After the Instagram upheaval not so long ago, another agency couldn’t resit one of the 7 deadly sins and apparently sold out its own contributors to Google Drive for a measly 12 dollar per photo. Whats this deal you ask? Well let me explain.
On December 6th the Google Drive Blog announced that “5,000 new photos of nature, weather, animals, sports, food, education, technology, music and 8 other categories are now available for your use in Docs, Sheets, and Slides”, basically for free use in Google Drive documents. These photos are wholly owned by iStock/Getty contributors, who licence their photos through Thinkstock or iStockphoto, both owned by Getty Images. Photographers weren’t informed of this deal, and were of course in shock when iStock exclusive top photographer Sean Locke discovered the images on Google Drive. The chain reaction of responses in several threads on iStock and Microstockgroup is close to a revolution in stock photography. To say these photographers are outraged is an understatement. The outrage is over the fact that these images are licensed by Getty to Google in a deal that grants Google a licence to give these images away for free. All meta data and copyright is stripped from the images and everyone can stick them into a Google document. But these images have a resolution of 1,066 x 1,600, some are even bigger, and you can right click and download them to your hard drive. No restrictions. 1.6 to 2.5 megapixel images are big enough to be used in a lot of different projects. I could easily go to Google, get one of the images, and start putting them on mouse mats, mugs, or adds and webpages, etc., you name it.
Apparently lots of these images come from iStock’s Vetta collection and other higher priced collections at Getty. These images are normally purchased for 100 dollar per download. Guess what the photographer got paid for having their image licensed to Google, available for free download to their 425 million users? 12 dollar. Come again. 12 dollar. Yes, 12 dollar. Some photographers are even mentioning they got paid 6 dollar. What’s in it for Getty? The word is 240.000 dollar, but that number is unconfirmed. You might think that’s a nice number, but for giving away 5000 images, its an insult to everyone in the stock photo industry. Top photographers on iStock would sell an image for 20.000 dollar in a distribution deal like this one, yet they got $12 in this Getty/Google deal. RM agencies such as Getty and Alamy have their own online pricing tools for their images on sale. To give you an idea of what a Royalty Managed (RM) licence would normally cost at Getty for a once off limited licence; $3.390 per licence. So the fact all hell broke loose is quite understandable.
There have been some developments over the last few days since this so called ‘scam’ was revealed. Its starting to get momentum on the internet amongst bloggers, photographers and other stock agencies. More blogs are appearing everywhere on the subject and it seems this Getty mess up is going in the direction of the Instagram revolt.
For many years photographers have been shafted by the stock photo agencies, constantly lowering the royalties paid to contributors. iStock has a bad rep already when it comes to royalties as they pay as low as 15% to the photographer and keep a whooping 85% themselves. There has been outrage over the years over the ever increasing prices for images on iStock. Another considered bad move from iStock was when they introduced their notorious RC system which basically makes it impossible for contributors to ever get a higher royalty as the levels of sales they need to achieve are just ridiculous. I guess all the anger has been building up over the years and with the latest move to squeeze even more out of their struggling contributors they have pushed them to the edge and the pot is boiling over. It was the deal that broke the camels back and it is my understanding that D-Day has been announced by the photographers.
D-Day stands for Deactivation Day, meaning iStock contributors will start mass deactivating their images on iStock. The fight of David against Goliath has begun. One photographer can do little, many photographers can achieve just that what they want to get out of iStock and Getty, to stop the industry leader from fucking them over and over. The tally as it stands is that on February the 2nd, 2013 over 15.000 images will be deactivated, with some people already deactivating the images now. Over 1.600 images have been deactivated, and apparently slowing down the growth of the iStock library. This time these furious photographers mean business, many of them also ‘dropping their crown’. Dropping the crown is iStock slang, for dropping their exclusivity with iStock. Their reasoning behind this is that it is no use to be exclusive when your photos are given away for free on the internet.
It will be interesting to see how this is going to progress. In the several forums it is mentioned that some photographers are talking to lawyers. There was even mention of a class act lawsuit. According to Mr. Erin, an iStock employee, this deal is legit and within their own ToS, signed by all photographers submitting their images to iStock. Here is what he has to say on the deal:
We’ve heard you, and we’ve met with Google and are working with them to refine the implementation which we believe will address some of the concerns raised over the past several days–including copyright ownership. Implementation aside, our goal is to do the best deals for Getty Images, iStockphoto and our contributors for the more than one million customers we service on an annual basis. We want to stress that we realize the importance of copyright law, compliance and enforcement to our collective futures. Getty Images is a leader within our industry in advancing these ideas – including active participation in the legislative and government regulatory processes with numerous governing bodies around copyright issues.
Then followed by a list of bullet points with some administration details about this deal with Google Drive. It seems this is only adding to the anger of the community as they will not take any bullshit from iStock any longer.
Will this latest move be the downfall of iStock? Will this blow over in the end? It all depends on how iStock and Getty re going to respond on this latest outcry from their contributors. If they will respond at all. I am hoping for a victory for the photographers involved. I am rooting for my ‘colleagues’, that’s for sure!