Paul Graham, in the essay Why TV Lost, says the problem with copyright owners — including photographers and agencies — is that they spend too much time worrying about the money they are losing to piracy, and not enough time trying to improve the experience for users. Solving the latter, he argues, can solve the former.
Copyright owners tend to focus on the aspect they see of piracy, which is the lost revenue. They therefore think what drives users to do it is the desire to get something for free. But iTunes shows that people will pay for stuff online, if you make it easy. A significant component of piracy is simply that it offers a better user experience.
The next big step for the photo industry is to figure out how to monetize the huge demand for online visuals while discouraging piracy. No official numbers exist on how many images are “stolen” by a simple “copy and paste,” “save as,” or database hacking. Agencies, as well as independent photographers, will never admit publicly how many of their images are floating around without being properly licensed.
Reactions, Not Solutions
A few tools are slowly emerging as a reaction to the piracy problem. PicScout, for example, will help you after the fact, as will TinEye. But these are reactions, not solutions.
ImageSpan, GumGum and PicApp offer an option, but not a solution. It doesn’t make much sense for third-party companies to concentrate on such a limited model to pick up a few pennies. It will soon be obvious that there is no room for technology companies like these to wiggle in — not between agencies and their clients at least.
Most copyright owners, meanwhile, are still hoping that metadata will save them, forgetting so conveniently that it can be so easily stripped away.
Finally, organizations like the dying Plus Coalition are trying to standardize archaic and complicated options in the ultimate hope to freeze in time-antiquated models.
None of these so-called solutions are making licensing easier.
By proliferating in multiple directions, these organizations — which do not themselves own any copyrights — mostly serve to confuse and distract the marketplace even more.
More Consumption, Fewer Leashes
What we need is to encourage consumption, not add more leashes. Which means we need to stop making our images so incredibly difficult and complicated to purchase.
The microstock sector, taking cues from the traditional royalty-free sector, has grown in popularity by empowering the customer with a smooth and simple process.
That is the next evolution of our industry.