Imgembed: what and who is it for?

Imgembed styles itself as the “new standard for fair, online image use”, hoping to combat the online ‘theft’ of images. Will it prove to be a genuinely useful service for photographers and photography-users alike? asks photo agent Lisa Pritchard

The Imgembed app

Imgembed styles itself as the “new standard for fair, online image use”, hoping to combat the online ‘theft’ of images. Will it prove to be a genuinely useful service for photographers and photography-users alike?

Imgembed is a new site from the same Singapore team behind Creative Finder and Design Taxi. The latter are both portals for showcasing visual arts projects to the creative community.

It promises to bring ‘Goodness for both the creators and users’. Photographers (and illustrators) can upload images to the site in much the same way that filmmakers can use YouTube and Vimeo, enabling users to generate an embed code to add the image to a different site or blog. If the user ‘attributes’ the photographer they can use the image for free but the photographer also has the option of setting a cost per ‘impression’ at time of uploading the images.

 

Imgembed explained. Curiously, the image used in this demo about a service tackling non-attribution of images includes a somewhat familiar picture. Look closely at the A top middle: It’s the cover image for our May 2007 Annual issue by Dan Tobin Smith

 

 

There are a few reasons why this is of particular interest to me, and a few reasons why it rings alarm bells.

Firstly, there is a massive, and understandable amount of scepticism around at the moment towards photo-sharing, user-generated sites, and the potential for them to monetize content by sub-licencing images. So my first instinct was to check Imgembed’s terms of service. Unable to find these on the website I contacted Imgembed directly but have been told these haven’t yet been released.

Imgembed seems to suggest you upload your images to their site via Facebook, LinkedIn, Flickr and Instagram, but by doing so photographers are going to need to agree to the terms of those particular services – before their images even get to Imgembed. When I pointed this out, Imgembed informed me that you can upload images directly to its site, so this is probably the best option – providing their terms are satisfactory.

My second concern is that any photo-sharing site has the potential to expose photographers to a huge amount of liability as they have no control over where their images might be used or in what context. I am not clear who Imgembed’s users are likely to be or who it is going to be marketed to. Is it for creative industry blogs and websites in a kind of business to business context? Is it for the wider editorial market? Or is it for potential advertisers, brands and businesses? The first is acceptable, the second less so, and the third can potentially expose a photographer to an unthinkable amount of liability.

If, to use a made-up example, a burger chain uses an image of your vegan ex-girlfriend found on a photosharing site to advertise their new horse meat burger but she’s not happy and decides to sue – then it’s you the photographer, not the burger chain that could be in big trouble.

 

Users of the Imgembed service can feature an image on their site by copying and pasting an embed code, as they would for a YouTube video

 

So how do the creators of the images protect themselves from this kind of scenario? The only way I know of is to secure full releases for any models, locations and property, plus intellectual property and trademarks in your images before you upload them. Just like you would need to for a royalty free library. But isn’t it the responsibility of Imgembed to point out the importance of this very clearly? I dread to think how things will pan out if this is actually aimed at the more amateur photographer, I’m not so sure they will understand what they are getting themselves into.

Keen to find out more, I asked Imgembed how photographers can control where their images are being used and limit their liability. ‘They (image creators) can track where their images are being used and set permission/pricing for all of them,” I was told.

I don’t think ‘tracking’ equates to having a say as to where the images are being used, surely this is a case of ‘after the horse has bolted’? Creators can set prices in a royalty free type of way but this isn’t setting permissions and doesn’t protect against liability issues.

 

Image creators can keep track of where their pictures are being used and how many times the pages they feature on have been viewed

 

Imgembed went on to say: ‘’Imgembed is built to provide a fair alternative to users who would otherwise ‘steal’ the images from the internet and use them without the proper attribution to creators,” they say. “Image creators (or photographers) get exposure, with rightful attribution, and linkback traffic to their albums/portfolios when their images are being used for free. The free use is limited only to 10,000 impressions, above that sites are deemed to be for profit and are hence charged the price set by image creators.

I do agree that this is a fairer alternative to stealing images and not attributing the creator, which I admit is prevalent. In fact there’s a rather outrageous bit of legislation affecting copyright that is potentially about to be brought into play as part of The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill which is really not going to help this already dire situation. If it gets passed, so called orphan works can be used legally without attributing the creator, and as an ‘orphaned work’ is literally an image whose creator is not attributed, i.e on social media sites this could turn the industry on it’s head. The BPPA (British Press Photographers Association) amongst others are fighting hard to prevent this copyright clause being included in the bill and have asked photography legend David Bailey to get involved. Mr. Bailey has now personally written to George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer asking him to think again, you can read the letter here. Let’s hope his celebrity kudos will pack some punch.

Anyway, that’s another story but on this point admittedly I agree that Imgembed are at least discouraging the use of orphaned works without a credit. I just don’t think the use of images for free in whatever form should be encouraged and I certainly wouldn’t describe this as ‘Goodness for both the creators and users’!

I think the only time it is OK for images to be reproduced for free is when the photographer directly agrees to it, is aware of and particularly agreeable to the context within which their images are going to be used e.g a good cause or particular accreditation that will be highly beneficial to the photographer, and of course also gets a credit. I can’t think of any situation when it would be acceptable to neither pay a fee nor attribute the photographer.

 

Imgembed allows users to set a price for their images

 

Thirdly, I’m confused about the ‘attribute’ or ‘pay’ options. Imgembed on the one hand says if users ‘attribute’ the photographer, the image can be used for free, however photographers also have the option of setting a price initially if they want to? So how does that work? In my opinion this is a flawed and contradictory concept. Aside from the fact that many professional photographers, not to mention amateurs, don’t always feel confident about setting their own prices (that’s where agents come in!) it’s not really a case of ‘one price fits all’. The cost of an image appearing in a full blown advertising campaign for example is, and should be, quite different from a one off appearance on a blog in an editorial context. Anyway, if a photographer does decide to charge isn’t this going to put off those magazines in which the photographer does actually want to see his work? But by the same token couldn’t a global brand use an image for free to sell its products if it gives the photographer a credit?

When I asked Imgembed about this, they replied that the service “allows for online (website/blog) use of images only, hence use for advertising purposes do not apply.” But why would this exclude usage for advertising purposes? The majority of advertising is done digitally these days.

Fourthly and this is something that concerns me for matters closer to home. In my rooting around online for some info on Imgembed I found a statement by one the founders, Alex Soh, on a site called sgentrepreneurs.com, which said ‘the platform will soon have about 200,000 images and 60,000 image creators from 190 countries from The Creative Finder’. Hang on a minute, I post the images of my photographers on Creative Finder for promotional reasons and I don’t remember signing up for this?!!

Imgembed have informed me that ‘As of now there are no plans to sync files from The Creative Finder which allow embedding over to Imgembed, although that is something that might be done in the future. Images may be set to allow or disallow embedding in The Creative Finder through the My Account > Manage Portfolio > Edit Artworks Info page.’

But when I checked the images that I have posted on Creative Finder, they all now have EMBED plastered all over them, which seems to be a new default setting, meaning I have to go into the settings for each image and turn off the embedding for each one.

I think the overriding problem is that it’s really unclear who Imgembed is aimed at and what the benefits are for them.

I asked the question: Can you give me an example of when Imgembed would really a) benefit a photographer b) benefit a client?

And got the reply:

a) Royalty based remuneration when most of the image providers are only royalty-free. Exposure for low use rates( < 10,000 impressions with attribution bar), and almost guaranteed attribution (Unlike Creative Commons when attributions might be placed somewhere no one would see or not even put up at all). Analytics for image use.

b) Savings in cost if the article ends up being not popular. Smaller blogs can use images for free in exchange for attribution. Hosted solution for ease of use.

In the case of (a), won’t clients just want to use the free images? As for (b), as I said before, why doesn’t the blog just ask the photographer directly for permission? It’s not difficult. If it’s something he’s up for, fine, but isn’t it fundamentally wrong to encourage free use of images? Don’t we want to discourage this in all its forms?

It might be beneficial for a website to use images for free, but how will that benefit a photographer unless their work gets promoted on a respected industry blog and generates new business? Or if Imgembed is aimed at amateur photographers I guess there is a certain amount of kudos in having your images in a publication – is that what this is all about? But then there is still this issue of third party clearances and these unsuspecting photographers being exposed to liability and do we really want to encourage the use of images for free?

If on the other hand this is for amateur photographers to make some money from publishers, how much money are they likely to make really, (at the suggested $6.25 don’t give up your day job!) and anyway why would publishers choose to use the images that they need to pay for when there is the option of using images for free in return for a credit?

Then of course, if the service is aimed at advertisers, business and brands who might now have access to thousands of images from both professionals and non professionals, I believe it is not only unethical but downright exploitative to secure photography in this way to endorse commercial products.

My conclusion is that Imgembed is somewhere between a royalty free library and a resource for free images. Based on the fact that the revenue will come from Imgembed receiving 30% of sales, I assume they would like it to go in the direction of the former. I just want to say to photographers thinking of using this service, please check the terms and conditions and don’t submit any images unless you know you have the necessary releases for them.

I’m all for new business ideas, and maybe I’m just being an old cynic and this could be the next big thing… but at the moment there still seem to be more questions than answers. IMGembed were good enough to answer my questions but I’m still not clear about the point of this, the motivation behind it and the potential benefits to image creators.

 


Disclaimer: The comments above are the personal opinion of Lisa Pritchard who accepts no responsibility for any repercussions due to actions or inactions that occur as a result.

Lisa Pritchard has been representing photographers to the advertising and design industries for over two decades. See lisapritchard.com

 


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