Why Buy the Cow When You Can Get the Download for Free?

By Mikal E. Belicove|For Entrepreneur.com|September 17, 2009

There’s no image–not an aerial shot of the Taj Mahal at dawn or of me as a baby–that isn’t available for someone to download online. And chances are, most entrepreneurs and bloggers are doing it without paying for it.

Online photo theft is arguably one of the most rampant, underreported crimes on the internet. Perhaps for the first time, the problem has been quantified: Lawrence Gould, CEO of the microstock photo service Vivozoom today announced that as much as $10 billion is lost by the photo industry from the combined theft of stock and microstock images.

Throwing around a figure like $10 billion is bound to be met with skepticism and cynicism, as is Vivozoom positioning itself as the microstock company with the first, most extensive guarantee that its images are safe to use. The company backs that with a promise to cover any legal challenges up to $25,000. But Gould, who was the CFO of Getty Images when it went public, is a veteran of the field who can speak about the subject with authority. His estimate is based on the findings of the image-tracking services of PicScout, which determined that as much as 85 percent of all rights-managed images found on commercial websites are misused, as reported by its customers over the last seven years.

The stock image market industry, which nets $2 billion annually, has become accustomed to unauthorized use of its photos. The two largest stock companies in the field, Getty Images and Corbis, report a combined 112,000 examples of copyright infringement a year. Even if the $10 billion figure is in question, improper use of online images is an accepted practice, as common perhaps–especially among bloggers–as …

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