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Polylooks Uncovers Mass Online Image Fraud

Gordon Kelly


Polylooks Uncovers Mass Online Image Fraud

The music and film industries have already begun an intense and immensely controversial crackdown on illegal use of their content, but could image rights companies be about to do the same?

Research conducted by Deutsche Telekom’s online photo agency Polylooks.co.uk has found over one third of UK marketing, PR and publishing professionals (37 per cent) admit to using images illegally from the Internet. A number which is therefore likely to be far higher in reality.

In addition to this the survey discovered:

  • 81.4 per cent of creative professionals that have used an image without paying for it did not feel guilty

  • 44 per cent legally download between one and five pictures each month, while seven per cent buy more than 11 stock images each month

  • Nearly half (48 per cent) do not have a microstock image budget, but five per cent spend in excess of £100 each month on images
“There is still a great deal of confusion when it comes to using photos or illustrations that photographers and artists have made available for sale online,” said Polylooks product manager Norbert Weber. “Many people who should be paying for the right to use images are not doing so due to a lack of understanding on industry rules and terminologies.”

Amongst the miscomprehensions are the definitions of ‘royalty free’ and ‘rights managed’ with just 21 per cent of the 200+ surveyed professionals correctly indentifying the former and a mere 16.5 per cent knowing the latter. For the record: royalty free means users must purchase the image and then are able to use it with certain restrictions. Rights managed images are never bought, but rented from the agency or photographer at a price for a specific use. This price will be enlarged if the image is used outside of the agreed terms.

Of course the big question in all of this is whether this will lead to legal and financial consequences for those so clearly in breach of these laws and furthermore how far will aggrieved rights holders take their claims? Could individual bloggers and web users be at risk or just major corporations? We’ll have to wait and see, but I suspect this won’t be the last we hear of it…


via Polylooks

Mike Brown

December 28, 2009, 2:53 pm

This looks like a try on. I very much doubt that any commercial agency would admit to performing illegal acts in the course of their business. They might well say, however, that they have done something that Polylooks then claims to be illegal. A quick look around the stock photo sites indicates that many (most?) include wording to the effect that the directly accessible image are free for corporate or personal use, with high resolution versions available for sale. I would suggest that 'free' means exactly what it suggests unless you have to go through a purchase area on the web site. The so-called 'industry practice' would, in law, I think be described as 'passing off' or 'entrapment' in the hope of tricking an agency into paying an enhanced licence fee.


December 28, 2009, 11:33 pm

The problem comes from this "rental" malarkey. If you buy a stock photo of say a texture, since you've just paid for it and used it in one piece of work, you aren't going to go and delete it and 're-buy' in the event that you want to use it again. No, you buy it and then put it in a folder for your textures and you use the frickin thing again if you want.


December 30, 2009, 3:50 am

@jopey - I think you're probably generalising the situation (which may in itself suggest that the status quo is too complicated anyway). I work in marketing, and handle different types of images. Typically, these fall into several catagories:

Owned outright. These are almost 100% photos that we have had taken by a photographer, and he has granted us indefinite copyright, and we've had to pay for it too.

Owned and licensed. Again, normally taken by a photographer, but licensed for normally 3 years with options to extend for a further 3 and then by an additional 10 and then indefinitely. Extension costs are low, typically 10% of the original cost. The photographer has permission to use the images as part of his / her portfolio, but cannot sell them to any other firm.

Royalty free. The stuff we use is brand-neutral, and can be used anywhere as it is not promoting a specific product. Typically bought for a few £ at iStock.

Rights managed. Ouch. This is where it gets very expensive. A campaign we wanted to run earlier this year called for use of the image of an E-type Jaguar. The images of this car as an icon are rights managed. We were quoted prices over £3,000 for an image, which could last only 12 months and be limited to one set of artwork only (one ad execution). The publications and websites where we could place the ad were also restricted.

On the latter, needless to say we passed, after briefly considering hiring an E-type and then shooting it ourselves (the cost was about the same).

It is important to never forget that in most cases, the image remains the right of the photographer or their agency, and that your use of it is normally licensed only.

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