[by Eric Bowers]
After a job layoff in 2013, I found myself more dependent than ever on income from my photography. To build up my freelance business, I began researching search engine optimization (SEO). In that process, I discovered that my photography was already scattered about the web, but on business and commercial websites for companies I had never heard of, and to whom I had definitely never licensed usage rights.
Many creators have bemoaned the abundance of photographs in existence now, putting downward pressure on photographers’ pricing power with clients. Although this is a problem that remains for all in the business, there is also much higher demand for quality photographs now in this age of the Internet, as can be seen by the rampant unauthorized usage of many professionals’ copyrighted works. Many users today assume they are entitled to exploit whatever Google shows them in an image search result, but with active copyright enforcement built into one’s workflow, it is very realistic to mitigate the lost income from image piracy, and to secure another steady income stream for one’s business.
Both out of frustration and a need to make money off my work, I began making some surprise visits to the offices of local commercial infringers – invoice in hand, along with W-9 tax documentation and my Square card reader. I got results, but constantly deferring my own life, as well as the other aspects of running a photography business to deal with infringements on my own was a soul-draining ordeal. Plus, often, when I tried to settle a matter without formal legal representation, the infringers acted as if I should be grateful to them for removing the offending photo, forgetting the fact that many of them had already been exploiting my work for quite some time – a year, two years or even longer.
Hoping to free up more time for my business and to increase my odds for monetary recovery from copyright infringements, I decided ImageRights was an obvious choice.
Since getting started with ImageRights over a year ago, my income from copyright infringement settlement money has become the most consistent and reliable income stream for my freelancing operation. It is not an overstatement at all when I say that having this stream of income is a game-changer – it has allowed me to weather the inevitable troughs in assignment and stock license sales and still meet my fixed expenses.
Now that I’ve started really paying attention to all the ways my work is being used, I’ve noticed that the range of copyright infringement cases can vary. When the infringer is one of those “Get Rich Quick in Real Estate” seminars, motivational speakers, or clickbait websites, utilizing ImageRights to monetize these unauthorized uses of my work is a gratifying experience. I’ve also noticed a major recurring theme in that many infringements come from website design firms or freelancers who land their clients in legal hot water because they are accustomed to harvesting “free” website photography and graphics from Google Image Search. That bargain-basement quote from a site designer is only affordable if the clients don’t get hit with infringement claims resulting from their new business website being festooned with copyright infringed photography and graphics.
But the spectrum of cases that ImageRights finds also includes more innocuous uses, such as a church lady convention, promoted by a website that was probably done for free by one of the attendees or their kids. Though technically still an enforceable infringement, I see these cases as less of a priority so I take extra time to assess each case ImageRights brings to my attention and only approve those I think are appropriate to pursue.
Because stock agencies such as Getty Images build a clause into their contracts with photographers giving them the right to decide which infringements to pursue, how to pursue them, when to settle, and also lets them keep a hefty percentage of any recoveries, I have found that is in my own best interest to maximize my direct stock image sales by tending to my own SEO, while also having the “hedge to the downside” of ImageRights and infringement recovery built into my operation.
Clearly, infringement settlements and the threat of litigation are an imperfect solution for all involved parties, but being able to quickly monetize copyright infringements has become a vital part of my own business, and it can make all the difference in keeping the lights on during the occasional slow period in business.
Eric Bowers is a Kansas City based architectural, real estate and commercial photographer with a substantial collection of Kansas City stock images including documentation of downtown Kansas City’s revitalization, the construction progress of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the final years of open-outcry wheat futures trading at the Kansas City Board of Trade. See his work at: www.ericbowersphoto.com.