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Clip Art And Stock Agencies

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Many issues within the world of Visual Arts impact organizations in different ways. Stock Agencies and Clip Art Firms face issues relating to Art Theft and the Rights of Art Objects. Many stock agencies encounter photo-licensing issues, posing many questions about a photo’s legal usability, while Clip Art Firms encounter copyright issues. With the accessibility of the Internet, stock photography and clip art theft and questions of ownership rights have lead to the creation of protective laws such as the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and using high-tech approaches to combating copyright infringement.

Recently, online stock agencies, like GettyImages.com, have started to scan the Web for illegal use of their images. In 2005, Getty upgraded its in-house technology to determine whether a photo is being used without permission and signed up for a service from an Israeli company called PicScout Inc. PicScout creates digital "fingerprints" for images, allowing it to locate pictures even if a stealthy thief changes a photo by cropping it, resizing it, altering its color or changing its filename. It then sends Web crawlers scurrying through the Internet looking for images, trying to match them to the more than four million copyrighted photos in its database . PicScout charges Getty, and their other major clients, a corporate fee and collects a percentage of the revenue they regain when they bill those who are stealing the images and has established a subscription service for self-employed photographers.

Another company, Digimarc Corp., places a “digital watermark” on photos for sites like Corbis and individual photographers. Images stamped with this watermark appear to be normal. Digimarc provides software that can be downloaded from their website to monitor for illegal use. Like PicScout, Digimarc uses an automated process to scour the Web for its watermarked photos. Digimarc sends regular reports to clients detailing where it has found their images1. Both Getty and Corbis have taken a different approach when it comes to reprimanding the thousands of people who have misused their images. Corbis urges offenders to become paying customers before turning to litigation as a last resort. Getty will send warning letters to sites but will frequently offer to license the images for the normal rates.

Many of these large stock agencies directly employ photographers or have years of professional experience with their contributors. But, lately, they have come into a direct competition with photo-sharing sites. The basis for this concern comes from the growing evidence that user-generated content is shaping more of the future for many types of online businesses, especially in the imaging world . Redbubble.com allows users to upload their images and set their own prices for purchase. They will manage credit card payments, provide high-quality manufacturing, take care of packaging and worldwide shipping, and send the photographer their earnings; while he/she retains the copyright over their own work and decides what products they want to sell. Another site, ifp3.com, allows consumers to host their own pre-made website, while allowing the photographer to share private galleries with their customers and can set their own printing prices.

Opening up Getty and Corbis to consumers would cause issues such as the legal usability of a photo. Questions would arise; how do you know the person who submits the photos actually took them? If it contains a person, has the photo been released? Was the photo shot illegally (e.g., using hidden cameras, or invasion of privacy)? Might there contain certain private or government institutions that make publication of the image a violation of some statutes? How about trademark or copyright issues involving properties, logos or other marks? And then there are problems with international law2.

A photo-sharing site that allows users to sell their images will result in an onset of images that aren't owned by the people who submit them. So how do companies protect themselves from being pulled into legal battles? A law called the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (a.k.a., the DMCA) states, among other things, that "web hosts and Internet service providers have a 'safe harbor' from copyright infringement claims if they implement certain notice and take-down procedures." 2 Three major conditions the DMCA states that many stock agencies already implement are:

1. The photographer warrants that the photos submitted are his and that they were taken legally (and to disclose whether photo releases were obtained for identifiable people)

2. The licensee warrants that it bears full responsibility for using photos within the limits of the law. (Here, they are simply acknowledging what law already establishes.)

3. Both parties recognize that the company does not and cannot vet for the usability of any given photo or photographer, whether it's a matter of copyright ownership or usability by the licensee.

Copyright laws can be tricky. Copyright is a form of protection provided by

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