Image Theft and the Issue of Stock Photo Websites

According to a 2014 report on internet trends, people reportedly upload a shocking average of 1.8 billion digital images every single day, which is 657 billion photographs per year. With staggering numbers like these, it is no wonder that digital image copyright infringement is on the rise. As a seasoned territory manager with a proven record of “President’s club” level success, San Francisco’s Jennifer Walling has something to say when it comes to the rampant theft of digital images online.

Online Presence

No matter what industry you are in, it is likely that you have an online presence, whether it is on social media or through your own website. However, the legality around image rights—both your own and others—is a mystery to most people. When you maneuver the murky waters of copyright infringement, it is important to know that all original work is protected by copyright law (literary, artistic, musical, etc.). The only right a user has to use copyrighted images is for personal, research, or educational purposes (like in a lecture slideshow). Unfortunately, Jennifer Walling explained that over 85% of the photos used online are subject to copyright infringement. This number is quite worrying; so what can you do to protect yourself and others?

Theft Protection

There is no foolproof way to protect your images online, but there are several tactics to deter thieves from using them. The first thing you can do to protect yourself is by disabling right click on your images. The right click option on your website can easily be disabled through a code or a plugin. You can also add a watermark to an image, which, in legal cases concerning removed watermarks, photographers received 20% higher settlements. Jennifer Walling encourages artists to add a copyright notice or DMCA badge to your website; it won’t provide you with any additional legal protection but it may scare away potential thieves. Lastly, you can reverse image search using Google or Berify periodically to see if your images are being used.

Stock Photos

If you do not have your own photographs to protect and are instead seeking them, then stock photography is the best option. It is a quick, reliable, and cost-effective way to create visual imagery on a website, Instagram page or in print marketing. There are dozens of stock websites with infinite libraries of images; some of them include Getty Images, iStock, Adobe Stock, PixaBay, Unsplash, and Flickr. These websites acquire photographs from artists who submit them for use, where artists are then paid anywhere from 5% – 50% for each work ‘sold’ or licensed. Jennifer Walling warns that while they are a useful resource, stock photo websites ask one of the highest fees on the internet for acting as an intermediary platform.

Getty Images

As one of the most popular stock photography websites, Getty Images pays artists one of the lowest rates for use of their work. On any photograph, the artist will only receive 20% of each photograph licensed, while Getty Images receives 80%. While the legality of image acquisition is sound, ethics become the new problem. If you are in favor of artist’s rights, Jennifer Walling suggests doing your research to find the platform that provides artists with fair pay, like Stocksy (where the artists receive 50% of each photograph licensed). Shutterpoint is another website worth visiting, as they have one of the highest payout rates of all stock imagery websites with up to 85%.

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