iStockphoto Sells Stolen Images – @iStock

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While I was in Florida last week on vacation with my wife, I got a very disturbing email from our upstream provider:

From: support@xxxxxxx.com
Date: September 16, 2010 2:57:23 PM PDT
To: us
Subject: Support Ticket 251258 – ShoeMoney Blog – TOS Violation – DMCA Complaint

Hello,

Please investigate and update this ticket within 24 hours to avoid a disruption in service.

We have received a complaint in connection with the below-pasted details from Mark Jahnon regarding materials contained in the specified web site that are infringing upon the claimant’s intellectual property rights.

We are required by federal law to act expeditiously in removing or disabling access to the infringing materials. We therefore strongly recommend that you immediately remove the infringing materials.

Please note that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, you have the right to file a counter-notice claiming that either (a) the Claimant is wrong and that the Infringing Material is lawfully posted on the Web Site or (b) that the Infringing Material has been misidentified. We encourage you to review the procedures for filing a counter-notice which you can send back to us.

Here is the original DMCA complaint:

I am the copyright owner of the photographs being infringed at:

http://www.shoemoney.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/news-1-200×100.jpg

Copy of photographs being infringed are included to assist with their
removal from the infringing Web site.

This letter is official notification under the provisions of Section
512(c) of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”) to effect
removal of the above-reported infringements. I request that you
immediately issue a cancellation message as specified in RFC 1036 for
the specified postings and prevent the infringer, who is identified by
its Web address, from posting the infringing photographs to your
servers in the future. Please be advised that law requires you, as a
service provider, to “expeditiously remove or disable access to” the
infringing photographs upon receiving this notice. Noncompliance may
result in a loss of immunity for liability under the DMCA.

I have a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner
complained of here is not authorized by me, the copyright holder, or
the law. The information provided here is accurate to the best of my
knowledge. I swear under penalty of perjury that I am the copyright
holder.

Please send me at the address noted below a prompt response indicating
the actions you have taken to resolve this matter.

Sincerely,

Mark Jahnon

Now, this is all really interesting because we purchased the photograph on iStockphoto.

The photo in question was used as a thumbnail in my post about how to get press for your website.

The post went pretty viral and has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times in the last week, so I figured one of 2 things had happened:

  1. It’s someone messing with us (yes, this happens… even though it’s a crime).
  2. The copyright holder simply did not know that we purchased it.

So I took a little time out of my family vacation and updated the ticket with a copy of the receipt from iStockphoto. I figured that would be that and I could resume my vacation.

But then I got this response from our provider:

Hello,

The complainant has responded that iStockphoto did not have the right to sell licenses for the image in question. They have reported the issue to iStockphoto who have reportedly taken the image down. They are still requesting that the image be taken down from your site.

WTF?

Since it had been many days since the original request was submitted, I first went to iStockphoto’s website and searched to see if the image had been removed. To my surprise, it was still there. Something is up…

I updated the ticket requesting a copy of the original take down request and the contact information for the person who made the request. I also reminded them that it is a criminal offense to take part in a false DMCA take down notice.

They responded with the person’s contact information and I proceeded to contact the person claiming to be the copyright holder, Mark Jahnon.

I spoke with Mark a bit and it turns out he is the real deal. He said iStockphoto has ignored all of his take down requests and is acting criminal. He is moving forward with litigation against them later this month.

I can confirm the photo that started this whole thing is still for sale on iStockphoto’s website:

istock photo

It seems that iStockphoto has become a great place for thieves to steal images and make money. Who knew?

UPDATE:

You have to read this follow-up story.

102 thoughts on “iStockphoto Sells Stolen Images – @iStock

  1. Andrew Bleakley

    I always bought images form iStock because it seemed better to spend a few bucks and cover my backside – stupid me, now I need to go and sure up all the images I assumed I was allowed to use.

        1. Lapp

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  2. Angela Wills

    Oh great! Yea it never even occured to me that people might be doing this.

    Since I’m paying for it I just expect iStockPhoto’s photos to be legit. But really how can they possibly check? I would imagine they’re just going on the honor of those submitting the photos that they have the rights to them.

    1. Matt

      Even if they are just going based upon the honor system that’s fine… as long as they take action and remove the photos when requested and preferably stop accepting photos from the person who uploaded it.

          1. Tyler@iStock

            No credit has been asked for. Unless there’s been a mixup, we have no record of you contacting us. I sent you an email asking for a few details so we can 1) determine if there is actually a problem with the file you downloaded, 2) offer a credit if that is actually the case.

            We take every step to ensure contributors own the images they upload. Obviously, some will slip through — it’s unreasonable to assume we can prevent this 100% of the time.

            We do offer a legal guarantee to our customers though, protecting them in these rare instances.

            And, as I said in my comment below, we do take this sort of thing seriously. We aim to ensure all our customers get the highest level of service.

            I’m sure we’ll be able to sort this out soon and we do sincerely apologize for the hassle and inconvenience.

          2. Tyler@iStock

            I promise you I’m only posting as myself. Though you’ve got me curious and I’m going to ask around.

            Also, if you could email me directly (tyler.hellard@istockphoto.com) we can probably get you sorted out faster. If the image is stolen, we do want to know that. Also, if you’re due a refund, we’d like to help you with that as well.

            Please, get in touch. And again, I’m sorry about all the hassle.

  3. JR Miller

    wow. so I see the “illustrator” in question at iStock has a portfolio full of similar images/designs. Do all of those belong to Jahon? I find it rather interesting that iStock still has them for sale on their site. In my experience with iStock they usually act pretty fast, something is odd here for sure.

  4. Mark Mason

    Wow — I never even considered the implications of this — I have always assumed that buying the image from iStockPhoto protected me. Very interesting indeed.

    Mark
    masonworld.com

  5. Tyler@iStock

    Mr. Schoemaker, I work at iStockphoto and we take stuff like this pretty seriously. I’ve contacted various departments in our office about this issue, and as far as we can tell, no one at iStockphoto — including our lawyer and compliance enforcement department, who will deal with “stolen” images — has been contacted about this image by either you or Mark Jahnon. In fact, until you made this post, we had no idea there may be a problem regarding ownership of the file.

    We’re going to look into the matter a bit further, but for the time being we have no reason to believe the image you purchased was used in violation of either our terms or anyone else’s rights. Should we find out differently, we’ll take the appropriate action at that time.

    Meanwhile, our compliance enforcement team is always available to answer any questions or concerns you or anyone else has about this image, or any other. They can be reached by email at ce@istockphoto.com.

    Thanks.

    Tyler@iStock

  6. Tim L. Walker

    I call bullshit. How did iStock get full-rez versions of his photos/graphics if he didn’t upload them to iStock? Is a huge company like that going to troll around the internet looking for images to sell for $2?

    1. justAIMe

      As Jeremy pointed out in his “Getting press for your website, application, or service” if you do your homework and “stalk” the person you can easily gain lot of information about someone from the net. Especially if they are of some importance ie,. a report, writer, graphic artist/ photographer. So maybe someone stumbled upon his portfolio and decided to submit the image to iStock. I don’t believe anyone said iStock was the one who stole the image to use to sell for $2,..Which by the way if you take a popular image and sell it enough times at $2 it keeps adding up it’s all about the numbers!

      Could this possibly have been a black hat scheme? Steal enough images and upload them to numerous stock photo sites and generate money from the stolen images?

      All I know is Jeremy covered his ass and rightfully purchased the photo. So he is a victim here so to speak. In my opinion iStock is 100% at fault.

      Just my two cents.

      1. Tim L. Walker

        Well, if he left hi-res images of his portfolio online to be taken, it’s at least partially his own fault. And certainly I know many photographers that make a good living selling $2 microstock photos.

        Jeremy may have “covered his ass” by buying the photos, which I fully support… though I think he jumped the gun with his post before even contacting iStock.

        1. justAIMe

          So if I have to run into a store really quick and leave my car keys in the ignition is it partially my fault if it gets stolen? By far one of the stupidest things I’ve heard there buddy!

          Jumped the gun with this post? Didn’t know there was a waiting period on when he could post about something that happened to him. He was simply putting it out there. Something like this should have never happened in the first place bottom line.

          1. Tim L. Walker

            If you leave your keys in the car and run into the store, yeah, you should feel partially responsible… LOL. Sure it’s not your fault, but you’re just asking for it to be ripped off. If someone is going to watch their copyright closely enough to send out DMCA complaints, they should know enough not to leave full-rez versions of their images laying around. Buddy.

            As for jumping the gun, this post is very negative towards iStock, and Shoe called them out pretty harshly without even (allegedly) contacting them first. I would call that jumping the gun. If it turns out that iStock is in the right (which is not looking super likely, I’ll admit), Jeremy’s lawyers might advise Shoe that he jumped the gun, too. ;)

            That all being said, I agree that something like this should not have happened in the first place… ;)

          2. HilarityEnsues

            You are delightfully ignorant.

            Car keys, front door–use any kind of gross negligence metaphor that you like, you aren’t the one who committed the crime but you are guilty of being an idiot.

            And yes, creating a negative claim without doing any actual fact-finding or attempting to contact each of the parties is at best disingenuous, at worst it’s a cheap ploy at stirring up controversy.

  7. T.F. Simmons

    Well if I rightfully purchased a license to use an image and received a notice like this I would contact the stock agency. Did you? Isn’t that why you pay for a license to have some protection.

  8. Mark Hall

    This is a real unfortunate situation for Shoemoney as well as Mark Jahnon. Stock photo sites such as istockphoto.com should be held solely responsible and they should be required to reimburse you for your expenses. Thanks for the post, it will provide all your readers like me with additional caution when shopping for images.

    1. T.F. Simmons

      Have you even read this blog?, did you really miss iStocks comment:
      “Mr. Schoemaker, I work at iStockphoto and we take stuff like this pretty seriously. I’ve contacted various departments in our office about this issue, and as far as we can tell, no one at iStockphoto — including our lawyer and compliance enforcement department, who will deal with “stolen” images — has been contacted about this image by either you or Mark Jahnon.” Seems like Shoemoney has a hate on and is making this stuff up.

  9. SuperbadIM

    It just goes to show that www actually stands for wild wild west! DMCA has some pretty strict requirements, as you know. I actually have a complete Internet Marketing Legal Guide on my website for FREE. Check it out.

  10. Robin

    Among other things, this is a really good reason to watermark all the photos that you post that are your own. I have had several problems where people have stolen my photos and posted them for sale on stock photo sites. At first I was just watermarking the lower right corner – but the jerks just cropped the mark out, now the barely visible mark goes front and center. Even worse, people steal “personal” photos like vacation shots and such and bundle them on disks to sell on eBay as Royalty Free Photos.

  11. Andrew Johnson

    Its no secret that its pretty easy for someone to sell images on istockphoto that they don’t have the rights to. What is surprising is their (apparent) lack of enforcement.

    What I think is even more interesting is that iSockphoto is owned by Getty Images, the company that is notorious for sending out blanket “extortion letters” to website owners who allegedly are publishing photos Getty Images has rights to, demanding large sums of money in exchange for not getting sued.

  12. Affiliit

    Sounds like someone purchased these from the guy and went to resell them on iStockPhoto? I use them all of the time, so I’m hoping I’m not using stolen images, too… especially since I paid for them lol

      1. T.F. Simmons

        That is exactly what is appears to be. If you have a license, the first point of contact would be the source that you purchased it from. According to iStock they have not been contacted by either party. Seems very odd as why wouldn’t you take advantage of any indemnity that is available.

  13. John

    Sounds like Jeremy makes blog posts to publicly bash a company and then contacts them later for a follow up. Nice.

    iStock should sue you for defamation. Your title “iStockphoto sells stolen images” is clearly defamation without any sort of proof. Any lawyer will tell you if you’re going to make bold statements like that, insert the word “allegedly” before doing so.

    1. T.F. Simmons

      Innocent until proven guilty. I see they have responded saying this is the first they have heard about it. Seems like BS and I will continue to use them as my image source. In 7 years I have never had an issue that they have not helped me. If it were me in Shoemakers shoes, I would have at least let them know.

  14. John

    PicApp.com is a good free site for images for blogs. Never had a problem with them, albeit the images are in JavaScript format.

  15. BourneMMA

    Sorry to hear that. That is a bit disturbing.

    Wouldn’t some photos fall under fair use? And what about using a photo but giving credit in the post or under the photo?

    I would love to hear your insight on this Jeremy.

    1. bruce

      while giving credit may appease the original creator/author, it does not absolve any liability to copyright infringement. many times the copyright may not even be owned by the original author. (works made for hire) in most instances, steps need to be taken to come to an agreeable arrangement between both parties so that the copyright holder can issue a license to the individual requesting permission.

  16. bruce

    also, regarding fair use…that term gets thrown around a lot as if it were an exemption or protection of some sort. fair use is a legal defense strategy when accused of infringement in court. there are certain criteria that need to be met in order for the alleged infringement to be considered fair use. in the end, it is up to the judge to decide whether or not this is the case.

  17. cutcaster

    I’m loving the comments from “others” that the istock guys posted up there in defense of selling illegal images. I hope that Tyler isnt looking for a job after that bungled attempt to portray the company diffferently.

  18. Alexis Wilke

    Actually, it looks to me that this was a really good post. He’s got tons of comments in no time! 8-) If I could get that many in a single day… I’d be happy.

    Now my personal point of view, why would Jeremy contact iStock for $2?! Just taking the picture off his site and talk about it because he’s a bit upset, sounds quite logical to me.

    In regard to jumping the gun, we’re in a free country so you have the right to say whatever you want… especially talking about facts. 8-)

  19. John Weaver

    Wow…I’m pretty surprised to see this about iStock. I’ve always heard good things about them. Looks like the response is going to be a long one. Good luck man.

  20. AlexDumas

    A quick search on other microstock agencies would have showned you that the exact same file is sold by the same individual.

    So either all microstock agencies are selling illegal images and aren’t doing anything against this or the Mark person isn’t really the legal owner of these images.

  21. Wagner

    Istockphoto is a very reliable microstock site. I’m a contributor and i use to buy photos and vectors sometimes. I never have any kind of problem and i I know how Istock takes seriously this kind of problem. It happens to all companies, by the way.

  22. Joey

    Just another nail in IStock’s coffin.
    They are already on the down-slide. They’ve been increasing prices for years and will be cutting the money they pay their independent contributors down to 15% starting January. The lowest any image site pays.
    There’s plenty of alternatives out there that pay their illustrators and photographers better and charge less.

  23. Sean Locke

    Just another IS contributor here, but I’m curious…

    “I spoke with Mark a bit and turns out he is the real deal.”

    What makes him the “real deal”? I find no “Mark Jahnon” on google anywhere. The contributor of the image in question has thousands of 3d renders across various sites, the ones on IS uploaded over the last year or so. There are other images using the same mouse model, but you’ve not mentioned “Mark” being upset at any of those. Not the pattern of the usual “image thief”.

    So, I’m not buying it without more information about “Mark”. (You can check my IP ;) )

    1. JR Miller

      I have to agree with Sean here. There are a lot of accusations flying here at iStock and no proof with regards to Mark Jahnon, contacting iStock, etc. I’ve dealt with the compliance enforcement at iStock in the past and in my experience they take these matters very seriously. Don’t deflect the issue by pointing out commenters in this thread and their IP addresses (ever heard for DHCP?) get back to the facts. Did you and/or Mark Jahnon contact iStock about this issue or not?

  24. Ari Lestariono

    Your right PPC are deads, many accounts has been banned by Google.Also I stopped using PPC before I loose a lot of money..Now I’m doing free traffic back to SEO basic stuff.Good lucj guys

  25. macoteca

    I used to buy a lot of photos at iStock, If any of them have rights the problem should to be for them or the people who has sold one stolen image as “royalties free”, not for the customer, I will take care about this, I wouldn´t have been able even to imagine something like that. I don´t think it is the istock fault 100% and I hope that they will find the seller.

  26. Garage Guy

    I use iStock photos all the time but now I am very concerned.

    I’m now going to shoot all my own photos for my use and then sell the on iStock just to cover my expenses.

  27. Fairy Lady

    I am having a similar problem, i am getting letters from Getty images regarding an image that was bought from istock photo. Apparently its not their problem that i paid for it and still keep getting letters demanding money.

  28. Pilotgardens

    Copyright is a minefield but you would think that buying from a site like iStock would avoid this type of trouble. Please keep us updated on this story.

  29. Kerry Crow

    If you type in the image number on the i-stock site you will notice the image has been removed. Contributors to I-stock need to indicate that they own copyright to any work before they upload. Obviously some people will try to scam. If that was the case that user will now be blocked. I would expect there to be some lag time before the image was removed while the claim was being investigated. istock seems to have done their job and dealt with the situation. The culprit here is the scum who thought they could get away with uploading work that did not belong to them, not istock. You don’t mention who the contributor was who uploaded the file in the first place.

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  31. User

    Hello, I am wondering Jeremy how this ended up? I only came to the site because I wanted to see what happened to iStockphoto about your headline. Please, be a real man and have the integrity to respond. Otherwise more people like me will come to your site when we otherwise wouldn’t have, and get disappointed and tarnish your reputation, which you seem to have a lot of. I am sorry if I sound passive aggressive, that is not my intent at all.

  32. LAW

    I didn’t even know people actually brought istock photos other than me.

    I use them to avoid being send a DCMA, but you can still get them LOL.

    Safest bet is to make your own :D

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