order to find anything usable. Users of SPF, on the other hand, can be assured that every image they find is being offered by a professional image seller, and that it will be relatively easy to determine a license fee and quickly obtain a high resolution file.
In addition many of the professional images in small online databases are not easy to find currently, unless the customer knows the sellers URL. Now it will be possible to research hundreds of different photo sources by entering keywords once on the SPF site.
SPF launched last week with 113,000 images and based on the initial enthusiasm for the offering expects to have over 1 million images before the end of the year.
Unlike most portals that handle pricing and delivery for a percentage of the fee, when buyers click on SPF thumbnails they are taken immediately to the supplier's web site and the supplier controls the transaction from that point on. The supplier keeps 100% of the fee negotiated.
Consequently, every provider must have a keyword searchable web site and be able to immediately respond to any buyer's request during normal business hours in order to participate on this search engine. This may limit the participation of some photographers that do not have an office that is fully staffed at all times, but this requirement is necessary in order to insure that customers receive that kind of professional service they expect in today's fast paced digital environment. Every provider will be pre-qualified by StockPhotoFinder.com. Suppliers will not be required to offer online pricing or immediate downloads of high resolution files, although obviously both would be an advantage. An acceptable option for RM suppliers is to store hi-res images offline and deliver them by FTP once a fee has been negotiated.
Image providers must either be the copyright holder, or an agency that is the first representative of the copyright holder. This is necessary to insure that multiple agencies are not posting the same image. One thing that could complicate the image ingest procedure is that many small suppliers currently represent the same images from a given photographer on a non-exclusive basis. In an effort to be customer friendly and not offer multiples of the same image on the site SPF will have to develop a procedure to determine if any image they are about to add is already on the site from another provider. This is further complicated if a photographer's agent is the first to put an image on the site and later the photographer decides to build his own site and upload some of the same images. Randy Taylor, CEO of StockPhotoFinder, does not expect this to be a significant problem.
SPF does offer a Similars Search feature that uses proprietary technology to find similars to any image selected. It may be possible to use this same visual search technology to locate exact matches of images during the ingest process.
The only cost to the supplier is a very minimal annual Marketing Participation fee based on the number of images supplied. This is payable when a supplier signs an agreement for service, but those who sign on in 2004 will not be charged any additional fee until January 1, 2006. The initial fees are extremely low (See listing below), but it should be noted that "future participation or renewals are subject to change."
Annual Marketing Participation Fees
1 to 1,000
1,000 to 5,000
5,000 to 25,000
25,000 to 50,000
50,000 to 100,000
100,000 to 250,000
250,000 to 500,000
call for price
For many portals the procedure to ingest new images has been a problem. Once an agreement has been signed StockPhotoFinder can capture the thumbnail images and keywords from the supplier's web site making it unnecessary to specially prepare submission for this search engine. All the supplier is required to provide is a database that lists image file numbers and all the keywords attached to each image file. Then SPF goes to the image supplier's web site and imports the thumbnails they need for their search engine. This initial import goes very quickly. Recently, SPF imported 80,000 thumbnails from one provider in 15 minutes.
Another feature of interest to buyers is that SPF offers full function lightboxes that can save images from other web sites. These aggregated lightboxes may be emailed to others. The buyer is able to drag the boundaries of the search results window on the active lightbox if he or she prefers to work simultaneously with more than one browser.
SPF will also provide an online process that makes it possible for the image provider to see the number of images that have been viewed by the customer as enlarged previews on the providers site. The specific image number reviewed will not be provided.
Once you get this far - if you're a suppler - you've got to say, "This is too good to be true. They are offering so much for so little. Can it work???"
The answer to that question, I believe, is in their Preferred Vendor strategy. As more consolidation in the industry on both the buyer and seller side has taken place more and more companies are turning to Preferred Vendor relationships as a way of establishing prices for usage that will save them money and time. Some medium sized sellers of RM imagery estimate that as much of 50% of their Editorial sales of single images result from Preferred Vendor relationships or some type of relationship where fees for usage are agreed upon in advance of selecting images. I estimate that the revenue worldwide from Editorial sales is in the range of $600 million annually.
SPF intends to make a concerted effort to license their software to large organizations that are heavy image users and have "Preferred Vendor" relationships with certain stock agencies, and in some cases individual photographers. The vast majority of the revenue SPF will need to operate their system and market their search engine must come from such relationships, not from the minimal fees image suppliers pay.
A little explanation of companies that use Preferred Vendors is in order. Many of these companies are in the publishing business and they tend to use large quantities of imagery.
Much of what they need is very specific and not generic. They often need very good caption information and they need to be able to talk to people who really know their subject matter. Thus, they often like to deal with small, specialist providers.
On the other hand, because they are using so many images and image use fees are not being passed through to a client, but directly affect the company's bottom line, they like to negotiate fees upfront that will hold for a year or two for all the images they buy. In contrast most sales to graphic design firms and advertising agencies are being passed through to a client as part of an overall package and as a consequence there may be less pressure on the buyer to get the absolute lowest price.
Consequently, publishers call in suppliers that they use regularly or would like to use and present them with a fee schedule that they would like to achieve for the next year. The suppliers can make counter offers - and some do - and then the publisher develops a list of Preferred Vendors for the next year.
To be more specific, a negotiation may go like this. The standard rate in the industry for a particular use may be $200. The company may say that they would hope to achieve a rate of $100 for that use in the future. Given the likely volume that will be generated some suppliers will agree to $100, others will offer $115, $125, $140 etc. and some may say no we want to negotiate each usage based on the image and the usage. Suppliers that insist on negotiating each time will probably be dropped because the publisher doesn't want to deal with that. Some of the higher figures may be dropped. Then the publisher prepares a list for its researchers and tells them, "We want you to buy as many images as possible from those who are offering us the best price. Only after you've exhausted everything they have can you go to someone who is charging a higher price and only after you've explored everything the preferred vendors have can you go outside the Preferred Vendor Network." Thus, the chance of anyone outside the network making a sale is slim.
So how does SPF fit in? Researchers may now have to go to many different sites to do their research. This is time consuming and ends up costing the publisher money. Some publishers like Pearson Learning have set up their own search engine, obtained thumbnails and in some cases hi-res images from preferred suppliers, ingested them into their system so their researchers can search one database. But this is costly to maintain. Many of the publishers don't have in-house search systems but can see the advantage of having an outside supplier provide this service and keep it up to date.
Big suppliers like Getty and Corbis will provide publishers with custom software that lets them search their databases, but that doesn't necessarily serve the needs of the publisher because it doesn't give them access to images they would like to see from all the small specialist on their Preferred Vendor list.
SPF is prepared to take a publisher's Preferred Vendor list, go to each supplier, and create a custom database for that publisher that just shows the images of the companies with whom that publisher has Preferred Vendor agreements. Once those images are being handled by SPF the supplier has the option of seeking other Preferred Vendor relationships and servicing all the companies easily, making images available to all photo buyers through SPF's main site, or only allowing the one selected publisher to view their offering.
This service should be worth a fair amount of money to most publishers because it will make their research departments much more efficient and SPF is betting that will be the case.
It should also be noted that SPF hopes to draw customers from the commercial and advertising side of the business as well, and not limit their efforts to the editorial market. But it seems to me that they will need to generate significant cash from licensing their software in order to have the capital necessary to do the promotions to get the commercial/creative/advertising buyers to begin to look at their site.
Simplifying RM Pricing
Another direction in which the industry has been moving is one of simplified RM pricing.
For many organizations that use lots of images, one of the ways to simplify the negotiating process is to develop a list of suppliers who will agree to certain pre-negotiated rates. SPF will be able to facilitate Preferred Vendor arrangements by notifying its suppliers of the interest of one or more of its customers to enter into pre-negotiated fee arrangements. This could be beneficial, not only to image suppliers, but also to buyers.
One of the problems with the current system of marketing is that many of the images Editorial buyers want to use have been withdrawn from the marketplace as a result of the focus on the generic high end of the business. SPF addresses this problem and provides an opportunity seller to show images that no other large database will accept, and for buyers to find unique images of subjects that are not in high demand and which can not be found anywhere else.
Initially, the SPF site is primarily interested in servicing customers within North America, although obviously anyone anywhere in the world will be able to access this site. They are exploring setting up a sister site in the UK.
Since customers will be going directly to the image suppliers for negotiations and delivery, the suppliers will probably need to be in nearly the same times zones in order to adequately service customers. Foreign agencies that offer online pricing of RM and unassisted hi-res downloads may be able to participate because there will be relatively little need for direct communication with the customer.
In all likelihood few foreign photographers will be able to participate because they will not be able to respond to customer requests in a timely manner. The lack of such foreign content on the site is likely to be a weakness in the offering. One possible solution is for European and Asian photographers to make arrangements for an agent to handle negotiations and delivery for them and for U.S. photographers to set up similar sub-agency agreement with someone in the UK to deal with that market. SPF plans to offer referrals or suggestions to photographers of companies that are interested in fulfilling this role.
As I see it, the major concern in this offering is whether the revenue from licensing the software to publishers will be significant enough to cover operating costs and allow for significant marketing. SPF will also sell advertising space on the site, but that is very subtle and it is difficult to estimate how much revenue that might generate.
If there isn't sufficient revenue for aggressive promotion there will probably be very few sales. On the other hand the investment for the supplier is so low that those who already have a keyword searchable web site can hardly afford not to give it a try.
September 28, 2004 (Story 667) - A group of veteran stock shooters with broad experience in the business have partnered to form Blend Images, a Royalty Free production company with a slightly different strategy from most RF production companies.
Blend is focused entirely on producing contemporary, targeted content and does not intend to license or distribute any of the images directly to customers. Rather it plans to provide fully model released, retouched and keyworded digital files to its sales partners. At this point no sales partners have been announced, but Rick Becker-Lechrone, President of Blend says, "we are in negotiations with a number of different sales partners worldwide." (Some RF companies have well over 100 sales partners, and there is every reason to believe that most of the existing sellers of RF imagery will be very interested in representing the production of Blend photographers.)
The company claims to be developing a "very targeted collection of multi-ethnic people in business and lifestyle situations". With changing demographics both in the U.S. and Europe, they believe this is an underserved area of the market. Their goal is to stay ahead of market changes and have content in place as customer demand develops.
Becker-Lechrone invited some of the leading stock photo producers of the last decade to participate in Blend, and every one of the 23 founding partners has a tremendous track record for producing stock photography that sells. These photographers not only have a clear knowledge of what is in demand, but are also prepared to do the elaborate productions necessary to create top quality content.
Blend's infrastructure will be located largely in Las Vegas, but given the technology orientation of the business key employees may reside elsewhere. All edits will be done online, and the founding members will deliver 50MB to 55MB TIFF RGB files ready for marketing.
Becker-Lechrone joined Digital Stock in 1996 and was its first Director of Content and Technology. Digital Stock soon became world's second largest RF production after PhotoDisc and was sold to Corbis in 1999. Becker-Lechrone was Co-Director of Commercial Content at Corbis for two-and-a-half years, and after leaving there set up his own RF production company called PictureNet, Inc. Given his experience he clearly knows what sells as RF, how to motivate photographers to shoot imagery that is needed, and how to prepare the imagery to satisfy distributor's requirements.
At present Blend has about 7,000 tightly edited and keyworded images ready to deliver to distribution partners, but the most significant part of their offering is that with their concentrated, highly motivated team of shooters they have the capability of providing a significant stream of new imagery on a regular monthly basis.
Advantage For Distributors
As the business has changed many distributors that have also been producers are now looking for ways to cut costs and offload a lot of the duties they have previously handled in-house. As they move in this direction one key is to deal with suppliers that can be trusted to provide a regular stream of quality content. Blend's experience at every level of digital operations should provide portals with a high degree of confidence in their ability to meet production requirements.
Another advantage for the sales partners is that the Blend founders are prepared to spend big dollars on productions. Having done this kind of thing in the past, they recognize the benefit of hiring great talent, producers, wardrobe, etc and are willing to absorb such costs. While many photographers can't afford to do big productions, this group can.
Looking For Photographers
The founders and participating investors are fairly static, but in the near future Blend intends to actively recruit photographers for its brand. Information will be on the web site www.blendimages.com prior to PhotoEast (October 21st to 23rd) outlining how photographers should present portfolios for review. Blend is planning to give photographers at least 30% of what Blend receives from its distributors, and this is the highest percentage offered by any RF company in the industry. (A number of the founders will be speaking on panels at PhotoEast on October 21st.)
Becker-Lechrone says, "We're looking for photographers who have a lot of potential and really want to become stock shooters. They will be paired up with some of our founders who will mentor them, work with them and get their content to move. We want young, interesting photographers to join us. They must be willing to work with and learn from the people who have the experience."
Another unique characteristic is that the founders not only shoot themselves, but tend to work together in production groups of three or four founders to provide extensive variety of coverage on a particular subject. One group is in the planning stages of a big shoot in India in December. Their goal is to illustrate the business and lifestyles of the Indians working in partnerships with Europe and the U.S. This type of collaboration is expected to happen regularly.
Photographers are allowed to make keyword suggestions in the template Blend provides. The bulk of the final keywording is outsourced. Blend may bring someone in full time to do keywording, but at the moment they are happy with the work the outsourcing keyworder is doing. Initially, photographers create web galleries that the editing team uses to choose the images. Then each founding member provides 50MB to 55MB TIFF RGB files, retouched and ready for delivery to the distributors. Blend provides its photographers with submission guideline that take into consideration all the potential sales partners and their needs. Ultimately the photographer sends in the Excel spread sheet and their 50-55MB file.
Listed among the founders are: Anderson-Ross Photography, Colin Anderson Productions, ColorBlind, Inc., PictureNet, Inc., J. David Buffington, Inc., CircleStock, Inc., Stewart Cohen Photographer, ER Productions, Jon Feingersh, Jamie Grill, Jack Hollingsworth Photography, Jacobs Photography, Ronnie Kaufman, John Lund Productions, Hill Street Studios, Shalom Ormsby, Jose Pelaez Inc., Trinette Reed Photography, Eastville Studios, Larry Williams Photography and Design and Jeremy Woodhouse.
It is interesting to note that Blend includes many producers who have built their careers shooting Rights Managed photography. It is my understanding that most of these people will continue to produce some RM imagery, but they also recognize the value of producing and marketing RF images as well.
For those not familiar with some of the names above, a little background may be useful.
Jack Hollingsworth was an early-adopter of the RF strategy and has been a major producer for PhotoDisc and Corbis. He also has done RF shoots for many other RF brands and has established his own RF brand.
Jon Feingersh was the leading RM producer of business and lifestyle images for The Stock Market before it was sold to Corbis. In the last few years Feingersh has had a continuing relationship with Corbis and been producing some RF for Getty as well as RM imagery for Getty, Zefa and Masterfile.
Trinette Reed is a very experienced Stone shooter. Colin Anderson works out of Perth Australia. Ben Edwards (ER Productions) specializes in medical illustrations in the UK and has licensed his work mostly through Stone. Walter Hodges and Phil Banko operate ColorBlind, Inc., a major production operation in the Northwest.
Jamie Grill has been in stock since she was born - literally. She began her career in stock as a model for her father, Tom Grill (formerly principal shooter for Comstock and in recent years producing both RM and RF for a number of different brands). In recent years Jamie has turned to shooting and is a very talented photographer on her own right.
Many of the founders see Blend as an opportunity to exercise greater control over getting their work to market. One of the frustrating things in the last few years for many top producers - particularly those creating RM images -- has been the difficulty in getting a significant portion of their work accepted by some of the leading marketing organizations. Now that many marketing organization have become more open to accepting the work of "qualified" third-party production companies and allowing those suppliers to control the editing a new way to get images to market is opening up. In most cases the portal will add to their site pretty much anything the "approved supplier organization" wants to post. This has become the new preferred way of getting images to market and Blend appears to be perfectly placed to take maximum advantage of this new market development.
SAA WHITE PAPER ON RF
September 7, 2004 (Story 661) - StockArtistsAlliance (SAA) has posted a new white paper on its web site that explores the RF licensing model in great detail. You can read this paper by going to
www.stockartistsalliance.org and opening document entitled
SAA White Paper: Understanding Stock Licensing Models.
Since its inception the SAA has been opposed to RF and has advocated the Rights Managed licensing model because they believe it to be in the best interest of photographers. However, in this paper the SAA has recognized that photographers need to "diversify their business opportunities" and that they need more detailed information to make "informed business decisions about how to market their images."
They also acknowledge that RF can be profitable for a "small group of high-volume production-oriented stock photographers." While far from a ringing endorsement of RF this paper takes a more tempered and balanced approach to RF than the SAA's position has been in the past.
After I published the above story online SAA Board Member Gary Buss wrote the following to clarify the SAA's position.
He said, "We are always attempting to disseminate information to as many people as possible and what better way than with a reference in Selling Stock. One point I would like to address is your characterization of the SAA's stance as softening towards Royalty Free. While the white paper was intended to give a well-balanced overview of the current licensing models, the SAA feels strongly that Rights Managed is a superior business model for the photographer, now and in the future. We do not want your readers to think that the SAA now supports the Royalty Free business model or that it is a sound business decision for their future."
KLEIN OUTLINES GROWTH PLANS
September 7, 2004 (Story 661) - In an interview with the London Times, Jonathan Klein outlined a few additional growth plans that had not been mentioned heretofore.
He said, "Within 12 months we will be doing something significant in India and China, as well as putting down some deeper roots in other parts of the Far East."
He also reiterated Getty Images intentions to build a strong presence in Germany and to have that in place before the 2006 World Cup, and to have their presence in China well established before the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Sources tell Selling Stock that Getty Images already has a team working on a Chinese language web site now that they have introduced their Japanese language web site.
There are rumors that the "significant" activity in India will be an investment in a technology operation that may reach beyond the stock photo industry into new lines of business, but the Times article gave no hints as to what these new lines of business might be, or whether these rumors that the investment would be outside the stock photo industry have any substance whatsoever.
The Times story also indicated that Mark Getty has recently stepped back from a full-time role at Getty Images to focus on helping manage his family's investment portfolio and establishing Sutton Place Managers, a media investment firm.
Klein also told the Times that Getty Images has about a 10% share in the $1 billion global editorial images market. Thus, he is estimating Getty's editorial sales at about $100 million. Based on sales in the first half of 2004 the News/Sports/Entertainment/Archive divison should have sales of about $70 million for all of 2004. This should mean that about $30 million from the Creative section of the site is being allocated to Editorial use. Selling Stock believes that the market for Editorial Images is less than $1 billion which would mean that the Getty Images share is greater than 10%.
PICTUREARTS EXPANDS CREATIVE TEAM
September 7, 2004 (Story 661) - PictureArts has announced the promotion of Sarah Fix to Associate Creative Director, and the addition of Scott Libolt of Drea Solan to its creative team. Libolt is Director of Imagery for Brand X Pictures, and Solan is PictureArts' Asset Manager.
"This company is growing quickly, and it's imperative that we continue to develop the structure of our most important workgroup, filling these positions with the best possible talent," explains PictureArts President and CEO, Jeffrey Burke. "Giving Sarah greater responsibility, and bringing Scott and Drea on board allows us to continue evolving our collections and strengthen our creative operations."
Libolt has worked as Studio Art Director for Corbis and Senior Photo Editor for Westlight. Solan comes to PictureArts after more than thirteen years of digital production experience, most of it with Workbook and as Digital Production Manager at Workbookstock, where he handled the quality control of meta data and imagery, and production of all stock CD and Web content.
Fix will assist Creative Director Lorraine Triolo in the development and execution of content and visual strategies, and the streamlining of creative workflow. She will also devote a significant amount of time to artist relations, assisting with contract negotiations and spearheading photographer meetings and events.
"My biggest focus right now is planning PictureArts' first Contributors' meeting, which is very exciting. It presents a fun opportunity to communicate with our contributing artists," says Sarah. "I'm also thrilled to be involved with creative planning for PictureArts' brands. It will be great to be able to make an impact on the big picture issues."
As the Brand X Director of Imagery, Scott will continue to cultivate the visual strategy of the collection, oversee edits for all incoming submissions, and maintain production schedules for financed shoots and CD products. He will also manage photographer relationships and actively recruit new Brand X artists.
As Asset Manager, Drea Solan will oversee the continued management of all keywords and future development of metadata systems for PictureArts' images. He will be working to
create consistency in information assets across FoodPix, Brand X Pictures, Botanica, NonStock and any other future product lines.
SUPERSTOCK TO USE PICSCOUT
September 28, 2004 (Story 665) - SuperStock, a subsidiary of a21, has signed an agreement with PicScout to use its Image Tracker monitoring service to track the use of their imagery on the Internet. PicScout will provide detailed reports that will enable SuperStock to identify and pursue copyright infringement.
September 6, 2004 (Story 660) - How many uses are being made of online imagery without proper payment?
The other day I was working at my church. As I went to the printer I noticed that someone had printed out a Brand X picture of a butterfly and another sheet indicating that the picture was from FotoSearch.com.
This is a very large church with paid staff of over 100. It makes significant use of still and video imagery for power point presentations, brochures, posters and other uses. The church is also very copyright sensitive and the senior staff regularly emphasizes that clearances should be obtained before using copyrighted material. The church produces a lot of audio tapes, from which it generates revenue, so it has a vested interest in protecting copyright.
Curious about the budget for stock photography, I asked, "Who's using FotoSearch images?"
One secretary piped up, "I found it on the Internet and am using it in the PowerPoint presentation I'm preparing for tomorrow."
Jim - "What did you pay for it?"
Secretary 1 - (shocked expression) - "I didn't know I had to pay for it. I got it off the Internet."
Jim - "Some images on the Internet are free, but not all of them. FotoSearch is a company that licenses rights to the images it shows on the Internet. You need to pay to use their images."
Secretary 1 - "I thought if I found it on the Internet it was free and OK to use it."
Secretary 2 - "Some images have watermarks on them and you can't use those without paying, but if it doesn't have a watermark isn't it alright to use it?"
(By now they are recognizing that I have some knowledge on the subject and are asking for advice.)
I explained that they must look carefully to determine if the images are copyrighted and then look for the "licensing" terms. I had to agree that it isn't always easy to find that information and determine if the image they have found on the Internet has to be licensed or not.
Secretary 1 had gone on Google and entered "pictures of butterflies". From there she started clicking on various links with little understanding that some links are to things that are free and others are to things where you need to pay. She found some pictures, didn't take the time to carefully read the information around the picture, picked the one she wanted to use, right clicked and she had a file that was sufficient for her PowerPoint presentation. In this case, after our conversation, she ended up not using the Brand X picture because no image budget was authorized for this project. She went back to Google to find an image on a site where there was nothing that indicated that the image was copyrighted, or needed to be licensed. These two secretaries will probably not make the same mistake again.
When senior staff eventually sees the presentations they assume that all clearances have been obtained, given the general policies they have put in place, but that may not be the case. Meanwhile, the worker bees have been given instructions to do a job, but are very confused about what is legal and what isn't when it comes to copyright, because there is no consistency in where they have to go to get that answer.
How big a problem is it that one church uses a few images illegally in PowerPoint presentations? I don't think this is just one isolated situation, but rather evidence of a huge problem that goes on daily in corporations and associations around the world. In many cases it is not because people are purposely stealing, it is because they do not have a clear understanding of what they can and cannot do legally. Most people want to do the right thing, but often have trouble figuring out what that is.
If people make use of the images on the Internet there are now ways to track that usage and alert people when they have made an infringing use. But if they use an image in a PowerPoint presentation or in a small special interest publication there is no way to track such usage.
Certainly, it is going to be very difficult to stop people who steal on purpose. But, I believe there are a large number of people who would like to do the right thing - the legal thing - if it were just a little easier to figure out when something if free and when they need to pay.
What about putting a small button at the corner of each image file that remains a part of the image file? If anyone clicks that button while hooked to the Internet, it takes them to a site that tells them what they have to do to license rights to use that image. If there are restrictions on usage clicking the button takes them to a site that tells them what the restrictions are in detail. If there is no button then there are no restrictions on usage. This button doesn't need to be on the final delivery file, just the thumbnail and preview.
If there were a simple, universal system like this, then it might be possible to begin to educate the universe of users as to how to determine what is legal. The button would become a standard. Each person who puts an image on the Internet would be able to easily insert such a button in the corner of his or her picture and have the option of specifying a URL address where the button will take any person who clicks it. At that location the restrictions and pricing requirements could be outlined in as much detail as necessary.
The fact that we have a few large companies controlling the distribution of a high percentage of stock images actually makes it easier to introduce such a system than it might have been a few years ago. The system must be universal and very easy to use. Technology wise, I don't think it should be that difficult to develop. The only major hurdle as I see it is that there needs to be some type of encryption so unauthorized sellers could not change the site to which the button is directing the user. The only person who could change the site address is someone specifically authorized by the image creator (i.e. and agent).
But, for such a proposal to have any chance of success some major image users must get behind the ideas and develop and promote it. They need to make it very simple for image producers to use. It also needs to be very inexpensive or free for every images creator to use so everyone will want to take advantage of the opportunity. And what's in it for these major image sellers? Well, they are the ones who have the most to lose. The more sales they are making and the easier it is to find their images on the Internet, the more dollars they are losing from innocent unauthorized use. I challenge them to get to work to solve the problem.