Category Archives: Stock Photography

Photo Theft and the Orphan Works Act

For those who know me, I generally try to avoid political discussions.  However, as of late there has been a lot of buzz regarding a bill which just passed in the Senate and is going to the House of Representatives.  This bill, called the Orphan Works Bill (H.R.5889) is an attempt to amend the Copyright Act to modify how so called “orphaned” creative works are allowed to be used.

The idea behind this bill is to allow museaums, libraries and other “keepers of the heratige” to freely use creative works if they are unable to find the copyright holder to acquire a license.  However, the way the bill is written would make it legal for any individual to use any copyrighted work, even if they cannot find the owner, provided they made a “good faith, reasonably dilegent search” for said owner.  Yes.  You heard me right.

What’s more, the use of this copyrighted work is free so long as the owner doens’t step forward.  And, if the owner sees their work being used without license, they can come forward and sue for the normal license fee (but not any legal fees involved) so long as the infringement was for commercial use.  If not used commercially, there is no compensation for the copyright holder.

In return, the Copyright office must make a searchable database available so that people who wish to use “orphaned works” can attempt to find the copyright holder.

Here are the problems as I see them relating to my photography.

  1. At present, the copyright to an image is owned by the person taking the photo the instant the shutter is pressed.  It is recommended that the copyright owner register their works with the copyright office (for a fee) to protect them in the case of a lawsuit, but it is not necessary.  This amendmend would make registration manditory before an image could ever be put online.  Otherwise, there is a risk that the image could be used without my consent and I would have no recourse.
  2. I want to be in control of the licensing of my images.  If someone finds an image they like, they can “make a reasonable effort” to find the copyright holder and then use the image.  While it is possible to sue to get the licensing fee, there is no way for me to have them stop using the image or withdraw it from publication.  Therefore, I lose control over who can use my images and how they can be used.
  3. What about the case of people wanting to purchase additional prints of their wedding?  They lost the business card and looked in the phone book but come up empty as to who took the photos.  Off they go to the store to scan and reprint and the photographer loses out on the print sales.

And this is just the beginning!  I guess this means I’m going to have to start putting watermarks on all the images I post here on my blog.  Granted, those on Alamy come with copyright watermarks, but I really didn’t want to have to do this for everything.  This way, if my copyright statement is actually embedded in the prints, there is no question who the copyright holder is.


Copyright Office page on the Orphan Works Bill (including the bill itself)

The SAA Orphan Works Blog

Alamy takes on United States Market

As posted in the Alamy Contributor Blog, Alamy has made the decision to create a US presence for themselves.  They will hopefully have an office in New York by early 2009 in an effort to market their images to a US audience.

Other changes include a decrease of 5% for contributors giving us photographers 60% of direct sales (instead of 65%) and 40% of sales through distributors (down from 45%).  This commission change shouldn’t occur till early 2009 as well from what I can tell.

What this means for me

Frankly, I see this as a good thing.  While the 60% commission is lower than it was, it’s still higher than many other agencies.  (Many seem to split 50/50)  Also, as a US based photographer, it means that my images will be marketed heavily in their home country — hopefully allowing them to sell better.

Alamy has always been a European agency selling mainly to that area of the world.  Prior to this announcement, the percentage of sales to the US was apparently around 30%.  They project that this number will rise with the dedicated US office.

Focusing on Alamy again

Well, after the current uproar in the stock community with the demise of the Photoshelter Collection, I have done what I perhaps should have done in the first place and renewed my focus on Alamy.  Since the Photoshelter closure last week, I’ve submitted two batches of photos to Alamy and they have both been approved.  So I’ve just completed keywording all 29 images bringing my total to a few above 80 on sale.  By no means a large collection, but I believe I’m at least on track to get to 150 by the end of the month.

I’ll post a few of my current favorites in my collection in no particular order.

The following photo was taken while in Alaska.  We took a raft trip down the Chilkat Bald Eagle preserve outside of Haines.  I clearly remember trying to catch these speedy birds as they flew past.

This next photo was taken on the same trip.  This gives some perspective to the scenery.  Nothing makes a person feel so small as to spend some time in the Alaskan wilderness.

The views were absolutely breathtaking as we were on the Chilkat river surrounded by the Chilkat Mountains on both sides.

For those questioning, the above photos were all taken with a Nikon D50 with a Nikon 70-300mm VR lens.

The most amazing thing I found on the Photoshelter Collection during my brief time there was the friendly user forums.  With the demise of PSC, the forums were discontinued.  Thankfully, Digital Darrell has taken it upon himself to create the Stock Imaging Forum.  He’s opened it up to the public and would love for any stock photographers or those interested in the industry to jump over there and check it out.  It’s still new, but growing rapidly!

Photoshelter Critique

I make no qualms about it.  I’m saddened and a little bit upset about the dimise of Photoshelter. And after the interview posted today at PDN, I’m almost furious.

Let me just talk on a few key points.  While I don’t expect that many people to actually care, I have found this blog somewhat therapeutic and therefore, I write the following for my own clarity of thought as much as for anyone else.  Mind you, the interview was with Allen Murabayashi (CEO of Photoshelter) and Andrew Fingerman (Vice President of Marketing).

When asked about their low sales numbers, Murabayashi responded with this:

We had a system that had 25,000 photographers in it. A lot of photographers were submitting stuff like flowers, mountains, sunsets. That’s not to say those were the people you spoke to, but there was a lot of stuff that had lower commercial value. And the people who were shooting stuff that was in high demand, those were the people who were selling images.

Here’s the thing.  They touted that they were different because they had an edited collection.  They claimed they only accepted images with commercial value.  And yet they blame their lack of sales on photos of “lower commercial value”.  Then why did they accept the photos?  Come on.  Step up and take some responsibility for the closure!

Also, one of the biggest critiques of the closure was that they didn’t give the collection enough time.  Eight months is really not that long for a venture such as this.  Frankly, a two to three year test would be more fitting if they really are going to attempt to become a major market player.  When asked about the short time, the following was stated:

We had a few key assumptions that we were predicating the business on. One of them was that we could create a high volume of Internet sales, unattended sales, and keep the cost structure down.

Let me get this straight.  They expected sales to happen simply online with no assistance from them?  This is crazy.  This means that I should expect to sell images if I simply put them on my website and charge people fair market value.  Ya.  That’s how this works!  How did they expect this venture to ever take off if this was one of they “key assumptions”.

And finally, I will close with one of my favorites.

We knew that if we had ten years, and we could build up, then maybe we had a chance of growing organically. But that’s not the V.C. [venture capital] plan. And that’s not the way that the individuals here wanted to spend their time as entrepreneurs.

Okay.  So what they are saying is that they know that they could make the Photoshelter Collection work given 10 years, but they didn’t want to spend the time or source the correct investors.  Basically, they decided to take a model that needs 10 years and give it 8 months.

Needless to say, even though Photoshelter is staying open with their Archive program (a place for photographers to market their own stock photography), I am going to have no part of it.  Life’s too short to support businesses such as this.

With that, I will end my rant for the night!  Onward to upload to Alamy!

Photoshelter is no more

Just yesterday, I received a disheartening e-mail.  As I mentioned here, I was recently accepted to a second stock photography agency.  While it was a relative new venture (as far as stock agencies go), it had great potential and a wonderful community of photographers.  Sadly, Photoshelter is gone.  It’s really too bad.

I think the best summation of the whole event is on Vincent Laforet’s blog (yes, the same guy who blogged for Newsweek during the Olympics this year).

Frankly, I’m a bit disheartened by this whole turn of events not because of the closure so much, but how it was handled.  These agencies work because thousands of photographers take the time to upload, organize and keyword photos.  This is not a quick process folks.  It takes a great deal of time and research sometimes to get the photos labeled correctly.  Especially locations and nature.  If they have the wrong keywords, they won’t sell.  Not to mention the time it takes to go out and physically visit locations to shoot.  That’s a lot of man hours invested in creating an image library for them to advertise and sell to agencies, magazines, newspapers.  And sure, Photoshelter took it’s cut of the profit (30% — relatively small compared to most agencies), they did minimal work compared to the photographers.

So a year into this venture, they have thousands, possibly millions of photos.  There are thousands of photos waiting for quality control to review them and many more thousands being actively keyworded.  Instead of giving the photographers a heads up, a warning, any indication that they weren’t in it for the long haul, they simply send out an e-mail that they are closing shop.  And it’s not like they are going to keep the existing photos up and continue to market them for a while in an attempt to make some money for the photographers (and themselves I must add).  They’re removing everything on October 10th.  One month.

Not to mention that in order to add insult to injury, this New York based company decided to make this announcement on September 11th.  Now that’s just really poor taste.

So ya.  Thankfully I had just joined and hadn’t spent more than 20 or so hours working on photos for them. The show must go on.  I’ll be submitting to Alamy with a renewed focus and keeping my eye out for other venues!