Can Customers Find You?

Posted on 11/28/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

When potential customers see one of your images they would like to use can they find you or your representative.

More and more image users are finding the images they would like to use by searching Google or Bing. They also stumble on images that would be perfect for their next project while searching Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and other social media sites.
However, usually there is no information attached to the image that would help them locate  the image creator or whoever they might need to contact to legally license use of the image.

Some creators watermark their images, but that can be distracting. And even when the potential customer has the name of the creator, it is often difficult to find any contact information.

Solving The Problem

In today’s technological environment this problem is easily solved, except no one seems to be doing much about it.

It is easy, and relatively inexpensive, to fingerprint images. Anyone can easily make a digital copy of an image they find on the Internet. If a database existed, of images that need to be licensed, potential users could then do a visual search for an exact match, determine if the image is in the database, and be supplied with the name and contact information for the creator.

The problem is that there is no such database that contains all, or a significant majority, of the images that need to be licensed.

In the UK there is, in fact, The Copyright Hub where customers may go to do such searches to find where they need to go to license some images. It was established in 2013 by the UK government as a pilot project to help potential users locate copyright holders. It is being used by some, mostly UK customer, but it suffers from a few fatal flaws.
    1 – It only contains a small percentage of all the images in the world that must be licensed before use. Thus, if a customer searches The Copyright Hub and doesn’t find a match for the image that doesn’t mean the image is free to use. There, are a huge number of images not in the database that also need to be licensed. In order to be useful the database must contain a high percentage of all images requiring licensing.
    2 – No one has been able to figure out how to provide long range funding for The Copyright Hub operation. The government isn’t going to pay for it. Stock agencies and individual contributors have not been willing to fund it.
So everyone complains about unauthorized use of images on the Internet.
    The Copyright Hub has modified its initial 2013 strategy aimed at developing a database of images that could be searched visually. Now, the Hub is focused on developing an eCopyright symbol that can be placed on images. By clicking this symbol customers can learn more about prices for various uses and make contact with the seller. For more about how this works check out this link.

Instead Of Complaining, Do Something

There are a number of organization that search the Internet for unauthorized image uses and help photographers recover some of the lost revenue.
They say that between 80% and 90% of the uses found are unauthorized. Users have not asked permission from the image creator or the creator’s representative to use the image. The majority of the images found are on personal blog. The user just wants to share the images with friends and is not earning any money from the use of the images. For the most part these people are not worth chasing because it will cost more to try to collect than you’ll ever recover.

But, a significant percent of the unauthorized uses are being made by business and corporations that are earning revenue as a result of using the image. These organizations are often willing to immediately pay a reasonable fee when the image owner finds them. Sometimes significant recoveries are possible.

Is There An Alternative?

But, wouldn’t it be great if instead of having to chase these infringers they would come directly to you before they use your image and ask for permission.

Most of these commercial users want to be honest. They don’t set out to steal. They certainly don’t want to be chased by a photographer and his/her legal team once it is discovered that they have used an image without permission.

But we don’t make it easy for them to find us. Sure, if they would just go to our stock agencies when they need an image then there would be no problem. But that’s not where they see the images they want to use.

If we want to license more images to professional users – and get better prices – then we have to make it easier for them to find us.

The traditional stock agency system is no longer working effectively. Increasingly, image users are turning to other sources to find what they need. It will get worse.

What’s The Solution

There needs to be one central, unified database that contains a copy of every image in the world where permission is required before use. This could be called the Licensed Image Database (LID). All that’s needed is a small image file (about 500K) of each image, and a digital fingerprint. It could then be searched like Google Image Search.

Assuming that the cost of creating such a database can be kept low (sources indicate that it can), and the process of uploading simplified, there should be very little resistance from creators to using such a database. Creator that won’t bother placing their images in the database would have little reason to complain if someone makes an unauthorized use of their image.

The database would only contain a small percentage of all the images on the Internet. Most people don’t care if others use their images. They might even be happy if someone would use one of their images. These images creators wouldn’t need to concern themselves with the LID. They can just post their images wherever they want and accept what happens.

(Multiple database would make it much more difficult for customers because they would have to go to multiple sources, rather than a single source, to try get information.)

Here’s more about how it could work.
    1 – Photographers or illustrators would upload a small file (about 500K) to this central database.
    2 – The creator would also supply his/her contact information and a list of organizations that may license rights on the creator’s behalf. Once registered the data would be automatically attached to any new images that creator submits.
    3 – The LID would create the unique fingerprint of each image, add the fingerprint to the collection and keep track of the date the fingerprint was available for searching.
    4 - The fingerprints could then be used to visually match images supplied by a potential customer.
    5 – When a customer uploads an image to the LID, it would be fingerprinted and compared with the billions of fingerprints in the database. Anyone could search the database for free. If they find an image match, then they know that it is one that requires permission before use.
    6 – If the customer wants to contact the image owner, then they must pay a small fee and that information will be immediately supplied. In some cases, where the image is available non-exclusively through a number of sources, there may be several potential sources of contact.
    7 – Large files are not needed. Keywords will not be needed. The LID will not be involved in actual licensing.
To establish such a database, image creators or agencies representing them, must be willing to pay a small fee. The initial fee would probably be less than it costs to register a collection of images at the U.S. Copyright Office. (Copyright registration may be less important as participation on the LID shows an alleged infringer that the author is serious about protecting the work. (See here) If the creator makes a single sale the fee should probably more than cover the creator’s costs of including all their images in the database.

Why Would Image User Pay

Users would be asked to pay a small fee, maybe $2.00, to get the contact information. They might be required to pay $10 for 5 credits and charged 1 credit per request for information.  There could be volume discounts for larger packages or credits. (See my site and for how this might work.) Internet user are becoming much more willing to pay something for a service that makes life easier for them.

Charging a small fee could cut down on the number of people looking for free images or just wanting to chat and waste the creator’s time.

Why Won’t This Work?

I would be very interested in hearing your reservations about such a program, or why you think establishing such a database won’t work. Please send your comments to wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz.

Copyright © 2017 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:  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff