Microstock photography, pest insects, and copyright


I enjoy the dubious distinction of being the most infringed photographer I know. Every week I send at least a dozen takedown notices to commercial entities using my photographs without permission. I’ve sent one this morning already. My photos end up in youtube commercials, on coupons for pest services, in website banners, in company blog entries, on product labels. If every commercial infringer paid my usual commercial rates, I calculated once, I’d be making a comfortable 6-figure annual salary.

Of course, not every infringer has the budget for my standard rates, and that might explain why they take without paying.

The trouble is that the photography market isn’t a single market. It is several distinct markets- an art market, an editorial market, a microstock web market, and others- each with its own culture and pricing structure. I sell primarily to magazines & textbooks, I sell at market rates (typically $60-$400/image), and I have few if any infringement problems in that market.

My pest images could also be sold in the cheap and fast microstock market. This new arena includes the folks who create local exterminator websites and who are used to paying a few cents to a few dollars for an image. Web designers think $100 for an image is insane, even though publishers routinely pay more than that. I’m not going to price my regular photos down out of the market that sustains me just because web designers trained on microstock think I’m nuts. That’d be professional suicide.

I can, however, run an experiment. What if I take a pile of forgotten, unused photographs and offer web-resolution versions at microstock prices? After all, the images aren’t doing any good gathering dust on my hard drives.

The graphic at the top shows 21 of the most common pest ants in North America, covering the bulk of my infringement headaches at the species level. None of the images appear in my regular galleries. For a variety of reasons they did not make the cut for my high-res work, but as small 400-pixel pictures they’re great for display in a blog post. The whole pest ant composite can be downloaded as a royalty-free stock image for $34.95. This works out to under $2 per ant.

Will anyone license this graphic? Beats me. But it’ll provide insight as to whether infringers take my images because they can’t afford them, or because they’re just very, very bad people*.

Individual ants in the graphic appear at this resolution.

*Kidding! I’m just kidding! Many infringements stem from a widespread misperception that anything on Google is public domain. 

11 thoughts on “Microstock photography, pest insects, and copyright”

  1. I think that’s a great response — you get an opportunity to enter a new market as well as finding out whether the infringement is because of the price or just because it’s easy to do. It would be great if you could do a follow-up post to let us know how this turns out!

    1. Wow. That blog you linked to was strange (let alone there were several of Alex’s pictures on that particular post).

    2. Midnight Rambler

      What on earth is the point of that site? It’s just a lot of pirated images combined with text pasted from Wikipedia, often forming a grossly inaccurate mixture (e.g. a scorpion under “xylophagous insects”). Is making a few cents from ad hits really worth it?

  2. *I think you are too kind. Most of the people who take images off the web know perfectly well that they are stealing. They just don’t expect to get caught.

    1. I’m not so sure. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with some well-meaning but very confused pest control company owners who seemed to genuinely believe that anything on the internet is fair game.

  3. I think I am more fascinated by your ability to find sites that contain copies of your photographs. Granted the watermark is a good indicator, but to not only find a potential website, but the one page among potentially hundreds that contain the image(s) seems to be an impossible task.

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