Compensation For User Generated Web Usage

Posted on 9/26/2012 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Last weeks announcement that PACA, ASMP and CCC are considering some type of arrangement that would compensate image creators for the unauthorized web usage of their images on sites like Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, etc. needs careful examination by all photographers and distributors before anything is formalized.

What is CCC?

The first thing to understand is how the Copyright Clearance Center ( came into existence and how it functions. In the 1970s when the U.S. copyright law was being updated among the concerns of publishers was the increasing tendency of people to photocopy rather than purchase published materials. While such acts are copyright infringements, legal action to pursue infringers for small amounts of compensation did not seem a practical solution to the problem. It was recognized that a better system was needed to collect fees for such copying without making it too difficult for users to comply with the law.

As a result, in July 1977 the American Association of Publishers created the CCC. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., a major United States publisher, sought contributions from other publishers to finance the costs of the not-for-profit company (collecting society) that would provide collective copyright licensing services for corporate and academic users. Extended collective licensing (ECL) laws of this type had been established in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in the 1960s.

Today CCC licenses rights for use of materials from in- and out-of-print books, journals, newspapers, magazines, movies, television shows, images, blogs and ebooks. It 1) sells non-exclusive licenses; 2) collects royalties 3) distributes collected royalties 4) enters into reciprocal arrangements with other collecting societies and 5) enforces their rights.

How big a business is this?

Since 1992 CCC has collected over $2 billion for reprographic uses and paid out more than $1.5 billion (about 72% of the monies collected on average) to those who claimed to hold the rights. In the past 10 years alone CCC has paid more than $1 billion in royalties, mostly to publishing firms. In 2011 CCC collected $238,590 million and paid out $171,064 million. The bulk of these monies are for the copying of textual materials. Only a small portion could rightfully be allocated for the copying of photographs.

With rare exceptions the vast majority of this money has been paid to publishing organizations, not individual creators. In the agreements between the publishers and the CCC the publishers have affirmed that they have all rights to the creative works in their titles. They have also affirmed that in cases where they do not own the rights they will share a portion of what they receive with the creators of the work. I have been unable to find any evidence, whatsoever, that any publisher has ever paid any photographer a share of what they have received for the photocopying of the photographer’s work.

Given the all encompassing language in the most recent contracts photographers and agencies have been required to sign when licensing use of their work, publishers may be able to argue that they are no longer required to pay creators any portion of the monies they receive from CCC. But, until a few years ago contracts were much more specific and narrow in the rights they granted. In those contracts reprographic rights certainly weren’t an included use.

It should also be noted that there are national collecting societies all over the world and CCC works with them paying some of the royalties it collects to them and receiving royalties from them. It is unclear how much of the total that CCC pays out each year goes to foreign collecting societies or how much is distributed to U.S. rights holders.
The CCC is still very much controlled by, and operates for the benefit of, publishers, not creators.

How can photographers get their rightful share of this money?

This is where we have a problem. In theory rights holders can register the title of a work. When someone pays to use that specific work the rights-holder is paid a royalty directly. However, it is very difficult to title a photo in a way that the customer, finding that photo in a book, magazine or online would be able to request permission to license that specific photo. When that happens today it is a very cumbersome process and not designed for the kind of micro transactions that are needed for most reprographic or web use.

Even if we could solve that problem the vast majority of licenses granted by CCC are “non-title specific.” (The actual percentage is not available.)

Non-Title Specific Licenses

Rather than license use of a specific product, academic institutions or corporations can obtain quarterly or annual licenses (subscriptions) to use a certain quantity of material without specifying, in any way, the title of the material or where it came from. In these cases the publication, or the creator within the publication, is not named making it impossible to compensate specific creators for the use or their work. There are several issues here.
  • It is unclear how the prices for these uses are established.

  • It is believed that the CCC takes this pool of money and in some way divides it proportionally among its registered copyright owners whose work they represent. For example if a major publisher has 1,000 book titles and another publisher has 10 titles it is assumed that the material in the 1,000 books would be used 100 times more frequently than the material in the 10 books. Obviously, the algorithm is very complicated and no information about how the non-title specific money is divided up is available.

  • If a chapter out of a textbook is inserted into a college “course pack” and there are a dozen pictures in the chapter, how is the value of each specific picture determined?
      a The CCC makes no determination. They pay the entire royalty to the publisher. Their contract with publishers simply requires that the publisher compensate specific copyright holders whenever required.
      b We have been unable to find any photographer who has ever received any compensation from a publisher for such an additional use. We assume publishers have concluded that when they license rights to use an image in a book they may also benefit from the use of the image in a variety of other ways such as photocopying or use on the web despite the fact that these other uses are never specified in licensing agreements.
      c CCC should make public the names of at least a few photographers who have received direct royalty payments for the use of their images. These photographers should be able to explain to ASMP and PACA the process they went through to become qualified to receive payments.

Questions: Electronic Rights

The CCC says it is already licensing rights to “images, blogs and ebooks.”
  • CCC proposes to offer platforms like Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube etc. licenses to use copyrighted works, including photographs. In theory companies with such a license would be in compliance with the copyright law, but it is believed CCC will not have any way to track which specific copyrighted works that are being used.

  • Does the fact that many photographers have already granted “unlimited electronic rights” to publishers give the publisher the right to any revenue generated when that image is used online?

  • If the online user of an image obtained that image from the photographer’s web site, or the web site of another of the photographer’s clients instead of the publisher’s web site, is the publisher still entitled to a license fee? If not, how will anyone ever be able to tell where the user got the image?

Other Collecting Societies

Some collecting societies in other parts of the world where creators retain moral rights have worked out ways to pay photographers that register with them, a proportional share of the non-title specific money collected. CCC has been unable or unwilling to do this.

These societies have also determined that a certain portion of the non-title specific content used in their country was created by copyright holders from other countries. In such cases the royalties are paid to the collecting society in the creator’s country with the stipulation that the money must be used for continuing education of creators or advocacy. The CCC receives some money in this fashion and has forwarded it to various trade associations including ASMP.

To date the CCC has not paid U.S. photography associations or individual published rights holders any royalty share of the non-title specific monies it has collected in the U.S. All the U.S. revenues are divided among publishing organizations, with a few small exceptions to well known authors.

In the last few years the CCC has worked in conjunction with ASMP and provided technical services for education programs conducted by ASMP. While such support of the photography community is appreciated it should not be viewed as a substitute for a system that would allocate funds directly to individual photographers whose work is being used.

Additional CCC Statistics

Statistics from the CCC website.
  • CCC provides licensing services to over 400 of the Fortune 500 companies.
  • More than 1,100 academic institutions in the U.S. use CCC’s Annual Copyright License.
  • 35,000 corporations with employees in 180 countries are covered by CCC’s Annual Copyright License.
  • CCC manages over 400 million rights to works in all formats.

Getty Option

While working with the CCC may seem to offer photographers and distributors a new source of revenue it is important to weigh all the competing options carefully before jumping on any particular band wagon.

Recently Getty Images announced its ImageIRC Post-Usage-Billing Service. With this service it appears that Getty will enter into subscription deals with various web platform providers such as Pinterest, Facebook, YouTube, etc. that allow users to freely post imagery. This will serve the same ends as the CCC proposal. Getty subscriptions will allow for unlimited posting of any image in the ImageIRC database during the period of the license.
By using “image fingerprinting” technology and placing an API on the subscribing company’s platform Getty will be able to track actual use and determine the proportional share of each subscription that should be allocated to each specific image creator. This will allow them to pay royalties to individual creators based on the actual number of times their images have been used.

At launch the Post-Usage-Billing Service is only examining images from the Getty Images collection, but in the near future they expect to provide a way for all agencies and professional photographers to participate.

At this point we have no idea what Getty will charge for subscriptions, how many images are likely to be downloaded during a subscription period or what royalty percentage Getty will be paying to contributors.

I’ve never been accused of being an apologist for Getty Images, but given what we know at the moment about both proposals it looks like the Getty option is significantly better for image creators than what CCC is offering.
  • Photographers want to be paid for the use of their photos, not have everything thrown in a pot and receive an equal share of the pot regardless of whether their picture was never used or used hundreds of times. The CCC system throws everything into the pot because it has no way of specifically determining which image was used. Getty’s system allows for payment based on usage.

  • Photographers want to receive direct compensation for the use of their work that they can use as they wish, not a contribution to a trade association of which they may not even be a member. Based on experience to date, any payout from the CCC is likely to go to associations. (Note: the CCC’s plan is still in the very formative stage and something could change.) With Getty some photographers will be paid directly, however in many cases agencies will post the images to the ImageIRC database and the agencies will receive the compensation which they will then share with the photographers.

  • The CCC has been paying out about 70% of what they take in. Getty’s business model is premised on Getty retaining about 80% of the revenue it collects before paying out about 20% on average in royalties to creators. While the payout from Getty to individual creators may be very low 70% of nothing would be even less.

  • CCC does not have a good track record in supporting individual creators.

Competing Systems

What happens in the next few months could have a major long term impact on how, or even if, photographers will receive compensation when their work is posted on Internet sites without their approval.

There may be no way to stop or slow down either of the above named companies from contacting platform providers and offering them subscription deals that, in theory, provide protection when unlicensed work is posted on their sites.

From the platform operator’s point of view subscribing to one of these services might minimizes the number of Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices they receive and to which they are required by law to respond. This alone might be sufficient incentive to buy a subscription.  

One thing that is not clear is what happens when an image not covered under one of these two programs is posted on a platform. Does the creator have any recourse? Is the creator likely to even be aware that his/her image has been used?

Creators can send the platform operator a DMCA takedown notice and have the image removed, but that is unlikely to result in any compensation. Legal action would be prohibitively expensive.

The existence of two competing companies offering the same service will probably depress the price. Sitting on the sidelines and waiting “until the issue sorts itself out” is probably not a good idea either. Such an action may result in photographers having even less control over their copyrights and how their work will be used in the future.

These issues will undoubtedly be discussed at the PACA International Conference. Attendees should come with their questions.

Copyright © 2012 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:  


  • Nancy Carrizales Posted Sep 27, 2012
    Thank you for the detailed editorial on PACA's initiative. There are a number of assumptions drawn here that are inaccurate, too many to reply to within a comment on a blog post. PACA does recommend that for those interested in hearing more about this initiative, please join us next month where we'll be joined by the CCC and ASMP (who've been left out here) in articulating this vision.

  • Sarah Saunders Posted Oct 8, 2012
    I would encourage Nancy to at least make an attempt to reply to Jim's post. He has made a number of pertinent points and if there are responses we should know abut them. Not everyone with an interest in copyright and collecting societies is in a position to go to PACA. I work with the IPTC Photometadata Working Group and we are following the activities of social networking sites with some interest, with regard to their treatment of metadata and copyright information.

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