Saving RM and Copyright

Posted on 11/13/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Getty’s decision to kill RM may be an opportunity for all those agencies and individuals who want to: (1) continue to license images for higher prices based on usage and (2) enforce their claims of copyright ownership. The key will be in providing a service that will help users, not just benefit image creators.

In today’s Internet environment in order to make potential user aware that photos exist they must be online. Many of those making unauthorized uses would be happy to ask permission and compensate the creator, if they could just find them. When they find an image on the web there is usually no information about who the creator is or how to locate him/her. Anyone can easily grab and use any image they find online.

Getty may be right that the RM licensing model no longer meets the needs of the majority of customers. However, there continues to be a number of customers who, at least occasionally, are willing to pay significantly higher fees than current RF prices:

    1 - For quality images that best fit their immediate need
    2 – If they can easily determine where they need to go to complete the transaction
    3 – If they can search a database that is not cluttered with a lot of irrelevant, amateur produced images.
    4 -  If there is assurance that the image they use are properly released,
    5 – If there is a reasonable assurance that their direct competitors aren’t using the same image, and

    6 – If, when they need them, they can obtain exclusive rights
In addition, if they see an image online that they would like to use, they want to be able to easily determine if the image is free to use, or if they must seek permission and license the use. They want to avoid future legal hassles.

The key is in providing a service that customers want, not just what benefits image creators.
Customers need a one-stop shop.

Worldwide RM Database

What is needed is a single, worldwide, easily searchable database of just RM images (I’ll call this WRMD) that contains a high percentage, if not all, of the images belonging to creators who are interested in licensing uses of their images for reasonable prices and protecting their copyright.

One of the keys to success of a WRMD would be that anyone who finds an image online that they would like to use for a commercial purpose could do a visual search and easily determine if permission is required to use the image. If the image is in the WRMD collection, then permission is required.

With a WRMD customers would not be required to go to several different websites to search different specialist collections of images. All images licensed at RM prices would be in one central place. Customers would not be required to maintain lists of a variety of agency sources and deal with different search methods at each agency.

In addition to representing multiple agency collections, individual image creators who want to handle rights negotiations directly should also be allowed to participate on the WRMD and upload their own personal image collections along with searchable keywords.

Individuals should be encouraged not only to place never used images on the WRMD but also those that might have been made available for free initially if the creator later discovers that some people want to use the image for commercial purposes. The “Stolen Scream” by Noam Galai is a good example. Initially, he posted the image on the Internet as a “work or art.”  He wanted everyone to see and enjoy his image. Later, he began to discover that many people were grabbing the image off the Internet and using it for a variety of commercial purposes. He would have liked to be paid for those commercial uses.

If the WRMD had been available, he could have posted a copy of his picture at some later date even though there were versions of the images available in print as well as online. From the moment of posting, anyone who wanted to make a new use of the image would have been able to check the site and determine where they needed to go to get permission to use and properly license the image. Once on the the WRMD Galai would have had a claim against any new users even if that person happened to find the image on one of the free sites where it had been posted previously.

One of the main features of this database should be that any potential user who finds an image online, or in print, would be able to do a visual search and immediately determine if the image is one that requires licensing. If the image requires licensing the potential user would be able to immediately get a price for the use, or information about who they needed to contact to negotiate rights.

If, after doing a search the image is not found then the potential user will have a reasonable assurance that they can use the image, free of charge, without violating copyright. If it later turns out that the image was part of an RF collection and should have been licensed the user will have two arguments to mitigate damages: (1) they tried to find the owner and where to license use, and (2) the image is available for a low priced RF license, and thus damages should be minimal.

Pricing Uses

There should be a single agreed upon pricing schedule for most images on the site. However, each supplier should also be allowed to mark certain images for direct negotiations. All direct negotiations would be handled by the specific agency representing the image, or the individual creator. Contact information for the agency or individual would be supplied whenever a customer seeks information about licensing an image.

Many individual suppliers might want to negotiate all their sales directly. For the most part agencies might find a standard pricing schedule satisfactory for most uses, but they should also be able to mark individual images from their collection for direct negotiations in those cases where they hope to receive higher prices for a use.

Given that individual creators might be difficult to contact if they live in a different part of the world from the potential buyer, those who want to directly handle their own negotiations might lose some sales. Thus, there would be an advantage in having a fixed price schedule for most sales. If individual negotiations were required and the buyer is unable to reach the seller, at least the buyer would be warned the using the image without first obtaining permission would risk future liability. For this reason, all suppliers would be advised to make most of their work available at the standard pricing schedule prices.

Customers would make direct payments to the database manager for all sales at standard pricing schedule rates. The database manager would then take a small fee for managing the payment and automatically submit the remainder to the agency or individual photographer in much the same way as PayPal works.

It might also be possible for volume users to establish accounts at discount prices. Suppliers would need to either agree to the discounts or handle all their sales directly. For a certain amount of money, the customer would be entitled to a percentage discount off of the standard scheduled use price. The discounted amount for each use would be deducted automatically from the account and credited to the image creator’s account at the time of each sale.

Paying For The Service

An annual fee, paid monthly by the creator, should be established based on the number of images in the collection. This fee would cover image storage, overhead for operating the service, and advertising and promotion of the database. This fee should be proportional to the size of the collection each contributor has on the site. The fee might also be adjusted somewhat based on the revenue generated by each contributor.

It probably would not be advantageous to try to operate the site based on a flat percentage of sales, except possibly for small individual contributors who place very few images on the site. All the agency contributors and most other contributors should be required to pay some type of upload fee in order to participate on the site.

Contributors should be able to easily add and remove any of their images at any time. They should also be able to adjust the pricing strategy uses. They should be able to change the contact information on their account. At any time they should be able to get a list of all their images on the site organized by upload date. They should also be able to obtain at any time a list of all sales of their images including the name of the image buyer. They should be able to organize this list by image number or date.

To lower their overall costs agencies might want to edit their collections and concentrate on only uploading images that they are reasonably sure might be in demand. Contributors would be encouraged not to overload the site with images that no one has ever shown an interest in using.

This would enable contributors to keep their annual fee as low as possible as the fee will be based on the number of images the contributor has on the WRMD. Contributors might want to remove certain images that have been on the site for a year or two and have never been licensed.

Managing the site in this way would also benefit customers because it would keep the collection at a very high quality level and reduce the time customers might need to spend searching through a lot of secondary quality images that don’t meet their needs.

Within the last year Getty has already dumped over 50 agency collections of RM images. These agencies are now faced with finding a way to reach all the world’s customers and let them know that the agency’s collection exists. A new consolidated database to replace what Getty had been offering would benefit them all. They could be the core suppliers to this new database.

Also see these stories:

Avoiding Infringements Rather Than Chasing Unauthorized Users

Protect Your Images From Unauthorized Use

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


  • Mike Gerard Grandmaison Posted Nov 16, 2019
    Been thinking along those lines too. Even talked to one of my agents about this a couple of weeks ago. Need someone like you to get it started!

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