Heather Elder Represents
Reps Journal

Image Rights: Combatting Copyright Theft

This insight was published on February 22, 2017, by way of The Lab at Agency Access, and was originally published here.  Dealing with improper or uncredited use of an image can be an expensive nightmare, but Joe Naylor, co-founder of ImageRights International has the solution.

What if millions of pieces of artwork were stolen and the robbery went unnoticed? One may say that is impossible; but in today’s world of technology and access, the inconceivable is in fact our harsh reality. Thousands of images are stolen around the world every day.  Whether the infringement is committed unwittingly or deliberately as part of a shrewd business model, copyright infringement has had a devastating impact on the livelihoods of professional photographers and on the industry as a whole. So how does one stem the tide against this rampant theft? Technology, top-tier legal representation and the passion and conviction to take on the infringers day in and day out.  That is exactly what we have assembled at ImageRights International, where our express mission is to get photographers paid for their work.

Ten years ago, professional photographer Ted VanCleave found that he was falling victim to the dreaded right-click and save. Everywhere he looked his images were being used without permission by businesses, blogs, news agencies, you name it.

Many photographers were simply overwhelmed by the vast number of sightings they were finding of their images online.  They didn’t know where to begin. They typically didn’t have access to good legal representation or if they did, it was too expensive. Furthermore, the time and resources required to pursue these claims would eventually consume them, taking them away from their livelihood, their photography. Many saw this as reason enough to just accept copyright infringement as the new norm.

So, in 2010 we launched our ImageRights Recovery service, providing the resources necessary to empower photographers to successfully pursue the infringers. We have since become experts at assessing infringement claims, which we do for our photographers at no cost.  We have pre-negotiated terms with top-tier law firms from around the world to serve on their behalf. And, ImageRights fronts the legal costs on behalf of our photographers so that something like the cost of a court filing fee doesn’t deter them from pursuing an otherwise good claim.

To make the whole process manageable, we have developed software that sorts, filters and ranks the sightings so our photographers see and can focus on the best candidates for recovery first. We have also integrated the sightings reports into our claim submission and case management platform, which greatly simplifies and speeds up the claim submission process.

Photographer, Sheila Smart wrote, “In less than a year I have seen the results of ImageRights. I joined in April 2016 and they have already settled four cases which were won and paid, have settled two with outstanding payments, and twenty-four active cases.

Soon after we had launched the Recovery Service, we realized how critical registration with the U.S. Copyright Office was for successfully pursuing infringement claims in the U.S. By automating the copyright registration process with the U.S. Copyright Office and integrating it with our services, it is now incomparably easier for photographers to register their work.

To embed this process directly into our photographer’s daily workflow, we developed the ImageRights plugin for Adobe Lightroom.  This enables clients to publish photos to their ImageRights account for search and create new USCO registration submissions from directly within Lightroom. Registration has never been more accessible or streamlined.

Photographer Jason Langley wrote, “I have been working with ImageRights since 2011 and during that time they have successfully negotiated many settlements. They make the entire process more manageable and less time-consuming by offering a full suite of tools to help protect copyright.” That, in a nutshell, is exactly what we are trying to do: deliver a powerful, efficient, and effective service that gets you paid for your work.

Now seven years in, we are serving more than 8,000 photographers and photo agencies, including clients such as Magnum Photos, Nunn Syndication Ltd., Lickerish Ltd., and a slew of iconic photographers such as Paul Slattery, Eric Meola, and Al Satterwhite. And I’m proud to be able to say that we have registered more than 500,000 images with the USCO, received more than 30,000 claims for assessment and successfully brought in more than $6,000,000 in settlements and damages awards from nearly 30 different countries across North America, Europe, and Australia.