A Year of Rights Grabs, iPhonography, and Ubiquity

Reflections on the year 2012 in the photography and licensing industry can cause whiplash, whether from the ascendancy and subsequent toe-stubbing of Instagram or the hey-I’ve-seen-that-before trends in iPhonography. There was much frenetic activity throughout, but almost all meaningful activity vectored toward the mobile space, where usage and capture proliferates on into 2013…

Here are three themes of last year worthy of note:

Rights Grabs

Of course, Instagram’s massive ploy to grab rights from users for eventual advertising filtering was the biggest move of the year, and content advocates cried foul, forcing a reversal [but not really] of their TOS to less Draconian wording. Still, it tipped the hat to parent company Facebook’s plans to further delve into ad customization at a level not only based on user profiles (and even their mobile numbers), but also based on user imagery. The backlash was immense and divisive, as Instagram lost close to half of its users in the month following the debacle, and sent the message that not only do iPhonographers like to be taken advantage of, but that they believe in their rights to their content and in its value.

Going in the opposite direction of Instagram was Pinterest, who came to market with very unfavorable TOS but yielded to direct pressure from ASMP, PACA and other trade organizations to soften the language of their TOS. While their business practices to date are anti-content owners (e.g., generating orphan works by expunging of any metadata, infringing use, etc.), at least they were responsive.


The amount of businesses in the image licensing community that rushed to receive iPhone images for commercial licensing were, well, many, and there are undoubtedly more in the works. iStock needed to inform its community once again that they do indeed accept iPhone shots; agencies Aurora, Evolve Images, Blend Images all have unique iPhone collections. Undoubtedly, there will be more in 2013 edging into this, or launching end to end capture and licensing business.

Instragram engagement and subsequent communities built around the platform have brought their passion for iPhonography out into real life communities, by forming gang shoots / meet-ups. These are reminiscent of iStockphoto’s iStockalypse events, but not corporate-driven, and are an organic output of a digital community imposing its analog-social-experience will upon a cold pixilated existence.

Content Ubiquity: Promiscuity vs Exclusivity

Content owners overall prefer their content to be found everywhere, across the sociograph and in all major markets, where a fighting chance for revenue against the glut of imagery and competition is on the grounds of ubiquitous exposure. Other business philosophies focus more on technology than content, and view content as commodity, while others focus on the inherent qualities within the content relative to their target market; still, others build content walls based on exclusivity, forcing users to direct license.

To each their own, but the common shared sentiment is gaming the system and leveraging SEO so that ubiquity comes into play at some point. The more an image is found online, the more likely it will be comped with, shared and the more likely it will be used – both for gain in licensing revenue and infringement recovery. “Don’t hide your light under a bushel”, is the gathering sentiment.


Are these memes extensible to 2013? Certainly.

We already have a verdict in the collision of crowd-sourced iPhonography against the publishing and image licensing industries, where toe stubbing against the very assurances the image licensing industry promotes is ironic, but unsettling; it illustrates the disconnect between common publishing business practices and social domain user expectations. The growth of iPhonography will continue to exacerbate infringement issues, as will the blind eye of crowd-sourced domains like Twitter.

The trends of ubiquity will demand image discovery services to come to market at various verticals, but most notably filtering against the sociograph. Still, commercial applications of image discovery services will grow in demand. Content owners will increasingly want to know how and where their images are being used on the web.

And rights grabs? Uh, yeah.

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