Noam Galai, a photographer living in NYC gives his shocking account of what can happen when you publish an image online. A self-portrait he took in 2006, was reproduced in books, magazines, on walls, posters and t-shirts in countries around the world. He received a royalty on just one occasion and lost thousands of dollars of income as a result.
The stolen scream represents the problem with online publishing – people love to share and copy, often without a thought of the image creator or owner. As professionals who rely on income for their work, digital creatives are often the most short changed when it comes to theft of their work. It would seem that because something is a non-physical, it can be taken without apparent loss to the owner, and that’s OK. But it’s not, and ultimately hurts creativity.
Galai suffered even more directly than casual copying without payment, not just because people were using his image without credit or attribution, but because others were actively making profit from his stolen property. One site sold a print of his work for over $80 a pop, Galai received nothing.
It can be hard to quantify losses on a photograph, it’s not a movie where there are direct costs such as studio time, actors to pay, production crews to hire etc. But let’s simplify things and look at theoretical losses for this one photo. A magazine shoot is paid at, conservatively, about $3,000.
The scream featured in about four, only one was paid. $9,000 lost. It’s about $1,000 for a low run print book. the scream featured in at least two, $2,000 lost. For the t-shirts and posters, at 45% royalty and 5,000 sales of $30 shirts – $67,500 lost.
Finally, the stock photography, upto 70% royalty of of $20 exclusive stock photo. Even if only 10,000 are sold, which is conservative given the worldwide use of the image that’s still $140,000 of lost earnings. This brings the potential losses for just one photo, to over $200,000.
What can be done?
Action can then be taken against the site hosting the image. But as this example demonstrates, taking action in this way is akin to closing the stable door after the horse has bolted, if you don’t have the resources to engage a legal case, there’s not a lot that can be done.
Active image protection is far more effective at preventing theft, especially the casual copy and use mentality of the web.
Watermarking is by far and away the most effective strategy in tackling image theft. In the same way that a locked car would deter any casual would-be thieves, a watermarked image is less likely to be used without permission than another, non-watermarked image.
If watermarked images are used without permission, they can actually advertise your work in the most direct way possible, wherever the image is syndicated.
WP Image Protect Plugin
It’s possible to add watermarks in a number of ways, but most of these are manual and laborious processes. WP Image Protect is a plugin for the WordPress platform, which automatically watermarks all the uploaded images on your WordPress powered site. Unlike other watermarking plugins, images do not need to be re-uploaded and the original image is unaltered by the watermarking process.
For even more power, the WP Image Protect premium pack allows content creators to use images as watermarks and prevent image hotlinking.