Chasing Infringements

Posted on 8/9/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Internet search technology has enabled professional photographers to discover more and more uses of their images. As a result, an increasing number of photographers are pursuing the users for compensation. Given how the system works customers who have legitimately licensed rights to use images are often required to do extra work to prove they did the right thing in the first place. This is not making these good stock agency customers happy. Some stock agencies fear that this extra hassle may drive some of their best paying customers to turn to more FREE images rather than bother with paid sources.

Here’s how the problem has developed. In the last few years a number of organizations have begun offering photographers the service of searching the Internet for uses of their images.

Once they find a use they contact the photographer to determine if the photographer had given permission for the use and been properly compensated. If not, then these organizations will pursue the image user on behalf of the photographer in an effort to obtain fair compensation for the use.



The following is a list of some of these organizations:
Finding uses is easy. However, if the image has ever been, or is still, represented by a stock photo agency it is often very difficult to determine if the photographer was compensated for the use.  

The photographer is shown a copy of the image in question and the website where it appears and asked if he/she authorized and was compensated for the usage. If the photographer has a collection of any size there may be hundreds, if not thousands of uses. The photographer will need to search sales records to determine if each image was ever licensed, by whom and in some cases for what use.

Very few photographers have a complete historical database of every image in their collection that has ever been licensed. But that alone is not enough. The image might have been licensed several years earlier and the customer allowed to leave the image online indefinitely so the photographer can’t just look at recent sales.

Most stock agency sales reports don’t show a picture of the image that was licensed, just an image number. Consequently, the photographer must have built a record keeping system that shows a picture of each image that was licensed, the number of times, the dates of each license  and to whom. Few have such a database.

Part of the problem here is that most stock agencies don’t report the name of the customer who licensed the image. They tend to just supply an image number and the amount paid. Consequently, the photographer often has no way of knowing who the customer was. The image might have been licensed by a different customer, but not the person on whose website it was found.

In addition, the customer might have been a graphic design firm that was working on a project for another end using customer. The web site address where the image use was found will be that of the end using customer, but the stock agency may recognize the graphic design firm as the customer and have no idea who the actual end user is. Thus, that information was never reported to the photographer.

Another problem that can arise if the online use is relatively recent is that the customer may have paid for the use, but the photographer still hasn’t been notified or received compensation.
For example, suppose the photographers primary stock agent licenses an image to a customer who posts it immediately, but the customer only pays the agency at the end of the month. The payment misses that agent’s monthly notification to the photographer so the image might have been online for at least two months before the photographer knows about the sale.

On the other hand, in some cases where sales volumes are low the photographer might only be notified of recent sales quarterly. Thus, it could be 4 or 5 months before the photographer learns of a sale.

It can get worst. Suppose the photographer’s primary agency has distributed some of the photographer’s images to a sub-agency and the sub-agency makes a sale. But, the sub-agency only notifies the primary agency of sales on a quarterly basis. And maybe there is a delay between notification and payment. Then after receiving payment the primary agency notifies the photographer when the next quarterly payment is due. Depending on the date a use is authorized, the normal payment period could easily be 8 or 9 months between the time the customer was allowed to post the image online before the photographer becomes aware that a sale has been made.

Given the difficulty photographers face in determining which uses have been authorized and which haven’t, some just tell the Internet search organization that has discovered the use that they have not been compensated for anything and that the search organization should go ahead and try to collect on all listed images.

Some agents argue that given the difficulties stock photographers face in collecting in this way the only people who should be using these collecting organizations are photographers who have never placed the image in question with a stock agency and only directly licensed use of their images to end using customers. These direct sellers are the only ones who are likely to know if all uses of their images have been properly paid for or not.

Customer Frustrations


The big problem is that often when customers are contacted by one of the collection agencies about a use of an image they are forced to do research and often hire lawyers to prove that they did the right thing.

Even if the initial contact is non-threating like “We have discovered the use of this image on your website. Our records show that permission was never requested from the copyright holder. Normally, the copyright holder charges a fee for use of his images. Please supply us with evidence that you received permission, or paid a fee for the use.”

Often finding such information is a time consuming process. Consequently, the company that did the right thing in the first place may be less likely to go back the same agency the next time they are looking for images.

These image search organizations may be helping photographers find people who are using images without permission either because the individuals or companies were unaware that everything found on the Internet isn’t free, or because they purposely tried to avoid payment. But it is questionable how many of these image users are likely to become buyers in the future. They may just try to be more careful about only using images that can be found on free sites.

On the other hand, the people who have tried to do the right thing in the first place are not going to be happy about the extra work required when they do abide by the rules.

There may be no easy answer to this dilemma, but it seems likely to become a bigger and bigger problem.


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

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  

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