How Big a Problem Is Copyright Infringement?

A German company looks at the problem of image theft and copyright violation in a new report.

A German company looks at the problem of image theft and copyright violation in a new report.

It comes as no surprise to photographers that large numbers of images are “stolen” each day on the Internet.  Photos are copied and pasted by ordinary folks who don’t know any better.  And images are taken and used by people and businesses that know or ought to know that they are violating someone’s copyright.  But just how big a problem is this?

A German company named Copytrack decided to find out.  Their findings are laid out in the “Copytrack Global Infringement Report 2019.”  As they calculate it, about 2.5 billion images are stolen each day, resulting in more than €532.5 billion (about $600 billion) in damages such as lost licensing fees.  The United States accounted for almost 23% of image theft.

These are shocking numbers but should be taken with a grain of salt.  The bulk of the data comes from analysis of more than 12,000 Copytrack users, who may not be representative of the larger population.  Note also that Copytrack is a service that performs reverse image searches to find instances of illegal use of subscribers’ copyrighted images.  The search is free.  The company makes money by taking copyright violators to court on subscribers’ behalf and keeping 50% of any judgement.  It is, therefore, in their interest to highlight studies that show rampant theft of images.  The larger the problem, the more attractive their service may be.  This does not mean that the data and conclusions are necessarily flawed, only that we be a bit cautious in our use of what’s in this study.

The report has some other useful information, such as the most popular sizes and resolutions of stolen images (1920 x 1080), the cities and countries with the highest numbers of stolen images, and more.

For years, NANPA has been concerned about the problems of copyright infringement and image theft.  Our Advocacy Committee works to “represent and protect the rights of nature photographers on a wide range of copyright and intellectual property issues.”  And NANPA is part of a coalition of visual artist associations working to improve laws protecting the intellectual property (IP) rights of artists.

As a NANPA member, you have access to specially-written “Owner Take Down” and “ISP Take Down” Notices you can use if you find your images being used without permission.  You can watch webinars on How to Register Your Copyright, on Plagiarism in Photography and many more topics, while NANPA’s blog covers copyright and sessions on these issues are offered at NANPA Summits and other events.  Just sign in to the Members’ Area of the NANPA website for more details.

As photographers, we do what we can to protect our images.  We stay vigilant and educate ourselves.  And we use NANPA’s training and tools to go after anyone we find misusing our photos.

Have you found someone illegally using or sharing your images?  What did you do?  Share your story with us at publications@nanpa.org.