Copyright Infringement: How Bad?

Posted on 3/31/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

The Obama administration, through the offices of the U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel, has recently requested input from interested parties as to how piracy and copyright infringement is affecting the economy. The deadline for filing was March 24. Virtually all photographer trade associations and many other interested parties submitted reports and made recommendations for change.

A key issue is the degree of unauthorized use. Getty Images says it identifies approximately 42,000 unauthorized uses a year; Corbis says its tally is at about 70,000. PicScout, whose Image Tracker line of business searches the Web for unauthorized photo use, says that in 2009, more than 80% of the images they located on the Web on commercial sites were either used without a license or beyond its terms. In addition, there were many unauthorized print uses, but for the most part, there is no good way to track that volume at this time.

PicScout has “fingerprinted” 5 million unique creative (non-editorial) rights-managed images supplied by stock agencies and photographers. The Image Tracker software compares this collection to about 20 million images per day found on commercial Web sites. PicScout is not currently searching newspaper sites, dot-org or blog sites, since it is generally considered that it would be hard to collect from such users. At 20 million a day, that works out to over 6 billion images a year that are compared to the 5 million images available for licensing.

In 2007, PicScout and the Stock Artists Alliance conducted a study to determine the degree of unauthorized image use. The SAA put together a collection of 20,000 images that had never been licensed for Web use. During a four-month test, 388 uses were found, all of them unauthorized. If we interpolate this number to cover a full year, and the 5 million images in the collection today, that would give us an average of about 291,000 uses of rights-managed images each year.

It should also be recognized that PicScout is constantly increasing the number of Web sites it searches and the images it reviews each day. Currently, the company scans sites in more than 14 countries, while the SAA test only included sites in the U.S., U.K. and Germany. Consequently, today PicScout is probably finding many more instances of infringement than in 2007.

It is interesting to compare this figure with the annual number of paid rights-managed uses. An estimated 1.5 million rights-managed images are legally licensed annually worldwide. Adding 300,000 illegal uses to this number would mean that approximately 14% of all rights-managed images used in print and online are not legally licensed.    

The average rights-managed license fee for Web use is above $200. Thus, for 240,000 images, rights-managed sellers have been deprived of in excess of $48 million. If these infringements were in the U.S., and if the image is registered with the copyright office, there is the possibility of recovering even more in damages. Recently, a Georgia court awarded Masterfile $600,000 for the unauthorized use of just 20 images.

Finally, PicScout does not monitor many rights-managed images that are currently available for licensing. It seems likely that many of them are also being used without permission.

Copyright © 2010 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