Royalty-Free, Guarantee-Free: The Case For Warrantied Images

Experienced designers know better than to steal images from the Internet, use sample images from microstock (low-priced stock photography) Web sites without buying the full-resolution image, or use a model in a photograph without obtaining the proper release. There’s many other rules to be heeded when using creative of any kind in your work. But a new microstock provider thinks they have found one more pitfall that other stock providers don’t tell you about: the possibility that images aren’t legal before they even become available.

vivozoom-logo

Vivozoom is a microstock provider based in London who sell their images at www.vivozoom.com. The two founders, Tom Donnelly and Lawrence Gould, are former Getty Images executives who saw a need for complete guarantees in the industry. Photographers may offer their images to a stock photography providers, and the providers may do as much due diligence as possible to ensure the image is legal, but there’s no guarantee—and many license agreements say as much.

Emphasis on warranty

Gould and Donnelly saw a business opportunity and created Vivozoom to be the first microstock Web site that warranties its images. Vivozoom launched their beta Web site at the end of May and the service has been up and running for a couple months or so, and their mission is to provide microstock photography that’s guaranteed to be free from legal complications. This means all photography has been checked and proven to be unavailable anywhere else (so a purchased photo won’t show up on another provider’s Web site) and all the proper model releases have been obtained. If a photo on Vivozoom turns out to be improperly licensed or released, they offer legal defense of their customers for damages and costs up to $25,000.

In a twist, photographers who wish to sell work on Vivozoom are accepted by invitation only and vetted by a team of editors and a creative director before acceptance. The vetting procedure’s criteria is image quality, documentation and provenance. There are only a few hundred photographers contributing to Vivozoom (in comparison, Shutterstock has 60,000).

Vivozoom was unique in offering warrantied images, but two other providers have also begun offering warrantied images. In August, Getty Images announced a Web & Mobile image catalog that offers indemnification “so you don’t have to worry about copyright ownership.” And in September iStockPhoto.com began offering warranties for all images in its catalog—the only real difference is they will cover up to $10,000 in damages instead of Vivozoom’s $25,000, and it won’t protect images that are used on items for resale.

Is it necessary?

Is such a guarantee necessary? I’ve used stock photography from a variety of sources over the years and have never had a problem—the creative is safe enough. Gould concedes that there’s a wide range of protection available for stock photography and creative professionals and companies who are “higher up the food chain” gain the most benefit from such protection. Indeed, Vivozoom’s target market is creative personnel in corporations who are sensitive to the usual terms and conditions when purchasing and need the protection of a warranty.

The fact that Vivozoom is “aware of the intellectual property” when offering stock photography for sale makes it not only more palatable for corporations but also a more reassuring deal for the photographers who vend their images online. Photographer Trinette Reed, whose work is on Vivozoom, says, “As a customer I want to see professionally edited content for my project that I know has legitimate releases. I think this is very important. If you are not working with professionals, there is always a risk of not having legitimate releases and this can lead to serious legal issues down the line.”

My experience with Vivozoom

vivozoom-screen

I had the opportunity to try Vivozoom out when I purchased photography for an annual report I recently designed. It was a good experience overall but a little quirky:

  • The selection of photography was great, even though there’s only a handful of contributing photographers compared to other sources. The photography was well-shot and looked great in the final product.
  • Upon login, you are taken to Vivozoom’s homepage which has…nothing on it. Just the navigation and search functions. I like seeing some photography on the homepage of a stock photography website.
  • I needed photos of children of diverse races and age groups, and it was hard sometimes to find just the right photographs. Searches for “Hispanic teenagers” and “African American child” were ultimately successful, but I had to sort through a lot of related images before I found the most perfect matches. This is to be expected when sifting through microstock, but with Vivozoom I had to dig a little deeper.
  • Vivozoom restricts reproducing a standard image more than 250,000 times—in contrast, iStockPhoto.com allows up to 500,000 impressions. Both providers allow unlimited usage when purchased with an enhanced license.
  • Unlike many providers who let you select resolution on a per image basis, Vivozoom’s pay-as-you-go plans require users to opt for print or web resolution images. Opting for print resolution does give you access to web resolution. Designers like me who design for both print and the web will have to pay for the print resolution.
  • iStockPhoto.com lets you purchase images individually with credits. Vivozoom does have a pay-as-you-go plan for a single print resolution image ($45 with enhanced license only) but standard license plans begin with five print resolution images ($49) or 12 web resolution images ($49).

My overall impression is that Vivozoom is a well-stocked provider that makes you go through some browsing and purchasing hassles—subscribers probably will have the best experience, and that makes some sense because Vivozoom is targeting corporate customers who will pay for subscriptions. Designers like me who often purchase photos individually or in small groups will find the pay-as-you-go plans inflexible. But the quality of the work is great and my clients have been pleased.

The future

Gould and Donnelly hope to make Vivozoom a larger presence in the United States and international markets, and also develop into a provider of other media such as video. I think the subject of creative copyright and warranty is going to heat up in the next ten years, because the stock photography industry will most likely move toward offering warranties with images and other media—stories about violated copyrights flare up too often and no designer wants to be involved in one.

There will also be plenty of designers and unwitting users who filch material from the Internet. A lot of these people simply don’t know it’s illegal, but a lot know it is but find it too easy to pull graphics from their web browsers. Companies such as Google who strive to make books and videos available to everyone online only make the murky topic even murkier. “No one wants to halt the benefits that come with ease of use online,” Gould says. “But photographers and distributors deserve to get paid for their work while our customers deserve the peace of mind. In a culture where theft is euphemistically known as file sharing, how can these working professionals survive when perhaps the most underreported online crime is ignored?”