iStockPhoto Comes Under Fire

Flickr artist Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir, previously reported on here for her dispute with the site Only-Dreemin, has took aim at stock photography site iStockPhoto after finding twenty five of her photographs, including three of her, available for sale on the site.

Though she did not put the blame on iStockPhoto directly, she did note that this is a problem that is becoming “increasingly annoying” for those who use the Internet to showcase their work.

iStockPhoto has not responded as of this writing and there is no way of knowing if the images are still on line at this timeArticle Update: iStockPhoto has responded below and confirms that the images have been removed. Guðleifsdóttir has said that she has contacted a copyright attorney about this and is working “tackle this problem in the best way possible.”

Unfortunately, this seems to be a problem that is, as of right now, unresolved and is likely affecting many other photographers on the Web. Worst of all, there is a great deal of legal uncertainty as to how and if resolution can be obtained.

Legal Uncertainty

Unfortunately, due to the nature of the case, there is no simple way to resolve it.

Guðleifsdóttir is from Iceland, iStockPhoto is based in Alberta, Canada and the person who uploaded in the infringing images is, most likely, in another country altogether.

Since iStockPhoto is located in Canada, it isn’t bound by the DMCA. There is no notice and takedown provision in Canadian law as of this writing. Furthermore, since iStockPhoto profits directly from each infringement, they would likely not be eligible for protection under the DMCA, even if they were an American company.

iStockPhoto does offer a “Notice and Procedure for Making Claims of Infringement” on their site that closely resembles the DMCA. However, it requires a postal letter be sent directly to their president. Given the geography of the situation, that could take a week or to arrive and even longer to be acted upon.

Article Update: iStockPhoto in a comment below stated that the images involved have been removed and a physical letter. I am seeking clarification as to how to bring these issues to their attention without the use of a physical letter.

Finding and targeting the person who uploaded the images could prove difficult as one would first need to get the account information from iStockPhoto and then target the individual or company in their home country. That could easily wind up costing more than any potential damages that could be claimed.

If iStockPhoto is not cooperative in this matter, this situation could be almost impossible to resolve and regular photographers, without the legal resources to go after the company and any infringers, could be left with little recourse against abuse on the site.

Some Good News

The good news is that those I’ve spoken with that have worked with iStockPhoto have reported that they do handle cases swiftly and fairly. Though the requirement of a mailed letter slows down resolution times, they do respond and handle such matters when they are discovered.

Though iStockPhoto doesn’t seem to have much motivation to work with artists, not doing so would not only harm the infringed parties, but their own customers.

Furthermore, if they knowingly sell photos they do not have the rights to offer, they could held liable for other damages by both the artists that were ripped off and the companies that bought the bad images.

All in all, even though iStockPhoto might have the legal high ground right now, they could lose it quickly if they acted in bad faith and all signs point to them responding quickly and effectively to this case. However, the details of what that resolution will include, especially as it pertains to the money earned on the infringing images, remains unclear.

Conclusions

As a company that sell photographs, not merely hosts them, iStockPhoto has a greater responsibility than other sites. It is not merely enough to take down infringing photos when notified via postal mail, they owe it to their customers and to the photographers that legitimately sell their works over the site to try and keep infringing works from being made available in the first place.

To that end, image matching technology is rapidly entering the mainstream and could save the company a great deal of headaches.

Even if the technology isn’t perfect, if it prevents even a small percentage of infringing images from being uploaded, those are images they don’t have to clean up after the fact.

For artists and photographers, it makes image watermarking an even more appealing option, where practical, and highlights the importance of using low-resolution images when posting to the Web.

It isn’t much, but it can prevent your work from being an appealing target for those who wish to make a quick buck.

For more information, see my previous article entitled “The Secret Site of Stock Photography

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