On February 2nd 2013, a large group of artists and photographers will be deactivating their photos and images at iStockphoto. The movement began on the Microstockgroup forums, in a message board thread which as of today has been read 12,000 times. There is also a call for many artists exclusive to iStockphoto to give up their exclusivity and become “free agents” on this day.
The decision to deactivate images is the result of perceived transgressions by Getty owned iStockphoto toward its artists over the past three years.
In September 2010, iStockphoto announced it would begin paying its contributors as little as a 15% commission while keeping the rest for themselves. Even the most successful of photographers such as Yuri Arcurs would receive no more than a 20% commission on each image downloaded.
In December 2012, it became apparent that Getty and iStockphoto had cut a deal with Google where some contributors’ photos were used to fund the Google Images stock library under Google Drive.
In this latest slight to artists’ rights, Google announced on its blog that it was offering 5000 free stock images for use in documents, presentations, and so on. However there was no mention of where the images had come from, nor to whom the rights belonged. It turned out the images had come from Getty and iStockphoto, with little or no compensation to the artists to whom the rights belonged.
Even in cases where it could be shown that the artist received compensation for one sale, the images are being marketed by Google for free use by anyone in unlimited projects. A microstock license typically states that only one user has the right to utilize an image per sale. It is conceivable that thousands of sales per image have been lost to each artist. Further, the move by Google and Getty significantly devalued the work of the artists by putting a $0 price tag on each item.
A firestorm of angry artists took to the iStockphoto message boards in response. The debate has since spread to independent message boards such as Microstockgroup, and to the popular media.
Anger Turns to Action
While Getty is digging in its heels and putting its lawyers at the forefront of the message board debate, many artists have simply had enough of the transgressions and are now planning to do something about it.
Lisa F. Young, better known to designers as LisaFX, is upset with the deal between Google and Getty. One of microstock’s most successful image producers, Lisa’s images have been used in numerous national advertising campaigns and featured on Late Night with David Letterman and ABC World News Tonight.
“Getty has gone too far in using our images without permission or adequate compensation. Contributors really need to work together to send a powerful message about protecting our copyrights. I plan to deactivate at least 500 images from Istockphoto on Feb 2 D-Day. That will be a first step. If Getty does not respond satisfactorily to contributor concerns, many of us will have to reconsider whether it is worthwhile to continue any business relationship with them at all, ” says Lisa.
Arguably one of the most famous stock image producers in the world, Yuri Arcurs also took his concerns to the Microstockgroup forum discussion. “Any deal that Getty is getting money in their pocket for, made possible by my (and your images), but that we do not collect a royalty on, is a scandal and deserves attention,” wrote Yuri. Arcurs started his own website, PeopleImages to sell his images direct to the public rather than watch agencies continue to devalue his work.
Founder of the Microstockgroup forums, and one of the most respected voices in microstock, Tyler Olson is also participating in the deactivation at iStockphoto. To anyone who thinks the deactivation will not make a difference, he disagrees.
“It will make a BIG difference to me and my images. My images will no longer be licensed through an agency who is willing to let my images be given away from free. That is the big difference I’m trying to make. Anything more is bonus. Having everyone remove their images on the same day may or may not raise iStock’s proverbial eyebrow but no matter what, it will save my portfolio from being given away for free.”
What Can You Do?
While contributors raise the specter of a mass image deactivation on February 2nd, they continue to wait for a reasonable answer from Google and Getty for how they intend to compensate artists for lost wages.
But you can act now.
Many stock artists have formed their own websites to offer their images, and ensure they keep the earnings rather than giving the lion’s share to agencies. By choosing to download stock images direct from these artists, you will be directly supporting the efforts of artists while taking power from mega stock agencies. The same way many of us choose to purchase our food direct from area growers at a local farmer’s market, we are now able to do the same with stock images.
We have compiled a list of known websites which offer stock images direct to the public from the artists. Our own Warmpicture Images Collective incorporates images from many artists under one umbrella, the same way a farmer’s market comprises multiple growers. We encourage you to not only begin doing business directly with these artists, but also to spread the word to other users of stock images so that the balance of power shifts away from the agencies, to the artists.
Artist Direct Stock Image Sources