The combination of Intellectual property and the availability provided by the Internet is a difficult situation. The music, film and software industry have been fighting a war against piracy (copyright infringement) for years.
Image agencies are always working to reduce the illegal use of images among businesses, and in most countries the results are good, as fewer businesses use images without licensing. But, as the number of businesses with unlicensed images has decreased, there has been a large growth of unlicensed image use on private blogs. The question is how agencies and artists can reduce the illegal use of images in the vast number of blogs.
A watermark on the images is the first step for an agency or an artist to reduce theft. But when the image is sold to a customer, and the customer uses the image online, the watermark is removed. Most images used on blogs today appear to have been taken from a customer’s site, such as an online newspaper. Digital, invisible watermarks could prevent some of the theft; still it would be difficult to trace the borrowers from the customers with an automatic scan. In addition it is difficult to follow up on the illegal use.
In online discussions people have suggested that image agencies should take legal action against individuals. The problem with legal actions, as I see it, is that the images are not re-distributed, they are “only” displayed. The decrease in value is difficult to establish, and the image itself represents only a loss of a small amount of money. In addition, the “Goliath and David”-situation might seriously hurt the brand and reputation of the agency. The software industry normally sends a bill directly to the company that has been using pirated software. This might be a solution, but it will be a difficult process to claim money from individuals - often with anonymous blogs.
A third possible solution might be to provide more information.
The bloggers, and others, need to know that it’s never OK to “borrow” or steal an image, even if you use a byline and give credit to the photographer. I’ve seen people arguing that using an image without a license isn’t stealing, because the image is still there, and the photographer/agency can still sell it, they (the “borrower”) can’t afford to pay for the image and the use is for a non-commercial purpose. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could “borrow” the stuff we really want, but can’t afford? The problem is that non-commercial use still exposes the image to the public, reducing the images’ value for potentially paying customers. If an image is published on several blogs a customer might reconsider using it as a part of their web design. Exposure also reduces the price the customer is willing to pay for an image. Why should a customer pay for use of an image if images are used for free by others?
If you can’t afford to pay for images there are low-price sites as YAY (known as microstock agencies), free sites and you can find images with a creative commons licenses.
What do you think? Should images be free of charge for personal use on blogs? What is the best way to reduce the number of image thefts?