Should I be worried if I place photos with Stock Agencies?


There is an increasing number of photos being made public domain and that's not a bad thing. The bad thing is when artist use these photos from public domain and turn it into a piece of art for commercial use.

Creative commons licensing was created to allow for people to use pictures legally for non commercial means. Some public domain pictures are free to use for everything and these can be found in on sites like Pexel and Unsplash. This narrow definition of what is public domain and what is not is a very fine line. One can easily miss this.

Petapixel recently reported that a photographer got his picture lifted for use in a Kenneth Cole commercial product and got paid with a US$500 gift card after making a complaint. Kenneth Cole's reasoning was that the artist made a mistake but refuses to give cash as payment. For one, a gift card is NOT cash. You can't buy gas or burgers with it on the street.

Why Photographers get Ripped Off

The most simple answer is due to ignorance. If you think that by adding your picture to creative commons that your image will be respected, then think again. Here are some common misconceptions.

The Law will Protect my Images from being Misused

You can't dial the police and tell them your rights as a photographer has been abused. So don't get the idea that the Police are behind your back when it comes to such rights. You are responsible for policing the use of your image and no one else will care unless you do.

I can sue the party who misuse my images

This is a fucktard assumption that you can afford to have a lawyer represent you. Lawyers get paid by the day, and you can of course try to hire one and pay them part of the proceeds from any monetary award you get from a judge but if you look at the price of stock photos and rights managed licensing, you'd be happy to walk away from the court room with a few thousand dollars at most. That won't even pay your lawyer fees! And no, you cannot expect the court to award you the 'cost' of the law suit.

Rights Managed Photos are no Better

Here is a case with Joshua Resnick, who claimed in a Petapixel post that he was being sued by a model who saw her images being used in far more creative ways than allowed. Now he sold the images through Shutterstock, and because shutter stock did not police the photos they sold, it ended up in places where it shouldn't be, like an ad for Playboy or a social escort services agency. The photographer is getting sued along with Shutter stock to the tune of 50 grand. 

According to Joshua,

"Defending yourself against even completely false accusations will cost almost anyone a huge amount of money. A common misconception is that when you win in court, you get your attorneys fees paid. That’s not always the case. Even if I do win, this case will likely be financially devastating either way."

Two points come to mind, would you shoot a risque image just to sell it on stock agencies or would you prefer to have a commissioned photo shoot where all the due diligence with client contract is fulfilled? Having a business where you shoot when assigned is probably going to cost you lost opportunity if you didn't have the money to market yourself. 

Never believe what the Stock Agencies Tell You

Everyone wants to be a photographer because the stock image business is booming. It is just like developing an iPhone app, which could make you lots of money if it was successful. Of the few iPhone developers who make money from apps, thousands of others fail. And this is where you have to make the distinction between payday and hard work. 

Nobody likes hard work. To put together your portfolio takes effort and time, and time is money. Photographers wanting to go professional will resort to taking on cheap assignments. Stock photos is the only one option to sell quickly, the other route to building your reputation is to give those photos away on Unsplash or Both are easy gambles which may or may not work in your favour. 

Photographers who concentrate on industry specific verticals like say wedding photography, marine or industrial and architectural can't afford to spend time with stock image agencies. They take only assignments and they don't shoot for cheap. This need not be the case if every photographer holds their ground and shoot only when assigned. Stock image photography isn't a long term business. There will always be some upstart who can take better pictures than you and sell it for cheaper. 

In this day and age, more photos are being shot in a day than the whole of the 1960s combined. Digital photography has brought down the cost of entry into this field and with it, a decreasing return on investment. Corel was one of the first in the 90s to sell royalty free images on a CD and I remember buying them. Since then, you can virtually buy any type of image online. Stock image agencies do not own the content you give to them but you have volunteered that image to them in hope of a sale. They will sell the photos as you have dictated but they never put in the clause to say that they will police those rights like the Taliban. They also did not say that they will bear the cost of the court room proceeding if they fail to police those statutory rights. 

To start off, you must know the risk of being sued even if you have rights managed photos put into stock image agencies. You can assume that models in those images don't really care but yes, they do. Stock image agencies these days want photos with models that sell for a dollar. They don't care how you con your way into having a model in your picture. That's not their problem. It is also not their problem if the buyer does not respect the bounds of the image license. That is your problem too. 

The moral of the story is that if you can't afford to hire a lawyer, then don't start with stock photos as a business initiative. It makes no sense to earn so little and get sued out of your home.