Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do you know where your images are?

I was gong to post part 2 of the "Magic of Median" today, when I ran across something that was timely and ought to go up today.
Over at fstoppers, they've posted a video interview with Noam Galai -- a photographer whose picture (and face -- it's a self-portrait) has turned up all over the world, almost entirely without him knowing, and almost entirely without any payment for use of his image. You've probably seen this image, and the story behind it is well worth reading.

With Noam's experience serving as a bit of a wake-up call, I decided to see if any of my own images (like the Andromeda Galaxy image above) were being used in places I didn't know about...

The fstoppers video referred to TinEye, an image search site. You can either upload an image or provide a URL to it if it's on-line, and TinEye will attempt to find places it's been used on-line. When I did so with my Andromeda Galaxy image, The results surprised me.
First, I found a book that had used my image on the cover. This is a legitimate use, as the image (and one of my other astronomy images) had been licensed through a stock agency, and I was given credit in the book (if you scroll to the last page in the google books link above, you'll hit the image credits page for the book). The ting is, though...I didn't know about it. I got my stock license fee (in this case from Shutterstock, which I'm no longer part of, and which amounted to about $1), but had no idea my image had been used on a book cover. I also found it had been used on a number of websites, including one (which I won't link to) that used my astronomy images to promote a fundamental christian "young earth creationist" (6,000 year old earth) claim. Ironic, considering my image is of a galaxy 2.5 million light years away, and it took the light I recorded to make the image 2.5 million years to get here.
All of the usages I found were properly licensed though stock agencies -- which is good news. The bad news? Had I known about a book cover, I could have used that to help promote my work. And then there's the "microstock" payment issue to deal with...through a stock sale, I got $1 for my image to be used as the cover of a book. Was that "fair?" Yes, I signed up for the microstock agency, and I agreed to the terms. I had already concluded that the royalty rate from that microstock agency wasn't equitable, and ceased participating in it. But the larger issue of microstock "fairness" has been brought back to mind with this new discovery of my image on a book cover.
The microstock issue is contentious: Photographers Direct is a web site and stock archive that discusses the issue a great deal, and they've set themselves up as a "fair trade" stock agency that tries to insure fair prices for the use of photographer's images. I like a lot of what they have to say. Until recently I had mostly ignored the issue, as I was getting regular good income from my stock portfolio. Early this year, however, iStockphoto changed the way they calculate royalty rates, and my rates took a plunge. So I need to seriously revisit it now.
It should be obvious to any photographer that if you post your images on-line, people can and will steal them and use them without permission or payment. Noam's case is clearly an extreme one -- yet people making money off of his image without credit or payment, while extraordinary in his case, isn't unusual.
If you've got images posted on-line, use TinEye as a starting point to see if your images have been taken and used without your permission. And keep a close eye on what you post, and where. And if income from your work is important to you, it may be time to take another look at how you're selling your images, and think about making some changes. I know it's time I did that.

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