Online Theft Costs the Photo Industry up to $10 Billion

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In contrast to illegal film and music downloads, file sharing of copyrighted images goes largely unchallenged

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It is the same copyright infringement issue that the music industry is fighting - but who has more money and therefore more power to lobby the government?

Vivozoom (, the microstock business with the first and most extensive image warranty, has announced that the tacitly accepted practice of stealing stock and microstock images adds up to as much as $10 billion annually. While the entertainment industry targets the worst violators who share music and movie files online, the practice of image theft rages at the expense and embarrassment of stock and microstock customers unknowingly using unauthorized images, and of photographers whose revenues are cannibalized. This cycle is something Vivozoom is aiming to end by setting a standard for protecting both purchasers and photographers by legally defending any of its customers for damages and costs totaling up to $25,000.

The confusion over image rights in general can lead to the downloading and use of unauthorized photos. The Los Angeles Times was recently called out on various blogs (for example: for lifting copyrighted, all-rights reserved photos of wildfires from the image-hosting site Flickr.

According to PicScout (, a company that uses image-recognition technology to track content on the Internet, some 85 percent of the rights-managed images detected on commercial websites are being misused, as reported by its customers over the last seven years. Stock and microstock theft totals up to $10 billion, based on PicScout's 85 percent figure and annual revenues of $2 billion for the stock image market.

Even with such losses, the stock industry has not responded with the same vigilance as the music or film industries. One photojournalist, Leif Skoogfors, who over four decades has covered wars in the Balkans, Central America and Northern Ireland for such publications as Time and Newsweek, estimates he has lost $180,000 in income on just two of his photos widely lifted from the Web. "Nearly everyone who uses unauthorized copyrighted photos has a good chance of getting away with it," Skoogfors said. "Often, they aren't even aware they're illegal."

"This is not an isolated incident," said Skoogfors' attorney Nancy R. Frandsen, who specializes in copyrights and trademarks for the law firm of Woodcock Washburn and has represented both sides in the larger intellectual property dispute. "It is the same copyright infringement issue that the music industry is fighting - but who has more money and therefore more power to lobby the government?"

Lawrence Gould, co-founder and CEO of Vivozoom comments: "The ease of online access, through tools like Google Images, is challenging the concept of image copyright. When thousands of images are easily found and copied with a couple of mouse clicks, it's easy to see that people may not realize that there is a cost associated with the use of some images."

Gould, who has logged more than two decades in the stock industry, previously as director of Tony Stone Images and CFO of Getty Images, sees no major obstacles to the continued use of unauthorized images online. Vivozoom aims to address these issues by guaranteeing ownership of all its images, making it the only microstock company to provide a warranty (

"No one wants to halt the benefits that come with ease of use online," Gould said. "But photographers and distributors deserve to get paid for their work while our customers deserve the peace of mind. In a culture where theft is euphemistically known as file sharing, how can these working professionals survive when perhaps the most underreported online crime is ignored?"

About Vivozoom
Vivozoom ( is a new microstock-licensing company that combines carefully selected images - all photographers contribute by invitation only - and the industry's first and most extensive ownership guarantee. The company promises to legally defend its customers for damages and costs totaling up to $25,000. Established by former Getty Images executives Lawrence Gould and Tom Donnelly, Vivozoom features an easy-to-use Web site offering the work of such microstock celebrities as Andres Rodriguez, Yuri Arcurs, Ron Chapple and Kirsty Pargeter.

Media Contact         
Mark de la Vina
Consort Partners
Tel: +1 415 282 4795


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