Proposed Solution To Copyright Protection

Posted on 2/13/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

Copyright registration of still images and illustrations as it is currently conducted in the U.S. is a waste of government time and money. Congress should encourage the development of a privately funded, non-profit facility where those who want to use images they find on the Internet or in print can easily determine if the image needs to be licensed for use.

It should be recognized that a huge percentage of those who create images have no particular desire to protect the images they create or to license rights to their use. Technically, these creators own the “copyright” to their images, but the vast majority of image creators are unconcerned about whether someone else makes use of their image, or not. Currently there are probably fewer than 500 million still images and illustrations images circulated worldwide that require licensing for use. This is a small fraction of the estimated 880 billion images that can be found on the Internet. The focus needs to be on how we can help customers determine whether the image they want to use is one that requires permission or licensing, or whether it is free to use.


CREGs – Multiple registries where creators can place small copies of the images they want to protect or license. The registries will fingerprint each image submitted so it is possible to do a rapid visual search of the entire registry to determine is a particular image is in the registry. Attached to each fingerprint will be contact information for the creator, or an organization that the creator has authorized to act on his or her behalf for the purpose of licensing uses of the creation.

CSE – A private non-profit organization that establishes a single, universal Central Search Engine (CSE) that would perform visual searches, similar to a Google Images search. However, rather than searching the entire Internet for images this search engine would only search qualified registries that contain nothing but images where permission, or licensing, is required for use. Examples of such registries: PicScout, Copyright Hub in the UK and CEPIC Image Registry in the EU. Private organizations could also create new databases.

Creating Registries

Each country might create its own image registries and make that them available to CSEs for searching. For efficiency purposes the CSEs would encourage small organizations to consolidate their offerings into larger registries. In order to participate on the CREG the creator would be required to attach certain metadata to each image file uploaded including: creator’s name, contact information for licensing and date of uploading to database.

Since people regularly use images that are created by someone residing in another country, the CSEs should search all registries around the world rather than requiring customers to seek out multiple CSEs in order to do a “diligent search.”

Adding Images To Registries

Individual creators would be able to directly upload any quantity of the images they wished. Each time an image is uploaded to the collection the date of upload will be attached to the image. A facility would be provided for larger organizations representing many creators to do bulk uploads.

Each image file would need to be a minimum of 700px and a maximum of 900px on the longest side.

When first signing up creators would create passwords that allow them access to their own images at any time. They should be able to change their contact information, or remove images from the collection at any time. Only creators with the proper password would be able to make modifications to the metadata connected to particular images.

Individual creators would pay a small fee that would allow them to upload a small quantity of images and cover storage and bandwidth of those files for 5 years. It is believe that a fee less than the U.S. Copyright Office currently charges for image registration would be sufficient to profitably fund the operation of a registry.

For legal purposes each registry must be capable of supplying a certified copy of any image file along with the date of upload, which can be presented at court. A fee would be charged for this service.


The base fee would cover storage of as few as 100 images for 5 years. The creator could upload these images over a period of time. All images would not have to be uploaded at once. The clock for the 5 years would start whenever an image is uploaded.

Fees for larger organizations representing many creators would be negotiated based on volume.

After 5 years the creator would be notified and asked to pay an additional fee that would cover storage and bandwidth for an additional term.

At the end of 5 years the creator may have images that are about to expire and other images that will expire at other intervals over the next five years. A single renewal would extend the time for each covered image by the number of years in the renewal period.

Registries might be required to pay non-profit CSEs a portion of the money collected for uploading images to cover the operational costs of the CSE.

Initially, there will probably be very few searches of the CSE so the bandwidth costs should be minimal. However, as more and more people get caught for unauthorized use, and if courts make it clear that user that can’t demonstrate that they have conducted a “diligent search” are liable to pay fees and some penalty, many people may start using the service. At that point a system could be set up to charge for doing searches. Customers could be sold a package of credits for $15 to $25 that would entitle them to a certain number of searches. Many might find that it is worth paying a little fee upfront rather than risk getting caught for an unauthorized use and being charged a big fee.  

Performing A “Diligent Search”

Anyone interested in using an image could, with a single search of any CSE, determine if a particular image needs to be licensed and get information as to who to contact to properly license the use.

To perform such a search they would simply need to drag a digital copy of the image they were interested in using onto the CSE's application. In a matter of seconds the engine would determine if the image is in any one of the registries and provide contact information for one or more individuals or organizations that could give permission to use the image or license use.

The same image may be represented by many licensors in many countries or states and thus might appear multiple times in any search. A licensee could choose to license the image from any of the authorized licensors found in the search.

If no image is found the potential user could reasonably assume that the image creator is not interested in licensing the image. However, that is not a guarantee that the creator won’t surface at some point and make a claim. Such claims in the U.S. would need to be filed in Federal Court and could not take advantage of the Small Claims process.

Evidence of a “Diligent Search”

In the event of an unauthorized use complaint it would be a simple matter to determine if the image in question could have been found by searching a CSE on or before the date of first use. If the date the image was placed in one of the registries searched by the CSE preceded the date when it was used then a “diligent search” was not performed.

Preventing Fraud

Some people will surely try to claim ownership to images they did not create by uploading them to a registry. In such a case the actual creator will need to prove in court that he/she was the creator and not the person making the fraudulent claim. The laws would need to provide severe penalties for those found guilty of fraud.

Copyright © 2014 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:  


  • Catalina Cotelin Posted Feb 19, 2014
    We know that many people who use images without paying for a license do this by doing Google / Bing searches and copy-pasting images found randomly on the internet. Why do you think that these people will replace their current usage behavior with the CSE?

  • Jim Pickerell Posted Feb 19, 2014
    When they find that image on Google or Bing they have no way to determine if it needs to be licensed, or where to go to license it.

    If there was an easy way for them to quickly determine if the image needed to be licensed and where to go to get such a license I think many people would change their behavior.

    In addition, if such a registries existed it would be much easier to set up a small claims process for going after unauthorized uses. Once people begin to learn that they are likely to get caught if they make an unauthorized use of an image they will probably make a greater effort to pay for uses when necessary.

    It is becoming easier and easier to find unauthorized uses on the Internet. However, in most cases it is too costly to go after infringers legally. If we can couple my system for finding copyright owners with a good simple small-claims legal system it could go a long way to encourage people to be more law abiding and respect the property of others.

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