Last year I was at the Denny's in Avon, Colorado having some breakfast before heading to the art show at the Beaver Creek Resort. While turning through the Vail newspaper I was stopped by an ad for tree trimming. That's one of my photos on that ad! I assume they acquired the image honestly. This was one of 8 images that a company had purchased some of the rights to about 10 years ago. This was the first time I had seen one of them used but it got me to thinking...how often have those images been used? It occurred to me that I could use TinEye to search the web for these images. TinEye is a web site that does a reverse search on an image that you upload. It's really amazing. As soon as the image is uploaded it grinds away for a few seconds and then tells you something like...
Searched over 1.8627 billion images in 0.111 seconds.
Wow! That is some fast moving stuff there! When I did a search on the image from the tree trimming ad this cover on the National Geographic Guide to Trees was one of the 10 results that came up. Cool!
I decided to try a search on another very similar aspen photo that was part of the submission. Damned if I don't have another book cover show up. One of the other results was a Chinese web site which is probably selling the image illegally unless they are the Chinese version of Getty Images. Maybe someone that understands Chinese can tell me what this web site is about. Most of the other images I sold rights to are also on this Chinese web site but not much else showed up when I TinEyed them. Just the occasional web site use. However, all the images had been distributed world wide so who knows how many other times they sold for print and wouldn't show up on an internet search.
I guess at this point I should give some background on what was sold to who and how this all came about. Back in 2000 I wasn't selling my work at art shows yet. Some of my work had been published and I had sold a few framed prints of my work but I was still at a stage where I was trying to figure out how to sell my work and begin earning a living with my photography. I submitted about 100 of my images to a company called Digital Vision. Another photographer that I knew had licensed some work to them. They made a CD of his images and whenever it sold or usage of an individual image was sold a royalty was paid. I was hoping for the same. The letter I received back was disappointing. They were only interested in 8 of the images I submitted. That obviously wasn't enough for a full CD so their offer was a one time payment of $150 per image. Even though $1200 immediately sounded good at the time I wish I had said no to the deal. I would also not receive any photo credits. Like so many new photographers trying to earn a living today I didn't think about the long term consequences. I was giving them the right to sell usage of these images until the end of time with no further compensation. What if one or several of the images became really big sellers? Some types of image usage could also be worth much more than what my one time payment was. I should have stood firm and insisted that either I receive future royalties or no deal. The photographer should always get a percentage when someone has paid to use one of their images. Always!
Five of the eight images!
In the past decade several of the big stock photo agencies have bought up most of the small agencies. Digital Vision was purchased by Getty, one of the biggest stock agencies on the planet. If you get on the Getty web site and do a search for "aspen trees" my book cover images will show up on the first couple of pages. They don't have my name on them but say Digital Vision.
I think its neat that several of my images have been put on book covers. I think its BS that I didn't get a photo credit for them. I also feel that I left some money on the table when I agreed to the Digital Vision deal. As the late Paul Harvey used to say "and now you know the rest of the story".