Copyright infringement, a.k.a. image theft, is an ever-growing problem for those who distribute imagery online – photographers, stock photo agencies, content creator hubs, and everyone selling or uploading visuals on the Internet.
For a while, some companies have been offering copyright owners a range of services to detect image thieves and take punishing legal actions against them, hopefully retrieving lost profits too.
But more recently, image post-licensing surged as a new and more effective method to monetize previously stolen pictures and enforce copyright.
Today we’ll have a close look at the benefits of post-licensing, and we’ll talk about how some new players are changing the game with complete and hassle-free services that benefit content creators, image licensors, and copyright infringers.
When someone uses a copyrighted photo of yours that they didn’t pay you for, they’re effectively stealing from you. So detecting those illegal uses and retrieving money from them is as crucial for your business as preventing stealing. But doing it yourself, even if you have a company with available tech and budget resources, is increasingly difficult.
There are copyright enforcement services that offer to track your copyrighted images online and take legal actions on your behalf against infringers to retrieve lost income and eliminate the illegal usage of your work. These methods aren’t always effective as they tend to scare the unlicensed user, who often was unaware of any wrongdoing, and seek inflated monetary compensation, extending the conflict rather than solving it.
The post-licensing method (issuing retroactive licenses to cover past unauthorized image uses) is gaining traction as a great and more effective alternative to solve image theft. This approach is friendlier, fairer, and quicker for both the copyright owner and the infringer, which explains its much higher success rate. Many copyright enforcement providers have already adopted it, but there are new companies with creative offers in post-licensing.
AI-powered image tracking service Pixray has a new post-licensing service called Fair Licensing, to earn money from the unlicensed use of images you identify with Pixray’s technology.
It comes with a fully customizable post-licensing platform that gives you total autonomy to manage your infringement cases. The possibility of having a post-licensing portal on your domain, with your brand logo and personalized email communications from your email domain, and directly contacting and selling retroactive licenses adds practicality and professionalism to your business while creating a new revenue stream for you without any third parties or money collectors involved. Certainly worth exploring!
Now that you have a general overview, let’s dive in.
In our cyber times where digital images are everywhere, image stealing happens a lot more than you would imagine because many Internet users ignore how copyright works and frequently infringe on someone else’s copyright without even knowing.
Common misconceptions around image ownership range from believing that if it’s in Google Images means it’s free to “right click download” and use (False, Google image search is an aggregator, and it does not offer free images) to assuming that free images are not copyrighted (this is only true for images under public domain, but a large number of free pictures are licensed under Creative Commons, and they’re very much copyrighted). And then, of course, you have those users who intentionally break copyright laws to avoid paying for a picture.
As a result, the web is plagued with illegally used photos and illustrations. Many Internauts are posting images without permission on their website thinking they’re covered by fair use, others are using a copyrighted image under a CC license without including proper credit to the original creator, and others simply ignore that the image they’re using is someone else’s intellectual property and that they need to check copyright before using an image online.
Brands, agencies, photographers, visual artists, and content creators risk suffering copyright infringement when they market their work digitally or allow its use online.
To make matters worse, tracking, monitoring, and defending the copyright of your own images is challenging to do all by yourself. It can consume time and resources, even for large companies.
There are some free and relatively easy methods you can try. The Google reverse image search tool, for example, can help you find where and how your images are being used on the web through reverse image search technology. But it’s an inaccurate solution as this technology doesn’t always pick up all the actual copies of an image – the software tends to miss them if they’ve been cropped or considerably edited, for example.
Image watermarking tools can also protect your copyright by stamping your brand or your name across the images, making them easier to track online and harder to steal. However, this is a somewhat primitive resource, and there are now excellent tools to remove watermarks from images against the owner’s wishes.
Even if you manage to identify an unauthorized use using these methods, you still face the problem of finding the infringer's contact information and dealing with the confrontation about the theft. And that’s a whole new can of worms right there.
For one, finding contact details can take time and require certifications you either can’t have or must pay. And then the biggest issue: copyright laws vary from region to region, and a copyright infringement case can only be pursued legally in the place in the world where it happened. So if you live in Los Angeles and the infractor uploaded a stolen picture of yours in New Delhi, you need to hire a copyright-specialized lawyer in India and, of course, cover the fees, sometimes upfront.
Over the last decade, the light at the end of the image copyright tunnel came from several companies that developed copyright enforcement services for clients, generally focused on tracking your images and pursuing takedown and/or compensation for damages from every unauthorized use you find.
Such services are convenient because they take a lot of the work out of your hands, monitor your work with more accurate search engines than other tools (and even use computer vision), and significantly reduce the costs of pursuing infractors. All you have to do is upload your images to their site and decide what to do when unauthorized uses are found.
The downside is that their solutions are aggressive and don’t consider that most unlicensed users are just ignorant rather than malicious. They won't let you choose your legal representative nor the strategy or communication style they’ll use once you opt for one specific action. They unburden you from the issue but also take away your control over it.
Plus, compensatory damages are calculated based on whether the image was licensed under Royalty Free or Rights Managed, and if the infringer is making a commercial or non commercial use of the photo, among other factors. It can take the total sum to a number that is out of reach for most infringers, who are the likes of small businesses, independent workers, or even just individuals randomly using images for social media posts.
Image post-licensing is, essentially, selling someone an image license with a retroactive effect that covers their usage from the moment it started (when it was unauthorized) and moving forward. Buying a post-license means you get to keep using the image –now legally– and get rid of the previous copyright infringement charge against you, all in one move.
This method proves to be a lot more successful in solving image theft cases, and we are not surprised. Because:
- It’s a lot quicker and straightforward than the whole legal dance around compensation damages and takedown requests
- It’s a much friendlier and fairer approach to copyright infringers who are often unaware of being guilty of an illegal act and unable to cover large sums in compensation.
Paying a fair amount in a post-licensing deal and getting to keep the image is a lot better than being treated like a criminal and threatened with a thousands-of-dollars settlement, for sure.
And from the image owner's perspective, you are turning an image thief into a paying customer just by using a form and a payment channel, instead of scaring them by having a copyright enforcement company or lawyer chasing them around for months to pay you damages.
Pixray is an established player with a new, interesting and unique offer among post-licensing services: Fair Licensing. Their approach is to consider copyright enforcement (via post-licensing) as a business model for content creators and content licensors.
They don’t think you should aim for retrieving the occasional money from thieves here and there but for consistently and continuously earning from retroactive licenses of your stolen pictures. They say a photographer or image agency should see unlicensed users as market leads.
Aligned with this premise, their Fair Licensing service –combined with Pixray’s proprietary, AI-powered image tracking system– provides a sustainable, on-brand tool for post-licensing.
Fair Licensing is a tool that handles image theft cases found with Pixray’s AI image copyright checker. Once you double check and flag an unauthorized use from its results, the service supports you in building the case: it creates screenshots, collects contact information for the infringer, and calculates the cost of a post-licensing offer, including any surcharges or discounts. A time and hassle saver from the first step.
And best of all, they give you a white label-esque case management portal, complete with a post-licensing process, that you can customize to a T and handle independently. This allows infringers to correctly perceive that they're interacting and reaching an agreement with you directly.
This case management portal lets you create case files with all the relevant information for your post-licensing offer. Then, message the infringer directly via email, offering a post-license agreement with a price. Said infringer can then access the case page and, if willing, buy the retroactive license right there and then.
You can host this portal on your own websites and customize it to display your logo; you can personalize the emails sent from the tool, issue the post-licensing offers directly from it, and collect the money yourself: no middlemen, no representatives, no lawyers scaring people with their legal jargon.
We think being able to not only pursue image post-licensing fees but having complete control over how it’s done is a great added value for artists and brands alike.
The cost of this service splits in two: to run the settlement portal in your own domain, you must pay a monthly fee of €99/mo, and then Pixray cuts 33% of every settlement/post-license you close. There is also an Enterprise version at €949/mo with just a 25% commission per settlement. In the free membership plan that is also available, you don’t pay any monthly fees but you have a smaller feature set and you split the payment profits 50/50.
For stock photo sites, independent photographers, and visual content creators, Fair Licensing is a service worth checking out. We think it’s well worth the cost.
The clear advantage of Fair Licensing (and what differentiates it from other services) is that it gives you a great deal of autonomy and you operate independently of lawyers and other third parties. It leaves it in your hands to decide how much time and effort to invest in a case, and equally important the post-licensing method can calculate prices even for low-cost photography, allowing you to pursue infringement cases that would be considered a loss otherwise.
All in all, image post licensing has a lot of pros and not many cons when it comes to solving copyright infringement cases. It can add a revenue stream to your business while strengthening your copyright.
And as an image user, you want to be approached by an owner proposing you to post-license their work and not contacted by some angry attorney demanding you to delete the image and pay them thousands in compensation fees.
This creative method can be the future of copyright enforcement. What do you think?
Image header: Copyright Canva.com / Screenshots Fairlicensing.com / Edits by us