Knowing Your Rights: Creative Industries Admit to Internet Image Abuse
The Internet is a fantastic source of information and images, but many organizations are using photos and illustrations that they have no right to use. New Media Knowledge sought to clarify the rules on when one can – and can’t – use images.
By Chris Lee
Microstock photography – the sale of images online from specialist agencies – has turned into a multi-billion dollar industry in recent years. This is mainly to the proliferation of Internet publishing – such as blogging and news sites – coupled with the falling cost of photography as even publishers such as Time magazine look to crowdsourcing to save on production overheads. Yet many users are either unaware of whether they have the right to use an image or not, chiefly due to apparently confusing industry terminology, according to a recent survey
A poll of UK creative professionals – advertisers, publishers and PR people; heavy users of imagery – unveiled in December 2009 by microstock agency Polylooks found widespread abuse of Internet images. The study found that more than a third (37 per cent) of professionals in these industries use images obtained from the illegally; in other words, they either weren’t paying for the images via legitimate stock image sites, appropriately crediting photographers when using ‘commons’ images, or simply copying images from other websites.
The Right Stuff
One of the main reasons that users of Web images are confused over the use of online images is due to confusion over rights-related terminology. According to Polylooks’ study, given a number of options, only 21 per cent correctly identified the definition of ‘royalty free’, with nearly half (44 per cent) believing it meant they could use the image without paying for it. In fact, users must purchase the image and then are able to use it with certain restrictions. Additionally, only 16.5 per cent knew what ‘rights managed’ meant.
Royalty free agreements allow parties to use content – such as photographs or illustrations - under license, usually in perpetuity without having to pay additional charges.
Rights managed contracts, on the other hand, permit users to deploy images with certain restrictions, such as the length of time, file format and size.
Many other rights contracts exist, meaning users have to be acutely aware of restrictions when using images sourced from the Web.
“There is still a great deal of confusion when it comes to using photos or illustrations that photographers and artists have made available for sale online,” said Norbert Weber, Product Manager at Polylooks. “Many people who should be paying for the right to use images are not doing so due to a lack of understanding on industry rules and terminologies. Some 85 per cent of creative professionals are not familiar with the term ‘microstock’, which presents stock image providers like Polylooks with a challenge. Is it time we redefined what we offer?”
Lights, Camera, Action
Improvements in image identifying technology have enabled photographers to find when their images have been lifted and used elsewhere on the Web. According to image recognition firm PicScout 85 per cent of rights managed images found on commercial sites are being misused, part of a fraud culture estimated to be worth $10 billion.
The core message to would-be users of images from the Web is to make sure you know you read the small print and know exactly where and when you can use them.
The author is a marketing associate of Polylooks in the UK.