Tagged: creative commons

Oh, What A Difference (Or Not?) 5 Years Makes

Stock image consultancy firm Visual Steam recently published a summary of their 2014 survey of US art buyers in stock image licensing. It outlines some of the major trend lines from the previous year (continued pricing pressure, use migrating to online and away from print), and provides insight into buyer habits across sourcing, pricing models used most, and “top of mind” destinations for sourcing images (it’s still Getty’s game, but Shutterstock continues to nip away).

Comparing trends between this year and last might reveal glacial-type movements among art buyers, who largely have not changed their habits over 12 months. What about 5 years? The publication Graphic Design USA, for many years, has been publishing its own stock visual survey (itself sponsored by a commercial stock licensor). Have 5 years of buyer habits changed all that much, and what do their habits reveal about trend lines and the stock industry’s response? Similarities between GD USA’s 2009 survey and Visual Steam’s 2014 are close enough for comparison.

Motion

The use of motion has increased greatly over 5 years, according to those polled. In 2009 the amount of buyers licensing motion was 35% — today it is 73%. The amount of producers and licensors of motion have not commensurately increased within the stock industry, so where is increased demand met? Is inventory finally being exploited across Getty, Pond5 and others, or has the increase in use been met through assignment?

General Use

41% of buyers polled in 2009 said they use stock more than in the previous year. 60% of buyers polled in 2014 said they expected to increase their use in the coming year. While this comparison is reality vs. forecast, it does not at a general volume increase year over year, which should be aligned with ad growth. However, sales volumes do not equal revenue volumes. To further illustrate the eclipse of digital over print, almost all of those surveyed in 2009 used stock for print campaigns, and today it’s roughly half.

Spending

To which pricing and licensing models does the money go? RF licensing still sees the lions share, which is little surprise. RF saw over half (54%) of what was spent in 2009, while 2014 increased to 59% over RM. What was not tracked in 2009, but relevant today, is Free use – 13% accounted for total licenses acquired in Visual Steam’s survey, making the rise of direct to photographer sourcing by buyers a powerful theme. Certainly, Flickr, Creative Commons, Google Images, and outside distribution and sharing has accelerated this trend. Spending little, if anything, is still a major driver in content sourcing: only 23% said that quality trumps price every time.

Sourcing

Perhaps a trivial difference, while most all sourced their imagery online in 2009 quite a few were reliant upon print catalogs and CDs. While GD USA’s poll doesn’t give us buyer preferences around where they source, Visual Steam’s does, and Getty is still top of mind among stock licensors. Getty and iStock accounted for well over half of those who were asked of an immediate “go-to”, with Shutterstock not far behind. Corbis and Veer are very much considered tier 3. These findings certainly reflect market share capture. A distant, yet powerful, source was Google Images, but what remains opaque is whether this a front door to industry licensors who benefit from tagging and ads or a method for sourcing outside of stock licensing (and what is the differential?).

Buyers seem to have grown accustomed to subscription and trolling micro sites for cheap RF in the past 5 years, since questions in 2009 (“have you used a micropayment site?” and “have you used a subscription service?”) seem as antiquated as print catalogs and CDs. No doubt, with the move by iStock to go up market with its Vetta collection (and with Shutterstock mimicking the same in its recent Offset), buyers are challenged to break old prejudices even if in practice it was a shell game of content by the licensors.

Will we see the same prejudices – this time with user-generated content – be defeated in 5 years time? UGC was raised as a question in 2009, and over 1/3 of respondents said they’d used UGC at some point in a campaign. Oddly, Visual Steam’s survey did not cover UGC. On the tip of the tongue in 2009, today it remains as fragmented and immature a market as ever, with many startups and incumbents seeking traction and market acceptance as iStock did. What most photo tech companies who venture into monetizing UGC for the stock buying community consistently fail to grasp is that quality still is paramount (quality implying provenance – or assurance of rights), and that a simple exercise in aggregation does not account for the convoluted landscape built on the preferences and practices of a fickle market. Is 5 years really that long a time to solve the problem?

Image Licensing Confusion

Google’s new Usage Rights filter is an attempt to help bridge online use of imagery, but they’re missing the most important part of the licensing puzzle: education.

A large portion of online image searches are conducted through Bing and Google’s search engines, by a wide swath of content-seekers from consumers to professional image buyers for major corporations to corporate marketers themselves. Given the broad indexing by the search engines, the expectation on the search side is complete exposure to the world’s imagery (not true) and the startling diversity and breadth of results based on search query (true).

For years, Google came to define the experience of image search, often being the point of entry for even professional image licensors such as Corbis and Getty. Within the search experience, Google did little to prevent anyone from stealing an image, by shunning its role as gate-keeper in exchange for accessibility and expediency of delivery. Meticulous UX design informed users of what they were looking at, and by whom, but did not educate around how to interact with the image – users soon started to conflate the ease and accessibility with the notion of public domain, and deeper misunderstanding of what Fair Use means.

With global photographic and professional trade associations vocalizing their concerns over Google’s role as a conduit for infringing use and generating orphaned works of their property, and with Google recognizing a way to legitimately circumnavigate the image licensing industry, Google implemented the means to filter image search results by rights access. Bing soon followed suit.

Both leaned on leveraging the largest image rights attribution engine available to them: Creative Commons – a copyright straw man for digital media; but the categories of use as defined by Creative Commons, and leveraged by Bing and Google, obfuscate the rights of the user and rights holder more than educate. The categories of use assume an aggregate consumer knowledge of rights and use, which are also wide open to interpretation. Bing uses “share”, “use”, “commercially” with no definition, while Google, extending a stiff arm by prefacing each category with “Labeled”, translates to their own user base. Further, accuracy of labeling/categorizing is highly suspect, as there’s no central authority for warranting ownership with Creative Commons – anyone can assert rights over an image in the digital age.

The implications of Bing and Google as licensing intermediaries does little to promote the ethical use of imagery online. It is a Tower of Babel, with little value and assurances to an end user of an image, disconnecting a rights holder from a user through a language that needs clear comprehension.

Microsoft’s 3-Step Process to Online Theft

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker and itself a massive consumer of image content for its products and services, has taken the bold step of promoting the theft of images online. Through its newly revamped Office product, Microsoft is replacing an image search functionality – one that routed the user to vetted sources for searching, transacting and integrating content into their online projects – with a general Bing search. While Microsoft is certainly free to remove one piece of Office functionality and push users onto the Bing platform, the methods of how it is doing so underscores a blatant disregard of intellectual property.

On Microsoft’s Office web page Images, it guides an Office user on the acquisition of images for use. Under “Use Bing to get images”, it outlines a three step process:

  1. Open Bing.com (and search for an image)
  2. Hover over your selected item…and Right click
  3. Click Save picture as…in the menu. Save image.

The message is clear: use Bing to download images for whatever intended use you might have. Microsoft does not attempt to educate the user on copyright, use rights or even how unauthorized use of images pulled from the web might expose the user to risks. It would seem that driving Bing traffic at the expense of content owners and generating volumes of orphaned works is far more important to Microsoft than architecting a solution where both parties might benefit from online search and use.

The unauthorized use of images has increased year over year, where it is now assumed that well over 85% of all images used online are done so illegally. Sites like Pinterest routinely expunge image metadata when users pin images, and despite attempts by Getty to monetize their collection by coupling Getty orphaned works with their rightful information, it’s a drop in the bucket considering the hundreds of millions – or billions – of images Pinterest hosts. Google is still the leader in generating orphaned works, and they’ve recently made greater strides in obfuscating information on the rightful owner of an image, while giving easier direct access of any online image from their search to users.

Microsoft, desperate to try and play catch up in the online search market, is brazenly throwing the content industry under the bus in the name of Bing. How it is educating the market on image use and consumption might very well be categorized as reckless, but more so ironic given that Microsoft is a corporation that vehemently defends its own intellectual property with extreme prejudice.

It’s not the lack of viable alternatives that accelerates unauthorized use, but lack of market education and general disinterest on behalf of search engines and social media platforms. What market education there is comes through the wellspring of Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other entities that advocate for free and unfettered access to content, and are intent on rewriting the rules around content ownership and accessibility. Microsoft has joined in the chorus, with a clear full-throated voice.