(Note: This post should not be considered legal advice. We offer this for information and education purposes only. If you have any questions about specific usage, please contact the supplier or a copyright lawyer.)

The Rise of the Copyright Hunters

Copyright hunters – This is our term for the many companies popping up in recent years focused on going after people who are using created works without authorization. Many of these companies refer to what they do as copyright protection. I will explain this in more detail below but in general, these companies work on behalf of creators to identify unauthorized use or infringement. Creative pros need to be aware that if they find and grab images online, they are at risk. Even searching on a suppliers site (or on iSPY) you need to be certain you acquire the rights needed to use the image in the way you want. More below.

What is Copyright?
Copyright speaks to the protection offered by governments around the world to “authors of original works.” We will focus on images for this post but any tangible and original work is likely protected – music, images, art, drawings, books. When the work is created, the author immediately owns or is granted the copyright. This gives that artist the right to determine if and how others can use their work. In general, Copyright begins when the work is created and ends throughout the life of the author plus 70 years. There are other conditions where this may be different.

Copyright Protection
This is a term that is often used now to refer to the steps taken by creators to protect their copyright ownership. This can include things like watermarking images, or using a copyright symbol. There are also Creative Commons licenses which now allow the creator or their representative to offer use without compensation, possible with conditions like attribution.

Copyright Hunting
One kind of protection is when a creator or their representative provides copyrighted works to a company who can then use it to search the web for unauthorized use. This is what we call copyright hunting. These companies have technology that crawls the web and identifies every use, even when only with a fraction of the image showing. A report will likely be provided to the creator or their representative so they can determine if the use is authorized or not.

Copyright hunting is sometimes controversial. As you can imagine, with billions of images online, it can be expensive and time-consuming to verify each and every image use many times over. In recent years, some copyright hunters have gone after use not knowing if it was authorized or not, asking for the user to verify or prove that they have a proper license. This has become particularly important today since many images are distributed through many different channels. If they do not have a license, this is treated as an unauthorized use.

So what happens if I can’t prove I have a license?
It depends. Some copyright hunters will give you a chance to purchase the license, at a rate similar to what you would have paid if you had licensed the image originally. Some copyright hunters may charge a premium since the image was used without authorization. While we cannot advise if someone should pay, we can share that in our experience, it is usually cheaper to pay the license fee than fight if you don’t have a license.

So how does iSPY help?
First, we connect you with only the most reputable image suppliers. These companies are clear on what they offer. They understand what images can be used for specific purposes. You can search for images that meet certain criteria – like model releases when needed for commercial use. We include suppliers that offer high-end content, royalty free content, and even Creative Commons suppliers (no fee licensing).

Second, we have created a section for our pro and enterprise users for documents and licenses. You can literally upload a license, connect it to a project, include the image number and supplier information, and file it away for when you get that “nasty gram” asking you to prove you have a license. We think that is pretty awesome!

Feel free to reach out using the small icon on the bottom right of your screen, if you have any questions or suggestions. We are happy to help!

Happy searching!

Leslie Hughes is the  Founder and CEO of iSPY Visuals, Inc., a creative workspace and search one & done aggregation tool for creative pros. Hughes has over 20 years experience in digital media licensing, content production, and distribution, including having been President of Bill Gates’ Corbis Images. She became an entrepreneur 10 years ago, has consulted or been part of 6 start-ups and 12 acquisitions.  She has an MBA from the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, is the proud mother of two and lives and works in New York.

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