Another microstock nightmare

Microstock has been rubbing professional photographers wrong for some time now due to their efforts to devalue the work of photographers to far below what it costs to produce it.

They accomplished this by promising camera enthusiasts and amateur photographers they will make a fortune by uploading their snapshots to the microstock sites, and then rejecting the vast majority of what they submit….  telling them on one hand that they don’t need fancy cameras or lights… and hey, don’t worry about those pesky permits just do it Paparazzi style. Several microstock sites have posted advice on how to dodge permits and get away with taking shots where it is prohibited, such as professional sporting games (just clone out the team logos and don’t let anyone catch you with your camera).  On the other hand, when contributors complain they are not making enough they are told all they have to do is invest in better gear, sets, props, wardrobe, makeup artists; spend more time scouting for exotic locations, and the big bucks will start rolling in.   Quite the contradiction.

Now the consumers of microstock photos are finding themselves equally upset.

I spoke to the art director of a magazine who told me they had to reprint the entire edition after they found the microstock image they had used for their cover on a billboard for an objectionable product days before the magazine was about to hit the stands.

Not much saving there, was there?

And it gets even more fun.  Today I read of a person who received official notification under the provisions of Section 512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to effect removal of the above-reported infringements from the photographer who held the copyright.

He was shocked.  He had “legally” licensed the image from iStock photo.  Or so he thought.  Problem is that the person who uploaded the image to iStock had stolen it!  Worse, iStock photo refused to take the image down once the theft had been discovered!

Read about it here.

He got lucky.  He only had to pay for the rights to license an image he now can’t use.  He could have been sued.

If you google the topic, you will find the problem is prevalent.  There are countless blog and forum posts where photographers are complaining that they are finding their images have been downloaded from a microstock site, or lifted from Flickr or another source and then uploaded to microstock sites where they hope to profit from the theft.

The problem here is apparent.  Microstock pulled the rug out from under the industry by opening the door to amateur photographers who do not know the value of their work… and have not been shooting long enough to know what it costs to produce it.  Unfortunately for the client, they also do not know the business practices of the industry and see no reason they can’t upload someone else’s image to make a few more pennies, worry about whether or not it was actually legal to shoot where they took the photo, or they simply fill in the model release themselves rather than ask the subject of their photos to do so (who may not have consented to be photographed at all). Since microstock sites do not know their contributors, they have no way to protect you against this.

It has also opened the door so widely that it is impossible for them to track the legitimacy of the images they license.  Shutterstock for example boasts close to 300,000 “photographers.”

How well do you think they know their contributors?  Can you risk the damage that will be done to your business when your client is slapped with a lawsuit for copyright violation of the image you thought you legally licensed through one of the microstock providers?

Probably not.  The moral of the story is that it is probably cheaper to hire a pro to shoot what you need, or to license the work directly from a photographer you know you can trust.  Your image is valuable.  So is your reputation.  Can you afford to have them destroyed by a cheap image?

One thought on “Another microstock nightmare

  1. Wonderfull analysis, you’ve done your homework! There’s another ghost in the closet, which was exposed by PDN online last Thursday. That details the serious underpricing of textbook publishers, some of which have made their way to the courts.

    If you give me your regular email, I’ll forward the PDNewswire saga, another situation where photographers are getting screwed.
    Happy New Year,

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