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85% Of Images Online Used Without Permission? That’s Lowballing

By Kishore Sawh on April 15th 2014


Overuse of a word can lead to a desensitization of its meaning. ‘Theft,’ isn’t immune, but it still leaves a bitter aftertaste. As creatives, we are both creators and consumers of content, and ‘theft’ is always hanging over and around us, even guised in terms like ‘misappropriation.’ Imagery is as powerful a means of communication, as the word ever was, and is a pillar of communication. Image use has metastasized, arguably exponentially over the past decade, and that means there are more creators and places to draw images from, and more consumers looking for it. It seems as though this type of content has become a victim of its own success as it’s altogether too easy to ‘misappropriate’ without penalty, and eventually that could lead to a dilution of the quality pool.

The licensing tool IMGembed has recently released a white paper with some bold statements and figures. Amazingly, as bold as they are, they are not surprising. The big number that stands out is 85%. That’s the figure they say represents the amount of images online being used without permission. Of course, they then go on to suggest how their service with a way forward to limit that, and tip the scales in favor of ‘fairness.’



They do not offer any breakdown of how that figure was generated, but do list some other enormous figures to show how many images are uploaded daily to many platforms. It also goes on to explain some major reasons why there is this issue, listing among them citing copyright trolling, time constraints, market confusion as to where to get images from legally, and of course, the low risk of getting caught and charged.

[REWIND: How To Easily Add Copyright In Lightroom & In Camera]

The system they provide does seem elegant, simple, and a step forward and is part of a growing trend towards licensing sites implementing embed tools which also make sharing trackable in many cases, rather than direct downloads. Getty is the most obvious recent adopter and Flickr has also changed its embedding options.


First and foremost, that 85% stands out for me. Why? Because I think they’re lowballing. It’s hardly a secret that blog posts on tumblr, Facebook, regards on Instagram, etc go without permission or appropriation. The entire business model has to shift, and this is something I’ll likely be addressing at a later time. Just like the music industry a few years back, our industry is at a crux.

Regarding IMGembed, it seems like an elegant tool and I’m actually going to sign up for it to play around and see how it is. I think it has its problems, but it does give a use a good amount of control. The only immediate issue I see that’s glaring is embedding in the first place. Many sites aren’t up to scratch in that department, and don’t support image embedding easily. Many still require the original image to generate a thumbnail and pre-view, which this system won’t cure.

Via: Design Taxi

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Jason Boa

    Sad but true !

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  2. Hanssie

    Ugh, but how do we get the number down to 0%???

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    • Stan Rogers

      Unfortunately, by never posting anything worth using. The best we can ever come up with is to make it a little more inconvenient. Remember that if all else fails, users can capture what’s on their screens and crop out everything that isn’t your picture. If I can see it on my computer, I can have it (something I’ve tried to explain to software development clients of all stripes for many, many years – data security is about much more than images). And whatever protections you put in place in your own publication practice go right out the window when someone else is using your image (or other creative content) without that protection.

      So right now it’s about law and all the hassle that goes with it. Perhaps eventually the culture will change and the problem will become a fringe thing, but I somehow doubt it will happen anytime soon. It’s going to take something drastic to make a change.

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