Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Open Rebellion At iStockphoto

In 2012 I posted an article regarding the purchase of iStockphoto by Getty Images in 2006 and how rocky that business relationship has been over the intervening years.  

It has now taken a turn for the worse.  

The latest outrage amounts to a behind the scenes deal between Getty and Google to provide rights free images to Google Drive service.  This deal was in the works since October and November of 2012 but never announced to iStock’s contributors until one photographer, Sean Locke uncovered it and posted the specifics on the site forum.  This in turned, forced management to post an announcement with more details, none of which calmed the fears of contributors concerned about their content being devalued.  

To the dismay of many, the deal is fairly one sided in Getty and Google’s favor.  These images are free to all comers and while contributors were paid up to $12 for each image, all normal licensing agreements went discarded, as did the metadata in the files documenting copyrights.  These images can now be used in any commercial manner by whomever downloads it.  Once upon a time, models were assured strict policing of their likenesses being used inappropriately.  Not so with this Google arrangement.  Some photographers are also concerned as some of the free images feature pictures of children and some photographers use their own children as models.  Also, some fear a model suing them if they see their image used wrongly.  Much angst over that issue as with many other details.  

As one contributor stated in the forum discussion, “Why should I have my photos here for sale when anybody can have them free at Google?  Why indeed?  It should be pointed out that no contributor was given the option to opt out of this mess and management is clear that an “opt out” would never be given.  Yet many beg for it as if that will work.  It would be fair but these corporate goons have no feelings for such things as that.

With the artist supplier’s agreement (i.e. contract, ASA) so vaguely written with plenty of fancy lawyer talk, Getty is free do to as they please with the photographer’s, illustrator’s, and videographer's content.  It’s worded in such a way, that if they wanted to, they could place a photographer’s entire portfolio up for free at Google.  As one poster pointed out, the ASA may be breached because content is to be sold to the end user.  Since Google is not using said content but instead, posting it on a platform for free distribution all over the world, it would appear this is a contractual violation.  But alas, I am no lawyer.  Contributors are paid of course, but it’s a  one-time payment so Getty can say, with a straight face, that everybody was reimbursed as a result of this screwy deal.  

Ultimately, none of the makes any business sense and with Getty sneaking around behind contributor’s backs with these deals, which illustrates gross corporate malfeasance.  Many iStock members are in shock of this development, feel they can no long trust their agent/distributor, feel disrespected, and are ready to move on.

As contributor Leeavison pointed out:

“How on earth can this benefit contributors!! The entire rights to an image given away forever for $12. No back-link from Google, no artist acknowledgement. There is absolutely no benefit to contributing artists whatsoever as far as I can see!”

It really is outrageous what Getty did with this stunt, without the image creators being informed about what was going on, no permission asked for, licensing agreements tossed out the window, and copyrights ignored.  The hubris on display here is as great any despotic monarchy treating their subjects as they would their livestock.

D-Day - February 2
So what is a person to do against these corporate titans?  Many are openly ready to cast off their exclusivity and seek other agencies to sell through.  They have set a date of February 2nd to do a mass deleting of images from their portfolios and begin the process of shutting down.  However, I’ve have seen few of the major sellers announcing they will be doing such a thing.  Since I am a contributor as well, I’ll wait this one out and see how the pieces fall in place.

As I said in my last article on this issue, Getty did not buy iStockphoto with the intent of growing the brand.  The big fish eats the little fish.  The same is true in business, where greed is the hunger and it’s never sated. Getty considers iStock image makers to be a bunch of crowd sourced fodder to do with as they please.  As each controversy unfolds a new level of low is reached.  It’s comical in a way for them to bring on various “officials” some of which nobody has ever seen before, to try and explain each maneuver.  Some of the twisted logic employed is absurd, as if speaking such words would actually change reality and history.  But the sheep are not as believing as they once were with the multitude of broken promises that have occurred.  

About time.

Addendum 2/11/13
Sean Locke, the photographer that first posted information on the Getty/Google deal, in a shocking development, has been terminated from iStockphoto on 2/8.  He will no longer be able to sell his images there anymore.  Check out his blog posting for all of this played out HERE.  More on this in a new posting coming soon.

Addendum 1/22/13
So far, the projected number files to be deleted D-Day, February 2 by contributors at iStock is at over 30,000+.

Addendum 1/17/13
It should be noted that the files in this deal are mostly coming from iStock contributors.  None of Getty’s RM files are being used. iStock image creators are bearing the brunt of this.

Addendum 1/15/13
After posting this article today, iStock responded with a post from a Mr. Erin, one of their obscure admins.  He basically reposted some earlier bullet points regarding the Getty/Google deal which will most like do nothing to calm anyone’s fears.  Basically, nothing that image creators were concerned about, such as model release restrictions, no “opt out” for contributors, and so on.  There was a promise to look into copyright infringement and missing metadata, but their promises are a stall and often unfulfilled.  I don’t know why they bothered.  The issues that concerned people the most were not resolved in any way by today’s posting.  As usual, the administration is inept to say the least when it comes to communicating to the very people that make microstock tick.  

iStock announcement of the deal: