Tag Archives: industry


Is (Stock) Photography going Bankrupt?

It seems a tradition to reflect back to developments once a year comes to an end. Although positive stories always feel better during the Holidays, maybe the future will be more rewarding. In the end. Since especially the past two years, 2017 & 2018, developments in the industry of (stock)photography are not what the should have been.

Revenues for (stock) photographers and image agencies showed a very sharp decrease. Speaking for just me; 2018 I earned just over € 2.800 from stock, using four agencies. These agencies earned me over € 4.700 back in 2016, a drop down of over 40% in just two years. In the past year (2018) average prices of individual images plummeted by a staggering 60%, although the volume is sales increased. So, more of my images were used in publications and on the Internet, but revenues decreased by a double digit percentage. Not very sustainable, as it seems.

However, customers and image buyers have en masse discovered micro stock and Creative Commons as a very cheap source of images with an increasing quality. So, why should they refer to traditional, general stock-agencies and press agencies charging traditional, Rights Managed prices for single images? At the moment, the entire South-American continent is lost to the Shutterstock’s with huge advertising budgets, building up their names within the industry. Turkey seems to be following, as is the North-West European region (Belgium, Netherlands and huge parts of Scandinavia).

Entering Berlin, Germany by Dusk. Will it stay Dusk?

This resulted in a huge increase of competition, and therefor rapidly declining prices Globally, and especially in the North-West of Europe, were many, may stock-agencies were bought by press agencies, because they could not survive on their own. Norway has done it, and this year The Netherlands has showed a couple of takeovers by Talpa’s press agency ANP, buying Hollandse Hoogte, Nationale Beeldbank and Holland in Beeld, were Regiostock and Novum Photo were already taken over some years ago. Many other, European agencies have seized to exist due to bad market conditions and rapidly declining revenues. Over 300 of them plummeted out of business the past three years or so.

In the proces thousands of photographers were “asked to leave” their agencies, causing a huge influx of new uploads towards creative commons and microstock agencies, like Shutterstock, thus increasing the competition some more. And I can’t blame these image professionals, for seeking publication channels and a new source of income, since they have to pay their bills, whether they want to or not. Many more photographers decided to shut down their business and and retire or try something entirely different to earn a living.

Meanwhile image infringements are increasing by a huge, triple digit factor, annually, giving an entire new industry the time of day. The Copytrack’s, Image Rights and Permission Machines have seen an exponential crowd in revenues, pursuing not payed for image use and outdated licences, outright theft and copy paste practises by image users. Personally I’ve seen an increase in received payments for infringements from € 0,00 to € 1.400,00 in just one year! And this year isn’t even over yet. There is more to come in 2019! Personally, I would like to earn my money by selling licenses, and producing assignments, not by suing infringers. But hey, it seems to be the way to go, nowadays. And since the decline in revenues from traditional stock, I (and many colleagues with me) just need the money to stay alive to produce new photo’s.

Paralel, entire markets vanish due to political developments. Parts of Spain, the entire Middle-East and countries in Eastern Europe vanished from collection reports of many photographers and agencies due to turmoil in society, civil war, international, economic sanctions and more. I suspect this turmoil will end in some years to come, but it won’t be in the foreseeable future, I am afraid.

I believe 2019 will be an “interesting” year! I cannot predict how the industry will develop, if prices for stock-images will rise and if new assignments will pour in. I suspect more, colleague photographers wil start their search for another occupation. Jim Pickerell, a very well experienced (stock)photographer, also writing about industry developments, retired due to his age, and on the go stated (stock)photography will be merely a hobby for enthousiasts, earning their pay somewhere else. Perhaps he is right, it suddenly feels this was for me and many others.

However, things are not all that gloomy and bad; just stating what’s going on inside the industry. And there are positive developments to mention aswel. Now year’s end in nearing news came along, that Dutch photographers and photojournalists, supported by the Dutch Federation of Journalists, are preparing to make their stand. Rapidly declining prices for images, sometimes by double digit percentages, monopolies and copyright issues forced them to formulate demands towards publishers and agencies, who have time until January 11, 2019 to respond to this statement of discomfort. It’s an absolute first that photographers and photojournalists are preparing to strike, take publishers to court, and prepare other means of action to get out their message of: “No Further!”. And I am curious where this story will end up; I have “some hopes” for the best! However, they are merely “hopes” for the moment.

Pondering about new projects regarding Analog Photography inside a Friedrichshain Cafe.

A little further from daily life and inside “Brussels”, the EU Commission, Parliament and Council are debating a new copyright directive. Especially article 11 & 13 in this directive are “in debate”. This should protect the creative industry some more, especially in the internet. However, new developments during negotiations suggest some measures weaken the original intention for an increased protection of photographers and agencies in favour of large technology corporations. US lobby-organisations representing these Googles, Apples and Amazons are now firing up to defend their position through federal trade negotiations with the EU. This may result in legislation damaging the industry for years to come. CEPIC, the European Organisation for the Picture Industry is just one NGO who is trying to influence these negotiations.

Dealing with all these developments should not end at measures taken by others (as in: Agencies”) though. Mostly measures take years to implement, if at all successful. Personal and professional changes have to be made aswel and by (stock) photographers themselves. These individuals need to realise, that offering their work for pennies and dimes (or even for free) is not sustainable and will compete with their own colleagues. However, I am not first, stating Creative Commons and Micro Stock is there to stay. Offering exclusive to one agency, by photographers would be a more realistic expectation, since the market now requires this. It would decrease the number of images offered at multiple outlets for various prices and through different licensing models. A decrease of these widely available images and duplicates will slow down the decline of prices eventually, besides offering other benefits for photographers, aswel as agencies.

By the way, StockPhotography should not be the bases of your business model, merely a contribution to your total revenues, I believe. If you’re a professional, that is. Entrepreneurs make their living, offering multiple products and services towards clients and customers. In this case, within the creative industry. Besides offering stockphotography to international image buyers, I am available for assignments and commissions; I sell images from my archive directly; I give workshops and courses about different aspects of (stock)photography; and sometimes I even volunteer my camera to not for profit foundations, like Roparun. On top of this all I manage an Airbnb room inside my apartment to pay for at least some of my bills and on occasion I work for Tilburg University / Fontys, doing something entirely different. I try not to be glued to past models of earning, although I realise that, by managing an Airbnb room, I myself compete with the traditional Hospitality Industry aswel. Local Mercure and Bastion Hotels won’t like it, I am sure! But it offers me revenues and contacts I wouldn’t have had, if I sad down and do nothing at all.

I sincerely believe that photographers should organise themselves. Globally. I value the uprising of colleagues in The Netherlands as a good thing, since this industry needs to be made sustainable somehow, and photographers need to make themselves heard. This will have to start with photographers themselves, stating they are highly skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, entitled to a decent pay for their efforts one way or another. However, these photographers need to learn, that it should not be all about blaming and shaming of others. They need to transform themselves aswel. Somehow. Our profession is a-change and will never return to what it has been. My advise would be: start talking with your colleagues, meet them and find solutions of issues at hand. Sit your butt down and have a beer and a meal. Then start debating and figure out strategies on how to deal with them. On a personal level and on the industry level. Since the attitude of staying inside your old fashioned, individual bubble, and hope for the best, has definitely proven not to work!


An industry in trouble!

As many people know, I am involved in stockphotography. Have been since I’ve started out as a photographer in 2004/05 and I’ve seen a lot of industry developments since then. For good and for not so good. Most of these developments were “interesting”, causing me to learn a lot about photography in general and the industry in particular. And I always trusted that the future would be a more or less a good one. At least good enough, to stay in business and do my thing.

Lately my confidence in a good future is somewhat in decline. It’s not only diminishing revenues, photographers like me have to deal with. It’s also negative industry developments  and outright bad news that stack up, the past few months. To name just of few factors, photographers and agencies alike, are dealing with;

Framing of Images

Read my previous blog article on this issue, I wrote with Tatjana van der Krabben here. Bottom line: image users, professional or not, can legally embed images into their websites, without paying for them, thus leaving image agencies and photographers behind without royalties or proper license fees. When image users seize to pay for the use of images, industry’s revenues will decline and future investments in production of high quality images will slow down considerably. This issue is being dealt with by industry’s organisations, like CEPIC. However, legislation on European level has to be changed. Needless to say, this may take years to accomplish. Meanwhile embedding will remain an issue.

Transition to MicroStock

Partly this is a competition issue. When high quality images are being offered for microstock prices (usually less than €1,- per image) image users and customers can’t be blamed for choosing these companies to do business with. It’s their budget. However, in the end this has serious consequences for the industry. To give you a few examples;

Blend Images is to shut down within one year. A high quality stock agency, founded in 2004 by 20 “founding partners” (photographers) who were producing high quality stock images and relying on 150 or so distribution companies world wide to keep costs low. Most of these founders are earning 10% or so, compared what they use to earn annually before 2008. This means a decrease of revenues of 90% in just a couple of years. This decline is caused by many image users and customers not willing to pay more than microstock prises for image use. Due to this decline in revenues, it’s no longer possible to invest in new productions or projects and realise a profit. Meanwhile Blend’s profits declined dramatically as well, forcing it to seize business, and layoff staff.

Masterfile has trouble paying out royalties to photographers for sold images. Especially markets USA and Canada are in decline for both RM (Rights Managed) and RF (Royalty Free) photography due to fierce pricing pressure. Again, premium images are sold by competitors for microstock prices, causing a sharp decline in revenues for Masterfile, forcing the agency to restructure it’s business. Due to this, Masterfile lost it’s ability to invest in advertising campaigns, usually costing $100 Million or so. Needless to say, this has consequences for photographers, employees (layoffs) and supplying companies who are loosing Masterfile’s business.

Theft via Google Images

Alphabet’s search engine, with a near monopoly of 75% of the market or more (at least in most countries), offers their users a button, when searching for images. They have been doing this for years. This button enables users to very, very easily download images, sometimes even highres files from agencies, and use them any way they see fit. For free. Thus leaving agencies and photographers behind with no revenues and royalties at all. Recently Getty Images and Google made a deal, in which Google agreed to make it more difficult to download images from through their website, so there are developments. However, not in every country similar measures were taken, and some kind of downloading is still possible.

Scary thing is, this situation teaches people all over the internet, that images are free to use, where it’s actually not. This is a major reason, why a number of new companies emerge, who search the internet for all kind’s of infringements. ImageRights, Permission Machine, CopyTrack and many others, including a whole bunch of legal firms and start up enterprises, are now earning millions and millions on dealing with infringements on behalf of agencies and photographers. Many of these companies show actual double digit growth figures and can’t keep up, with the fast increase of work there are being offerend. Meanwhile Alphabet / Google is being sued and sued over and over again by European authorities, forcing them to pay over 2,42 BILLION Euro’s in damages for breaking European legislation.

Use of Watermarkt Images

Oke, I am aware, not every intern student, freshly entering the labour market and on his or her’s first job, fully know’s how things work in this industry. But professionally downloading  images from agencies websites, without payments and and publishing them inside their projects WITH watermarks still visible? Really?! Obviously not all people know the drill, and know that they have to pay a most of the times modest fee for using an image. But, it keeps happening over and over again … “Funny” thing is these people will actually pay for other purchases, acquired using the Internet. Books, music, subscriptions, newspapers and so on. Why not for images? Because they believe they’re free of charge. Meanwhile they are found by companies, like CopyTrack, who will ask them to pay a license fee. Or sue for damages. Often triple the around they would have originally payed,

UGC (User Generated Content)

Professional photographers earned millions and millions, producing all kinds of travel- end event photography for a number of companies, magazines, travel corporations, websites, catalogs and so on. Not any more. Digital photography devices, like cheap camera’s and smartphones scattered this niche inside the industry, leaving photographers and their agents behind. Participating customers, amateur photographers and actually everyone with a mobile device is now able to upload their favourite pictures to websites, where they are being used for commercial purposes, disregarding the need for payment of licenses, disregarding privacy laws, besides various other issues that may present some kind of risk to image users. UGC caused a huge and exponentially increasing influx of cheap, low quality images, which are being offered to images users for free of micro stock prises. Meanwhile leaving many premium professional image users baffled, because they cannot find their single, high quality images any longer, among the hundred and hundred millions of low quality pictures offered annually. Besides this factor, assignments have fiercely decreased, causing many professional photographers to go out of business. And agencies for that matter.

Infringements through various sources

Last February CopyTrack found a case for me, of not payed images used on a website by a small business. Turned out the owner of this business went freelance, after his company went bankrupt and closed down it’s operations. After which this business owner was presented the opportunity to take along with him, some images I made some years before. Naturally he didn’t pay any royalties and this entire situation turned out to be violation of copyright law. Finally he did pay for damages, but this shows that people use any opportunity they’re presented with, to obtain and use images for free. Besides the fact, that professional use of images costs money, this “lack of experience” on how things work, damages the industry as a whole. Photographers earn less money, start spending time on searching for infringements, often with aid of specialised enterprises. Instead of using their time, money and effort to produce new, compelling photography. However, especially photographers feel they need to pursue because other channels of earning revenues are diminishing rapidly.

Smartphone (or: people doing it themselves)

Change

Personally I believe, that “do it yourself photography” is good. It has this informal style I like to see, and it absolutely is interesting, getting a view into someones life. In a few decades this might very well be photography that’s shown as art inside galleries and musea. Just to showcase an era. Contradictory it’s the main reason I seized doing acquisition for new assignments. For a number of reasons. Far most of the times I call a company to work for them, they’ve already “hired” an employee with a smartphone to do the job I specialise in. Or I have to compete with thirty other photographers, professional or not, all aiming their camera’s on exactly the same subject at exactly the same moment. After which their work is uploaded and sold for dimes and pennies.

The industry as a whole is changing so rapidly, it’s hard to keep up. Traditional channels of selling and obtaining professional, premium photographic work are being closed down, leaving agencies and especially photographers out of business. As a result, highly specialised and professional employees lose their jobs. The market for freelance models and modelling agencies must have a hard time, since the are usually hired by these professionals. Former professional photographers, who took a side job to pay their bills are getting more depressed than ever and have a hard time making a hobby from their former profession. Most of the industry seems to be in decline, these years.

However, I think there are (tiny) signs of possible recovery, somewhere in the future. First of all, the huge increase of pursuing illegal image use is there to stay, teaching image users that there is always some kind of fee involved. In combination with emerging Blockchain Technology, multiple efforts to deal with Google (on several levels) I believe this alone will set new standards.

I am not sure, if the microstock industry is sustainable in the end. Somehow it seems impossible to me, that customers stay happy with millions of images as a search result, due to the exponentially increasing number of images uploaded to agencies, when they are seeking just one, specific picture. Needle in a whole bunch of haystacks?? Besides this, dimes and pennies can’t pay for the more complex or time consuming premium photography, so these will eventually seize if revenues don’t change for the better. So, there must be an end to this madness somehow, hopefully in the not so distant future.

Portrait Woman Wearing Hoody

I believe (actually: I hope) in the end customers, as well as agencies will value premium photography for wat it is: a product that costs money and effort to produce. This needs proper royalties and income for image producers one way or the other. Although interest between customers, agencies and image creators differ a lot, image buyers and agencies alike need to understand that, without revenues, the profession will vanish and new premium images, series and photo reports will not longer be produced. This will be another issue for agencies. Because without the influx of new photography, image buyers will have no reason to return, and will seek their business elsewhere. Added to that, agencies to, suffer from declining revenues. Like newspapers and magazines, agencies need to transform somehow, and invent new concepts, to stay in business. What remains in a few years, can’t be all low quality photography sold at microstock prises, but pursuing present practises will absolutely not guarantee long term survival.

Important issue is also, that the production of premium imagery and photojournalism are crafts, that take some years to fully develop. So, photographers themselves must adapt as well. One way or another. They have to stay on the case. Ilvy Njiokiktjien said in Digifoto Pro: “I cannot imagine that images as a medium will lose their impact. However, it’s also possible to tell (visual) stories in new ways; with smartphones; interactive online environments and virtual reality.” Photographers (and photojournalists) have to develop a much, much broader perspective to their work. Start collaborating with nearby media and audiovisual professionals. Start collaborating with writers. With other visual artists. Don’t just rely on old, now pre historic structures  of an industry in decline, but find a ways to reinvent yourself!! And then tell us about it!!!

 Guido Koppes – April 19, 2018.

Note: if you have any comments on this article, please send me an e-mail here! Thanks!


Is Kodak Gambling with Cryptocurrency?

Portrait woman with M.S. / Multiple Sclerosis diagnosis.

A while age I published an article here, about Eastman Kodak, who was entering the blockchain / cryptocurrency hype … To service photographers and the photo industry, they would establish a world wide copy right register, so photographers could be payed in cryptocurrencies. As the New York Times stated in his January 30, 2018 article: “This month, Kodak lent its name to a digital currency called KodakCoin, which is billed as “a photo-centric cryptocurrency to empower photographers and agencies to take greater control in image rights management.” The basic idea behind KodakCoin is to use the blockchain to help photographers manage their collections by creating permanent, immutable records of ownership. The company also struck a licensing deal for a Bitcoin-mining computer called the Kodak KashMiner, which allows users to generate their own cryptocurrency. Kodak’s stock rose more than 200 percent following the announcements, and has not fallen much since.”

Although the idea is initially a good one, and it might benefit the market and individual photographers, some questions were raised about the details of the program … Turns out it isn’t even a full Kodak project at all … Kodak has just a couple of percent share in the project, which is initialized by a somewhat vague, penny stock entrepreneur, Mr. Cameron Chell … In the New York Times article a couple of interesting questions were raised, unfortunately remaining without any satisfactory answers by Kodak  and the people involved … And these are not the only valid remarks, that raise eyebrows and remain unsolved for now …

This sincerely diminishes my enthusiasm about the Eastman Kodak project, and blockchain technology in general … It just doesn’t seem trustworthy anymore … At least not in this, specific case …

Interested in forming your own opinion? Read the article on NY Times here!!


KodakCoin & CryptoCurrencies

Photography dinosaur Kodak steps into a hype with a new, crypto currency: the KokakCoin … It gets around in the industry, raising all kinds of questions …

Kodak will create an encrypted, digital ledger of rights ownership for photographers to register both new and archive work that they can then license within the platform. With KodakCoin, participating photographers are invited to take part in a new economy for photography, receive payment for licensing their work immediately upon sale, and for both professional and amateur photographers, sell their work confidently on a secure blockchain platform. KODAKOne platform provides continual web crawling in order to monitor and protect the IP of the images registered in the KODAKOne system. Where unlicensed usage of images is detected, the KODAKOne platform can efficiently manage the post-licensing process in order to reward photographers. Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke stated: “For many in the tech industry, ‘blockchain’ and ‘cryptocurrency’ are hot buzzwords, but for photographers who’ve long struggled to assert control over their work and how it’s used, these buzzwords are the keys to solving what felt like an unsolvable problem.”

Kodak claims, that the platform will offer:

  • Image Registration. Provides immutable proof of ownership and enables member to take advantage of the platforms wider services.
  • Rights Management. Every license is documented by a smart contract on the blockchain which confirms the copyrights and licensing terms and conditions of the associated images.
  • Transparent Accounting. Receive royalty payments instantly via a smart accounting and reporting system. Community members don’t need a separate accounting system as all payments and accounting information is saved on the blockchain.
  • Community Marketplace. Our marketplace enables coin holders to buy, sell and book products and services such as flights, hotels, models, venues and studios with their coins. The marketplace will also create kickstarter opportunities for startups and service companies.
  • Distribution Platform. KodakOne is building a distribution platform for rights cleared images. On this distribution platform buyers (licensee) and licensors can buy/sell trade images based on the licensors licensing terms and conditions.
  • Post Licensing (Legal Enforcement). KodakOne provides continual web crawling in order to protect the IP of its members. Where unlicensed usage of images is detected, KodakOne can efficiently manage the post-licensing process.
  • Image Tracking. Community members can track usage of their photos and use these insights for more efficient and effective marketing of their assets.
  • Instant Payment. smart contracting payments are executed instantly as all payments will be made in Kodak Coin.

Still a lot has to be explained about this initiative. What is a Kodak Coin worth in terms or Euro’s? Will it be continually fluctuating? Will the value change between the time the customer makes a payment and the time the photographer uses it to actually buy something? How does the photographer buy groceries with a Kodak Coin? Will photographers only be able to transact business with others who are willing to accept Kodak Coins for the products and services they provide? How will usage fees be established? Will there be a schedule of fees for certain uses? Will photographers have to accept those fees or not participate? Will the licensing be RF or RM? Will each photographer be able to set his own fees? Will there need to be direct communication between the photographer and the buyer for most sales and, if so, how will that inhibit sales given the current ways image licensing is conducted?

And a few more questions: what percentage will KodakOne take of sales? They will have to get something for the service they are providing and presumably a lot considering how hot investors think this investment is. (Kodak shares rocketed up more than 120 per cent on news of the KodakCoin’s release.) How will KodakOne get a significant, diverse collection of the images that are in demand? Why would any photographer give their images to KodakOne exclusively? Big risk. If they put their images with KodakOne non-exclusively then the only sales KodakOne will record are the sales made through KodakOne. Potentially, there will be a huge number of other legal uses out there that Kodak can’t track including all the uses made worldwide prior to actually launching KodakOne. In order to do any legal enforcement, they will have to come back to the photographer to determine if the use was authorized or not. How will this marketplace get instant credibility and attention from image buyers? Getty Images, Shutterstock and Adobe Stock currently control 65% to 70% of the worldwide market. Why will customer suddenly switch to Kodak?

My personal and favorite question: “Do I need to switch from my present agencies, and license all of my images (made in the past ten years or so) through Kodak Coin? Thing is: we’re all going to have to learn about cryptocurrencies and blockchains. And it’s worth to stay on top of this new development. However, it’s way to soon to make final decisions. For now I am curious on how Kodak implements this idea, and how existing industry adapts to this new development.


Embedding Images: The Legal way to Steal 

Using protected images without permission, without payment of royalties or even giving credit to the creator. In the European Union you can do that, provided you do so via embedding. Creators and sellers of images refuse to accept this legal loophole. They are not dinosaurs failing to embrace progress: this is where legislation is lagging behind.

Embedding

Embedding, also referred to as inline linking, framing, and, typically when applied without permission, hotlinking, allows you to make content visible on multiple webpages via the original location. By means of a link to the original website an image, but also text or video, can be shown on another website.

The embedded content acts as a seamlessly inserted window to the website where the content is hosted: the content appears to be part of a third party’s webpage, but is in fact retrieved and loaded via the website where it is hosted. In 2014 the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that the embedding of protected content without permission constitutes no copyright infringement.

Embedding without permission is legal in the EU

Normally, when copyright applies, the creator is in control of what can and cannot be done with his work. The creator is the person who decides where his work is published and whether royalties need to be paid for the use of his work. The problem is that embedding is always legal in the European Union, with or without permission. This has opened a door to legally using protected images without paying royalties. Whoever posts content online has no legal means to counteract hotlinking.

The technical details regarding the embedding of content greatly influence the legal side of it. Embedding acts like a link to the original content. To embed content, copying or downloading the content is not required. Embedding therefore does not create an illegal copy. The content is not published elsewhere: you are in fact viewing the original via a link. Strictly speaking, embedding only increases the visibility of the original. This circumstance has led to the conclusion that embedding is in accordance with copyright laws and is therefore allowed. Even without permission.


Why embedding without permission should not be legal

Embedded images are used in exactly the same way as purchased images. You may reason that the embedded content is not actually posted on another website, as brought forward in the abovementioned case law, but it is visible elsewhere. And is so for a reason. The image is obviously not randomly selected and displayed, but is functional to the content in which it is embedded and as such adds value to it. The image is being used for profit, without permission or a mention, and without paying royalties. According to creators and stock photo agencies the impact of embedding protected images without permission is therefore no different than that of creating and publishing illegal copies of protected work.

By allowing the embedding of protected content a situation has been created which seems contrary to the whole point behind copyright laws; it limits the protection of creator rights substantially. Embedding is a legal solution with illegal characteristics: it is the legal way to steal images.


Embedding and bandwidth theft

Embedding not only affects copyright issues. The embedded content is not multiplied, but is retrieved and loaded via the website where it is hosted. When retrieving and loading web content bandwidth is being used. Bandwidth use is not free and is also limited for most websites. When that limit is reached because of embedded content, the website owner literally has to pay the price for the additional bandwidth use, or the website may be taken offline. Embedding can lead to a situation where the creator actually has to pay for the unauthorised use of his works; a bizarre side effect of the European legislation with respect to embedded content.

The distinction between embedding with permission versus embedding without permission (hotlinking) is important. YouTube, for instance, consciously and explicitly offers the option of embedding content. YouTube is well aware that running heavy video files via your website or blog greatly affects the loading time of a webpage and the website’s bandwidth use. To make the sharing of video (with added paid ads) more appealing, their website is designed to support embedding and is able to process the bandwidth use that comes with that. The average website is but a dwarf compared to an online heavyweight like YouTube and will therefore reach the limits of its maximum bandwidth use far sooner.

Unauthorised use of images: no small matter 

The unauthorised use of protected images is already out of control. Take for instance the example below: that image can be found on 21,000,000 online pages, yet has only been purchased 4 times. There is no balance.

Search Results on Google Images

Of course that number of hits in this Google search result includes the official channels where this image is shown for promotional purposes, like stock photo agencies, but a few dozen functional hits is but a fraction of the total of available views for that photo.

This case is not unique. Photographers, stock photo agencies: it happens to any creator or seller of images. A watermark offers little protection against hotlinking. Any watermark is rendered useless by shrinking the image to the point where it becomes virtually invisible. Now consider that a stock photo agency offers millions of images. The loss of turnover is huge.

Embedding is a stealthy phenomenon. It managed to stay under the radar for a long time, hidden among a lengthy list of hits when researching the online use of images. Because where does one begin assessing and addressing unauthorised use, when you find dozens or in some cases even millions of hits per image? Hard data regarding the occurrence of hotlinking are currently lacking. Yet now is the time to address the issue. The industry is already at the point where it cannot afford a further increase of unauthorised and unpaid use of protected images, but that is exactly what is about to happen.

The practice of embedding is increasing

Vincent van den Eijnde, director of Pictoright, author’s rights organisation for visual creators in the Netherlands, believes that hotlinking is still a latent problem: “People have not yet caught up with the legal facts. Once the word truly gets out, the damage will become really great really fast.”

Van den Eijnde’s estimate seems realistic. Even without hard data it is a safe guess that high volume users of ‘free images’, such as bloggers, mostly still pick images with a creative commons license and illegal downloads, depending on the level of knowledge of and respect for copyright laws. When you do an online search for royalty-free or free images, you still primarily find information about the public domain and copyright laws. The moment online searches of that type start yielding information about embedding content in the top results, the practice of hotlinking is expected to really take off.

Hotlinking is not new, but knowledge of it used to be limited to a relatively small group of people with more in-depth knowledge of html, mostly web builders. Through the publicity surrounding the abovementioned case law, knowledge regarding hotlinking is spreading little by little, together with the realization that it is legal in the European Union. The fact that hotlinking offers legal access to an infinitely larger pool of images than otherwise available for free use obviously is a great incentive to resort to embedding: this is a growth scenario in the making. And anyone can do it: step-by-step instructions on embedding in html are easily found online.

Verkoop geschiedenis

The consequences of unauthorised use of images

Creators and sellers of protected images are already struggling to keep track of and follow up on illegal publication and use of their protected works. Now hotlinking is adding to the amount of unauthorised use, which, on top of that, simply has to be put up with at this point. Excessive unauthorised use leads not only to missed royalties per use. The increased visibility of works poses another problem. Images which can already be viewed ‘everywhere’, lack exclusivity and uniqueness, and are of less value to potential clients. Unauthorised use of protected images makes the value of entire portfolios and catalogues subject to inflation.

Work which remains unpaid on an ever larger scale, leads to increased financial damages and eventually to a decrease of high quality works. After all, it is not realistic to continue to involuntarily make works available to the public and at the same time continue to invest in the creation of high quality images. The aspect of investment in the creation of photos and images is often overlooked or trivialised. The reality is that a photographer works with expensive equipment, has travel expenses and spends many hours creating images. That one photo the public gets to view, is preceded by an extensive process. When going through that process ceases to be profitable, more and more photographers will be forced to discontinue their business, in the process limiting the selection stock photo agencies are able offer.

Image creators face a catch-22

“So, then don’t put your work online.”

If creators would get a Euro for every time they hear that… This line of reasoning is obviously void of logic. Every serious entrepreneur can be found online and shows (examples of) his portfolio. Consumers are ever more visually oriented. Words are therefore to be enforced by images. A baker not only describes his assortment, but also aims to work up your appetite with visuals. A clothing brand shows what look you can create with items from their collection. Photographers show images to indicate what type of work they have to offer. This is how you do business nowadays.

Online visibility is essential to even get the opportunity to showcase your work online. In order to be found via search engines and find new clients, you need to aim for the top search results for relevant keywords in search engines (SEO). In order to achieve this, you need to post strong content online, and regularly add to or update that content. A photographer simply cannot avoid the online posting of high quality works. Moreover, stock photo agencies serve as a web shop for photos and images and therefore have no other option but to display everything they have to offer.


Technological developments vs. legislation

Creators and stock photo agencies have obviously been put at a disadvantage by the abovementioned court rulings, but they beg to differ that this ends the debate on the lawfulness of hotlinking. In that case law the focus has been on the technical details, where, in short, it was deducted that embedding does not represent publication to a new audience. The consequences of hotlinking have since become more apparent. The focus of the debate has therefore now shifted to the question whether the effects of the embedding of protected images, as felt by the creators, is in the spirit of copyright laws.

Technology evolves at a rapid pace, whereas legislation moves much slower, but in the end laws can change. Industry organisations such as European Visual Artists (EVA) and Centre of the Picture Industry (CEPIC) therefore focus their efforts to raise awareness regarding the downsides of hotlinking for the industry on the European Parliament, especially now that there are new European directives in the making.

Sylvie Fodor, director of CEPIC, says that several members of parliament who have in-depth knowledge of copyright, following from their background in journalism or the cultural sector, have already been convinced of the negative consequences of allowing the hotlinking of images. Furthermore, some encouraging amendments have been put forward, which would encompass embedding. CEPIC has also presented their views on the draft-directive proposed by the European Commission and how it can be improved to cover embedding in an official public hearing of the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI). Fodor thinks that there is a slight chance that legislation will be changed within the present negotiations on copyright in ‘Brussels’.

Protecting images against hotlinking

At the moment the only way to counteract hotlinking is online protection of content, using .htaccess. Through .htaccess hotlinking to images can be blocked or a redirect can be created which shows an alternative image (switcheroo) on the webpage where the hotlink was placed. A switcheroo can for instance be used to display an image with a message that embedding is not appreciated. Your own website will remain intact and will display the correct image.

But when you ask image creators that is not the type of protection they seek in the first place. According to them, what is needed, first and foremost, is a legal ban on unauthorised embedding of protected images, by treating it like illegal copying and downloading. After all, the effect of embedding protected images is equal to that of illegal copying and downloading: the image is being displayed without payment of royalties, which would otherwise not have been allowed, resulting in financial loss.

*Rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union:
Nils Svensson and Others v Retriever Sverige AB
BestWater International GmbH v Michael Mebes, Stefan Potsch

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