Stock Photo Site Owner Claims Infringement Costs The Industry 5X The Entire Industry's Size

from the uh,-yeah dept

We've seen all sorts of ridiculous claims about the supposed "costs" of copyright infringement. In almost every case, these claims break down under even the slightest scrutiny. Yet, throwing around big numbers tends to get press coverage, and apparently the photography industry has finally jumped onto the trend. Rose M. Welch points out that the CEO of a stock photo site is claiming that infringement costs the industry $10 billion per year. Now, that's quite impressive, considering the entire current stock photo industry is only $2 billion. And, while the reporter expresses some skepticism towards the number, the overall article is still deferential to the idea that $10 billion might not be that far off, and thus, obviously, there's a huge problem. Wouldn't it be nice if reporters actually explored where such numbers come from and why they're totally ridiculous? Does anyone actually think that most of the people who use such photos without authorization would pay for them otherwise? Does anyone actually think the vast majority of those uses are "losses?" Then why report them as such? Why not focus on the real issue: that the market has changed and photographers (and stock photo sites) need to learn to adapt.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. icon
    Shawn (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 9:36am

    Another problem that could be solved by the proper application of fricken sharks with fricken lasers

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Dark Helmet (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:14am

    Wait a moment...

    "the CEO of a stock photo site is claiming that infringement costs the industry $10 billion per year"

    Ha ha, REALLY? Then it seems to me, Mr. CEO numbskull, that you should be up for a new accolade I am introducing today:

    The First Annual Worst Businessman In The World Award! (Hold for applause)

    Yes, you my friend are in an industry where there is apparently five times the use and demand for your product than what you are serving. Stated differently, your MARKET has only 20% of the MARKETSHARE of your Jesus you guys are clearly in trouble if you can't figure out how to monetize FIVE EFFING TIMES the number of customers you're currently serving.

    Seriously, what was the difference between this interview and Captain CEO Assclown just slapping the reporter across the face and insanely shouting, "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing!" in her face?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    iNtrigued (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:15am

    "Beyond stock image libraries, photographers like Leif Skoogfors have something the say. A photojournalist whose four-decade career has put him into war zones in Central America and the Balkans has risked his life for the perfect shot. He now fights a desperate battle to stop web designers and bloggers from lifting his images without paying for them. On two photos alone, he has lost $180,000 in income, he says."

    OK, first of all, I guarantee that number is incredibly inflated. This article acts as though their is absolutely no benefit to the pictures being shared. If you really have a picture worth $90,000 dollars then why are you selling digital versions of it. Why not restrict usage to print only? But really, who would be willing to pay $90k for a single picture anyways if they weren't going to own the picture and all its rights? So unless he foolishly posted the pictures online then I don't see how he could say he lost that income.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    :Lobo Santo (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:15am


    No, proper application of explosives!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    iNtrigued (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:24am


    "photographers like Leif Skoogfors have something the say."

    Not quite sure what they were trying to say in this part of the article.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    tacticapple (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:35am


    How do they come up with these numbers? I think though he may mean that 2 of his photos have been used so much that he would have made that amount had they all been paid for through stock photos?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Esahc (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:39am

    Re: Re:

    Why not sharks with blazers, oops lasers, applying explosives?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:43am

    Seriously, what was the difference between this interview and Captain CEO Assclown just slapping the reporter across the face and insanely shouting, "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing!" in her face?

    You had been reading about the leader of Scientology haven't you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Valkor, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:44am

    Re: ridiculous

    Probably, and that number is also probably based on a grossly inflated "value" of his images. It's an open secret that the professional photographer is in direct competition with skilled "amateurs" armed with inexpensive professional grade photography equipment. I don't remember where I read the article, but one of these skilled professionals can price their work at an order of magnitude higher than a person with some community college classes and a SLR. Now, if you're looking for stock imagery of war-torn Bosnia, it's probably worth it. If you're looking for a picture of a garden to advertise your landscaping business, it's not. There's probably a lot more of the latter contributing to the "10 billion" in lost revenue.

    Barriers of entry are lower, commissioned photography work is cheaper, misappropriating stuff is easier, and being exposed and made to look like an asshat is easier. Welcome to the 21st century, guys.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 10:59am


    If I get a photo from somebody and use MakeHuman to build a 3D model of the face like facegen does would I be infringing copyright law?

    Could that be used by criminals as a defense in a court of law?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:10am

    Number is certainly inflated by a large amount, but it is true that $$ are being lost by some due to unauthorized uses of photos.

    Google images generally not a problem since the search results icon and actual image as it appears on the website are generally quite small in size and, thus, quite limited in use. Where a problem does arise is in situations where the user secures from a stock site a full size image, and then turns around and starts re-selling the image. It is not at all unusual to download a large image file, resample it to a much larger size, and then start selling framed prints to the public at large.

    What I find interesting is that the "photographers" who complain the loudest are amatuers who upload to free stock sites, and then take umbrage at any use of their upload with which they happen to disagree. Uses such as print-on-demand seem to catch a lot of flack.

    Personally, I upload on occasion to free stock sites and tell downloaders to "have at it", no matter what the site license may say concerning authorized uses. Two reasons for this. First, once uploaded there is no way to police use. Second, the only way to keep photos from being misused is to never upload them. The second seems kinda silly to me since it means that my photos will do nothing more than sit on a shelf gathering dust.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    iNtrigued (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:12am

    Re: ridiculous

    Be that as it may, if I was risking my life for some pictures you better believe I wouldn't sell them stock. That is his failure to appropriately value and sell his work. Also, I would make sure there was a market for such pictures and that the market would pay a premium for them since my neck was on the line.

    It would be nice though to see how they did come up with these numbers, but then again we all know they are just made up figures anyways so what's the point.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:18am

    It's true!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:19am

    It's true!!

    That claim is pretty much true. I mean look at the Entertainment Industry. Aren't their claims of losses from piracy cost upwards fo 15-20 times the Gross National Product?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:20am

    Re: It's true!!

    Admin. Can you delete this comment? Entered in error. The next one supersedes it. Thanks.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. icon
    Anonymous Coward (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:28am

    Re: Wait a moment...

    "Seriously, what was the difference between this interview and Captain CEO Assclown just slapping the reporter across the face and insanely shouting, "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing!" in her face?"

    I can't wait to see that interview I would use it in every class presentation that I could.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    B. Ehinger, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:29am

    Cost of infringement

    It strikes me that the figures quoted are likely less due to theft of stock photography, but more due to poor vetting of submitted images to such sites. You see, many stock photography sites rely on user submitted content. These sites will often guarantee the usability of their content offering to cover legal expenses should there be a claim of copyright infringement.

    iStock Photo for example offers the following;
    The free insurance, which is provided on all content purchased through the site automatically, offers to pay up to $10,000 to cover legal fees and damages should a dispute arise. An extension of that guarantee, which expands the coverage to $250,000, costs 100 credits, or about $140.

    Now, if the site is negligent in vetting their submitted works, and a contributor submits photos that they are not legally entitled to distribute (ie - joe shmo downloads photos off of someone elses flikr page, submits them to X-stock photography site claiming that the files are his original work in order to make a quick buck)

    So now, this is not about the theft of a handful of $2 images, but about the high legal costs incurred for each $2 image that is illegally uploaded and not properly checked for accurate ownership prior to resale.

    Still the stock sites fault though. No sympathy from me if they can't validate that the photographers who submit work aren't pulling a fast one.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    AC, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:39am

    Why upload at full resolution?

    I don't know anything about photography, but why are they uploading their work at a usable resolution? Why not post it at a low resolution, so people can't use it for much of anything but graphics on a website?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Dan K., Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:48am

    Adaptation breeds failures and successes.

    I've been following the TechDirt posts for about a year now and I've consistently seen it said that instead of whining about how free would on the surface appear to be hurting me, my time and efforts would be better invested in finding a way to adapt to it and make that work for me. I don't know that I've completely found that groove yet, but I know that I'm on the right path.

    I'm a photographer and the losses I've experienced, or at least felt I had experienced, were pretty significant. I was dwelling on the time, effort, and cash I had spent taking photos and that people were taking them at will via my flickr page or worse still, my own website. A small portion of my income comes from stock photos and I've learned that stressing about the stability of those sites and their business model is hardly worth the gray hairs and potential ulcers.

    Instead I've been working on ways of making potential clients feel special, or at least that my work is, ultimately garnering interest and new sources of cash flow. New package concepts including specialty prints (canvas art prints, board prints, etc), meals, entertainment (I had a package wherein the client could have a musician or comedian on site), makeup artists, and so on were put to the test. I've even taken to expanding my own skills by exercising those years of design and business classes to provide creative expertise for company image, branding and marketing when needed.

    I've stopped bitching about the photos people were taking from me. Instead, I've been encouraging folks to download watermarked copies of my work. The copies they are getting aren't always high res and if they're really looking for something better, be it a higher resolution, a specific crop from the image, whatever, they now know how to find me and when talking to me they learn that I have more to offer, or even better still they provide feedback on what they'd like to see in my offerings.

    Now, my new stress is redeveloping the website and getting a new hosting service because I never expected to get the volume I've seen in the last year or so. Gee, how will I ever cope?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    jdub (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:49am

    Pinky to lip:

    Okay then, we hold the world ransom for...One... Hundred... BILLION DOLLARS!


    Had to throw that in there!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    ChimpBush McHitlerBurton, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:54am

    I Am So Pissed...

    I am so pissed...

    I took a picture of a huge dump that I took in Bangkok after a big night of drinking. I put it on iStockPhoto with a price tag of ONE MILLION DOLLARS, because I'm sure it is the biggest dump ever recorded. I mean it was really big. And not to mention the expense I went through to get to Bangkok, where I RISKED MY LIFE FOR THAT PERFECT SHOT!

    THEN, some little shit-tard punk from Minneapolis who skulks in his mother's basement, STOLE my work-of-art, and posted it on!!

    FUCK! - I LOST $1,000,000!!!

    I'll NEVER get to buy that gold-plated toilet and matching spitoon now. THIS SUCKS.


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re: Adaptation breeds failures and successes.

    Dan, that's a great story. Send an email via the contact us link at the top. I'd love to talk to you about what you've done...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:56am

    Re: It's true!!

    "In terms of types of financial wealth, the top one percent of households have 36.7% of all privately held stock, 63.8% of financial securities, and 61.9% of business equity. The top 10% have 85% to 90% of stock, bonds, trust funds, and business equity, and over 75% of non-home real estate. Since financial wealth is what counts as far as the control of income-producing assets, we can say that just 10% of the people own the United States of America."

    yet the people that seem to be complaining the most about not having enough seem to be the rich.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    angry dude, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Re: It's true!!

    Yes, admin... would you delete this one too? I hit the enter button too fast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Joshua, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    Re: Adaptation breeds failures and successes.

    I also do photography. Having seen some of my work taken and used without permission, I know how you feel. I don't do much stock photography, and pretty much rely now on clients to pay for shoots.

    How ever, once the initial purchase is made, I really don't care where my work ends up after that. I have seen a few backgrounds made with some of my work. Even though I'm not making any money off of it, or getting much credit for the original photograph, I have decided it's best not to really care. In fact, since I am still what I would consider a student photographer, anytime my work is taken to make something else it gives me a bit of a boost to know I must be headed in the right direction.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Michael McAreavy, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 5:13pm

    Reality bites!

    Read this feature with great interest although I'm a fine art vs. stock photographer.

    I agree that the loss calculation is grossly overstated and remind all who care that the digital camera and related technologies (e.g. Photoshop, etc.) were unprecedented game changers. Economics 101 taught us about supply vs. demand. As eluded to above, the digital camera is now ubiquitous with tons and tons of superior quality work now flooding the markets and computer monitors worldwide. Supply goes up, obviously price goes down. For those of us claiming to be professionals, the "flood" only motivates me to keep improving upon my craft. Lot of folks out there looking to eat another's lunch.

    As for pirating/infringement, watermark your work if you're paranoid about unauthorized usage. Policing, or the impossible task of accomplishing it, was also mentioned before. Excellent point! Remember, if it's on the Internet, people assume it to be free. Do I condone this form of digital thievery? Of course not! However, until photo sharing/commerce sites/camera manufacturers improve upon their protection software/coding, the bloodletting shall continue. At this point in time---- reality bites!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    Digital Protector (profile), Sep 24th, 2009 @ 5:44pm

    Those damn kids with their clip art...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    dh, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 5:53pm

    Re: Adaptation breeds failures and successes.

    I agree Dan. I'm a photog too, with around 10% of my income from stock.

    While all the market and technology changes have been rough, the overall effect for me has been very positive. Yep, I lose a little (potential) income sometimes, but thoughtful use of watermarked and Creative Commons licensed images has paid off in name recognition and new projects.

    I don't even think the public-facing side of the business has changed all that much -- just the techniques we use to market and deliver are different.

    I'd feel that a bigger "threat" to our business is the fact that every Joe Sixpack with a half-decent camera is suddenly a "photographer." But hey, some of those Joes can turn out a good image. That just means we have to ratchet up our game -- tough sometimes, but also a lot of fun when you enjoy your work. And often the tidal wave of mediocre photography only serves to make the good stuff stand out even more.

    Photographers are getting squeezed, no doubt about it. There's a consumer invasion of the low end and relentless time and money pressure on the high end. Our challenge as an industry isn't to stay ahead of the curve, that's always been the case in one form or another; the challenge is to be sure people recognize and value what our skills can provide.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Ol Kodger, Sep 24th, 2009 @ 11:01pm

    I was making a nice living shooting folks with a tintype outfit. Then that damned Kodak brought photography to the masses and my business dropped by ... oh ... say 324%. Shoulda sued the pants of of Eastman and Kodak ... then Land and Polaroid for that matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. Copyright Infringement

    It's probably true that the stock market is missing out on sales because a lot of consumers have the attitude that all intellectual property is free. Whether it's music, movies, or photos, all facets of the audio/visual industry need to educate consumers about piracy, copyright, and fair use. The "because it's online it must be free" mentality hurts people who make a living from their work. At the same time, the demand for low-cost product must be seriously considered. Stock companies and artists simply cannot expect to sell an image or a song for more than a user is willing to pay. Royalty Free Music, Sound Effects, Stock Footage, and Stock Photos

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Sean Ness, Sep 25th, 2009 @ 2:34pm

    More usage of the big number in other stories

    And Silicon Valley Watcher keeps the $10 Billion number story going -

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Erick, Oct 1st, 2009 @ 8:59am

    Incorrect amount

    I submit that there is actually little or no cost to the alleged infringement in this case. No one who cares about their images will load the full image on an unprotected site. If someone takes a smaller image, it means they would not have paid for the image anyway, there there would have been no sale, and non money lost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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