Image Theft Is Ongoing Problem

Posted on 2/25/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (1)

Image-monitoring company PicScout estimates that 90% of stock images are published without appropriate licensing or payment to their owners. Despite the proliferation of laws that criminalize image piracy, it remains a global problem.

A number of factors contribute to the proliferation of image theft. These include the high costs of enforcing copyright ownership, image oversaturation, ease of duplicating images and an sharing mentality among the general public.

Using services like PicScout, Idée and Attributor, stock-image companies have had some successes with pursuing infringers. However, the road from identifying infringement to recouping fees, damages and legal costs is long and costly. There are multiple cases where full recovery of court-awarded damages is not achieved.

The availability of free Creative Commons-licensed and low-cost microstock imagery has not curtailed theft of premium stock. Photo-sharing and micro-payment sites, which cannot possibly monitor every transaction due to the volume of visitors, have provided the imaginatively unscrupulous with a new venue for image theft. Last week, Kelly Thomspon said iStockphoto has encountered several instances of contributors attempting to sell other people's images, obtained through Flickr, where they are displayed with CC licences.

The overabundance of images is making it harder to effectively monitor the use of stock. Conversely, copying an image off the Internet couldn't be easier.

The privacy and convenience of copying images from Web sites has encouraged many business people who would not risk stealing a software package from Staples to commit essentially the same criminal act on their computer screens. Such action is not limited to illegal choices made by individual executives; it is also business-as-usual for many companies who know the law.

While infringement is considered most rampant in the U.S., U.K. and Germany, some industry observers contend that this may not be the case. Rather, they argue that monitoring in industrialized countries is more widespread, thus, more information is available. For example, "in India, most small newspapers, magazines, greeting card manufacturers, playing card manufacturers, brochures for small industries, etc. freely use images from the World Wide Web," according to Selling Stock subscriber Jagdish Agarwal, the founder of the Bombay-based DINODIA Photo Library. Agarwal said such companies print medium-resolution images with inkjet printers, touch them up by hand and re-scan them for use on small jobs.

Copyright laws remain divergent among countries and are difficult to enforce, particularly given the stock industry's relatively small size. While the U.S. recording industry's multibillion-dollar campaign against music piracy has yielded tangible results, considerably fewer people care about or know about the issues facing stock producers.

A recent Microsoft survey of teen attitudes on illegal downloading conducted by KRC affirms how extensive the problem is. The survey found that theft of intellectual property was generally regarded as a lower-level offence than retail theft, with 30% of all respondents thinking it should not be punished. Of those respondents who knew the relevant laws, 19% still thought image theft should not be punished. Among reasons to continue the practice of illegal downloading, 56% of respondents said that image, song and movie content should be free.

Researchers concluded that education and parental influence may encourage teenagers to comply with relevant laws. The stock industry has already invested a significant portion of its resources into education and monitoring. Barring a significant change in how copyright laws are enforced, the problem will continue.

Copyright © 2008 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


  • Betsy Reid Posted Feb 26, 2008
    The Stock Artists Alliance conducted a study in conjunction with PicScout about this issue and published a compreehnsive report on the outcome. Read the SAA white paper report, "Infringements of Stock Images and Lost Revenues" which can be downloaded at

    Betsy Reid
    SAA Executive Director

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