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Stock photo license demand letters


Stock photo agencies and their many brands use a technology called PicScout to crawl the Internet searching for stock image use. The technology automatically identifies image use where no valid license can be identified in the agencies' transaction history. When such discrepancies are identified, a demand letter for up to 25 or 50 times the online licensing fee is generated and sent to the site owner, with a threat of legal escalation if the demand amount is ignored.

Tens of thousands of these demand letters have been generated by this system and sent to site owners.

While the system is automatic, the web is filled with examples of errors in identifying image scofflaws.

  • Many sites used web designers who purchased the licenses for the images. As such, no automated system can identify the valid license that was purchased.
  • Images may also have been purchased using an employee's personal credit card, once again making automated identification of a valid license impossible.
  • Many of the images identified have been in place on sites for a number of years, further complicating the search for valid license transactions by the site owner.
  • Photographers license their image catalogs to agencies, often on an exclusive basis. Yet photographers often deal with multiple agencies, and their is anecdotal evidence that sometimes images are erroneously licensed to more than one stock agency.

Implications for marketers

  • Now is a good time to review your site and make sure you have valid licenses in place for all stock images used.
  • If your site includes stock images for which you cannot confirm a valid license, remove it immediately, secure a valid license, or replace it with an image for which you purchase a valid image.
  • When licensing new images, site owners should pay for the image directly, rather than have the web designer pay for the image and charge the expense to the owner. That way, the system won't flag the image use for a possible violation.
  • Site owners should centralize records of image licenses, to make response to demand letters easy.

Of course, designers should avoid using random images found on the internet in their print designs as well. While the automated system would not detect them if used in print, it would should the PDF of that print design find its way to the web. Printing Trade Customs have long held that customers ensure they have rights to the images they use and hold harmless the project's printer with regard to copyright issues. Beyond that, as with use in online projects, obtaining valid image licenses is both inexpensive and the right thing to do. The easiest way to avoid a problem is to ensure that all stock images on your site or used in your print job include valid image licenses, and to centralize record keeping to make response to a demand easy and straightforward. Remember, photographers are entitled to compensation for their work; use of images without a license is the equivalent of stealing their work product. While the demands being made may seem to some to be onerous, avoiding such a situation is easy: Just spend the $10 or $20 to license an image!


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