In this internet age of limitless information and images floating around the web, copyrighted photographs are infringed—used without permission—all the time. Between naïve individuals who don’t know that just because it’s easy to grab doesn’t mean an image is free for the taking, and shady businesses who deliberately take unlicensed images as a way to save money, photographers who publish their images online quickly discover that it’s not only possible, it’s probable that their photographs will be used without permission and their copyrights infringed.
While this is practically a universal truth for all photographers, not all photographers take action to defend those copyrights. Talk to any group of working pros and you’re likely to find that many know their work has been used illicitly, but decidedly fewer have contacted infringers seeking credit, removal or financial recompense. It’s often seen as too much of a hassle to bother with all but the most egregious offenses: too much time to track down and pursue infringers on one’s own, or too much trouble to get a lawyer involved. That’s where reverse image search and copyright resolution services come in.
How It Works
For those with neither the time to seek out and track down infringers nor the deep pockets to hire a staff or retain an attorney for this purpose, copyright enforcement services such as Copytrack, ImageRights and Pixsy offer a viable, low-cost solution to those who want to fight back against the unlicensed use of their intellectual property. Photographers simply upload their images to the service’s database and the firm will use reverse image search to find other uses of the images online. It’s like Google’s “search by image” function with teeth, because when an infringement is found, the service will attempt to track down and contact the infringer before negotiating a usage fee when possible, or pursuing the matter in the courts if necessary. This is how such services earn their keep: splitting recovered fees with photographers.
According to Hannah Graves, community manager at Pixsy, the problem of copyright infringement continues to grow but services such as hers make it easier for photographers around the world to enforce their rights.
“With over 85% of images uploaded to the internet used without permission or license,” she says, “this is a problem that affects all pro photographers and internet users. We currently monitor more than 25 million images every day with our reverse image search software, and couple this with our market-leading resolution service. Our team of copyright specialists recovers compensation for unauthorized use around the globe. We partner with 26 law firms across the world to offer a global solution.”
How You Benefit
The obvious benefit with services such as these is the low-risk, no cost approach. After uploading images to the server, photographers wait to be contacted with a list of possible infringements. They check which ones are approved and which are not, then the service sets about pursuing licensing fees. According to Graves, Pixsy’s typical resolutions are between $500 and $10,000 per infringement, with the service taking half of that fee. Copytrack’s fees vary from 30% to 50% depending on the complexity of the case and the country of the infringer. In each case, photographers pay nothing up front and don’t pay anything unless fees are recovered.
Photographer Sean Heavey is currently suing Netflix for copyright infringement. He hadn’t been using a copyright enforcement service before he found the unlicensed use, but after a series of calls with one of Pixsy’s lead attorneys he decided they could help move his case forward.
“I now believe all photographers need to have a service such as Pixsy as part of their normal business plan,” Heavey says. “We have taken action on not only the Netflix case but others as well—some of which I knew about and others I discovered while using the Pixsy platform. I wish that these services were available years ago because copyright infringement is something I have always struggled with. While the law is pretty clear, taking action is not if you are an independent photographer. Taking action requires knowledge of the legal system that most photographers don’t have, and the team at Pixsy has been very helpful navigating the system.”
How It Can Help The Industry
For some photographers, the idea of settling for $500 or sharing half of their fees is a nonstarter. But for those who aren’t currently pursuing copyright infringers at all, or are not earning anything in retroactive licensing fees, there’s little downside. Something, these services effectively argue, is better than nothing.
“Your work has an inherent value and needs to be treated as such,” Pixsy’s Graves says. “It’s also important to highlight that you don’t need to be an established commercial photographer to obtain fair compensation for use of your work. Copyright is an exclusive right that is automatically assigned to the creator at the moment the work is created. The question in today’s digital age is: can you afford not to find and fight image theft?”
Some photographers, for whatever reason, have no interest in pursuing copyright infringers, great or small, even with the help of these services. They’re just not interested. According to Graves, however, that approach is shortsighted and can damage the industry as a whole.
“In allowing someone to use their work for free,” Graves says, “they are devaluing not only their work as an individual but also contributing to a culture where people and businesses think they can help themselves without any consequences. Every time a photographer allows someone to use their image without a license, free, it sends the message that it has no monetary value—which is simply not the case and may do a disservice to other photographers. When people are allowed to get away with theft without repercussions it creates a culture of it being acceptable behavior. Perhaps some photographers have gotten to the point where they have just accepted theft as a part of the business, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Quite often they are intimidated by the legal process or simply don’t have the necessary time to tackle infringement, and that’s where we come in.”
“We are also in full support of photographers who take matters into their own hands,” she adds. “Pixsy is an amazing tool for finding infringements, whatever action you decide to take once we have shown them to you is up to you. We have found, though, that some photographers routinely undervalue their own work and are more likely to receive fair compensation when using a legal service such as Pixsy. For many of our customers we are now helping them recover an income stream they had either written off as a loss or were simply not even aware of. We believe it is the collective responsibility of photographers within the industry to defend their work so that it remains a paid profession.”
To learn more about Copytrack, visit copytrack.com. To learn more about ImageRights, currently in beta testing, visit imagerights.com. To learn more about Pixsy, visit pixsy.com or email Hannah Graves at firstname.lastname@example.org.