Value Of Copyright Ownership

Posted on 11/13/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

With the death of RM licensing on the horizon, photographers need to consider whether there is much, if any, value in owning a copyright. Photography has become a commodity like corn or soybeans.

Now, there is:
    1 - Huge oversupply relative to demand
    2 – Supply seems to continue to grow at an astronomical rate while demand seems to have stabilized, or is growing very slightly.

    3 – Competition continues to drive prices down dramatically as sellers try to take market share.    
    4 – Thanks to technology it is very easy to grab an image off the Internet without going to the creator or legitimate supplier to obtain rights.
    5 – Customers have great difficulty in determining if there is a cost to use an image or if it is free.
    6 – Even when customers are willing to pay they often have great difficulty in determining who to contact to properly license a use.

Establishing Prices For Unauthorized Uses

It has now become fairly easy to locate uses on the Internet. But that is just the first step in collecting for any unauthorized use. Often the information supplied to the creator by the agency doing the licensing is inadequate to understanding who the end user really was. Thus, if the image has ever been licensed it is often very difficult to determine whether the current user licensed the image, or whether the specific use was covered by the license.

The next big question is how to establish a fair price for a given use? Some stock photographers remember the days 20 or 30 years ago when there was relatively little supply compared to demand and it was much harder to get access to a usable image file than is the case today. At that time in any legal action the standard “value” for any photo was $1,500. Many unique, high demand photos could legitimately command much higher prices. Those days are gone.

Today, the average price for a use of any image on Shutterstock is $3.40. A three times the normal licensing fee if often accepted by the courts as a reasonable penalty for using an image without proper permission. So maybe we can say that the value of an unauthorized use of a Shutterstock image is $10.20. It’s not hardly worth pursuing an infringer for this amount of money.

Some Shutterstock Offset images sell for as much as $500. Thus, if the user happened to grab an Offset image it might be worth more.

If we look at Getty the average price is currently around $29. But when they stop making a few occasional high dollar sales for RM images that average is likely to drop dramatically. Let’s assume the real average is $29 and three times that would be $87. This is still not enough to make it worth chasing an infringer for an unauthorized use when we consider that a percentage of any collection will go to the lawyers, a percentage to the organization that found the image use online and a percentage to the agency or organization representing the photographer. The image creator can’t possibly earn enough to justify initiating an action.

It is worth noting that back at the end of 2006 the average price of an RM images at Getty was $506 and the average price of an RF image was $240. Those days are gone forever.

However, if a customer goes to today and looks for the listed price of an RF image they will find a price of $499.00 for a large file. Is it possible to use that figure for what an image is worth? Not, if the infringer, or the infringer’s lawyer has an ounce of sense. Getty never licenses anything at the listed prices. Everyone gets some type of a deal. The deals have nothing to do with the listed prices.

If the image happens to be in the RM collection, there is a complex pricing schedule and Getty does very occasionally make sales at these much higher prices. But, as of January 2020 all those RM images will be gone. The $29 average is for both RM and RF combined. Over 90% of Getty’s RM sales are currently made at hugely discounted prices.

What is needed is some realistic basis for establishing a higher average price for Rights Managed images that are licensed based on usage. The WRMD database described in a previous story could provide figures that would be a major aid in settling infringement cases.

Collecting For Unauthorized Uses

There are a number of organizations that currently help images creators identify and collect for unauthorized uses. They include:
Copytrack Germany
Image Protect US
ImageRights US
PicRights Switzerland
Permission Machine Belgium
Pixtrakk France
Pixsy US
Copyright Alliance US
iPStock Austria
PhotoClaim Poland
LAPIXA Germany
KodakOne US

But once they identify a use a lot of work falls on the creator to determine if the use was paid for, or not. If the image in question is represented by a stock photo agency, it is often impossible to get enough detailed information to make a determination. As a result, image creators who manage their collections exclusively, and make no sales through a distributor, are often the only ones who are able to collect much for unauthorized uses.

Despite the difficulties it has been reported that last year in China between 20% and 50% of the revenue generated by some stock agencies was the result of collections for unauthorized uses. It’s difficult to determine whether the Chinese tend to steal images at a much higher rate than other cultures, or whether the agencies are just much more aggressive at collecting. VCG did have some problems with its strategies for chasing copyright infringement which we reported on here, here, here and here.

We do know that it has been determined that about 80% of the commercial uses of images online, worldwide, are unauthorized. Photoclaim says that 94% of its clients images found on the Internet are unpaid uses.

A WRMD database would make collecting for such uses much easier and could go a long way to establishing more reasonable prices for unauthorized uses.

See these additional stories on unauthorized uses.
October 2018
August 2019

Copyright © 2019 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


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