Archive for May, 2013

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

One member was so incensed by my last posting — about a potentially dangerous scam which could ensnare any of us — that he quit fotoLibra. “Your blog post wasn’t about photography!” he thundered. He was right, and I promised him that the next posting would be about photography.

I’m sorry to disappoint, because this still isn’t about photography — it’s about commerce, and ownership, and copyright, and images, and sales, and royalty free. I really shouldn’t write prescriptive pieces about photography because I am possibly the least skilled photographer who will read these words (though I will confess I’m a dab hand at Photoshop) but I do know what the picture market wants, needs and expects.

It’s hard enough selling images at the best of times, so my heart sank a little further in this worst of times when I saw an announcement from a microstock agency that they had nearly a million images to give away for free. We haven’t got a million images yet, and we don’t want to give them away. We’re asking money for ours.

For a large sector of the market, Price is the only consideration. I met an illustrated book publisher a few years ago who’d been to China and had picked up a set of DVDs of hundreds of thousands of free-to-use hi-res photographs. “We don’t need you any more,” he said crushingly. “We’se making books from dese images what we got.” (There’s a lot of class in publishing). Sadly, he isn’t in business any more, because the public stopped buying his repetitive titles.

All the same, a million free images? That’s absurd. So I signed up to the site to have a nosey around. To sign in, you create a username, supply an email address and a password, and click on the verification email. Then you choose your picture. Then the interrogation starts. Full name? Full address? City? Zip? Phone? Grandmother’s eyes? I dutifully complied — it’s rather more strenuous than registering on fotoLibra as a buyer — and selected an image to download.

Those of you with long memories may recall a little run-in fotoLibra had with English Heritage a couple of years ago when they told us to take down images of Stonehenge we were selling. You can read about it here and here. So I looked on Stock Free Images for photographs of Stonehenge. I got 34 results, not all of Stonehenge, of course.

© Galleria | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

Here’s one I downloaded for free. It’s not bad. It’s not great, either, with visible signs of compression at full size, but it’s good enough for perhaps 70% of usages. Of course when the search results come up, the first images you see are the pictures that Dreamstime wants to sell you. Dreamstime is a microstock agency which owns Stock Free Images. So Free Pictures! is the bait to attract buyers to Dreamstime. Underneath their premium images you see the lesser ones which SFI are offering for free. I wonder if English Heritage will be chasing them?

I’d also like to know why the photographer J. Wallace (for much of the metadata remains with the image) allowed his or her photograph, taken on June 28th 2008 with a Canon EOS 400D, to be given away for free. We have three photographers named J. Wallace. I hope it’s not one of them.

Harking back to my illustrated book publisher friend, there’s enough content here to satisfy the least demanding critic. There are 645 free photographs of Golden Retrievers, for example. If I was in the business of publishing doggy calendars, why not start here? I only need 12 adequate images, after all.

Is it any wonder that buyers on a budget will look at sites like these first? This is a world where Adequate is good enough. On the other hand, to be tempted to sites like fotoLibra, buyers have to be able to
a) find images they can’t find elsewhere
b) be assured that the image quality is absolutely top of the range
c) ask our photographers for pictures they can’t find

We can’t compete on price. We haven’t got a million murky pictures to give away. So we have to offer a service which corporations like Dreamstime can’t dream of.

And we do. We’ll bend over backwards to accommodate our clients’ wishes, which is why fotoLibra sends out regular little notes from Jacqui with her impossible demands for our photographers.

But when the actual content is deemed so trivial and unimportant by companies like Dreamstime that they can simply give it away, I just think it’s a sad world for photographers and the picture business.

Don’t you? And what can / should we do about it?

Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Last Saturday I went to Lord’s to watch the third day of the England New Zealand test match, which was neatly wrapped up by England on the following day. Well played, Broady!

I was sitting with three old friends, and one of them — let’s call him David, as he values his privacy — told me this astounding story of how he had been scammed out of some £4,000. David is an intelligent and sophisticated man, a successful corporate advisor and business planning consultant. He is nobody’s fool. This, in his own words, is what happened to him:

I was sitting at my desk in London on the evening of Thursday, 9th May, when my telephone rang. A man introduced himself as DCI Harris from Holborn Police Station. He gave his number as EK 457. He said that two Eastern European men had just been apprehended on the suspicion of credit card fraud. They had details of various people that they might have been targeting and I was one of them. He gave me an incident/crime number (No. 29121575665) and advised me to get in touch with my credit card company and have a block put on my account(s).

I rang off and then looked at the back of my Barclaycard Visa debit card for the Barclaycard Customer Services contact number. I dialled the number and got through to a Customer Services lady (who later said that her name was Louise White) and I told her about DCI Harris’ advice. She took the details of my Barclaycard debit card and then proceeded to ask me some questions to verify that I was who I said I was. Among these questions were my date of birth and my mother’s maiden name. She also asked me to give details of a direct debit on my account, including the payee, the amount paid and the time of month that it was paid.

She appeared satisfied about my identity and then asked when I had last used the card. I said that I had withdrawn £100 from a bank in Essex on the previous day. She said that she could see that transaction, but she then mentioned four further transactions that had taken place that evening near to Oxford Circus. I said that these certainly were not my transactions. She said that my card must have been compromised.

She then said she was going off to see if she could get hold of DCI Harris to see if these might be transactions carried out by his suspects. She said that it was important that I stayed on the ‘phone while she did this, so that she was sure of my whereabouts. She returned a little while later to say that the police thought that they might have a suspect who was actually using a card with my number on it. He was later reported to have got away.

She then asked if I had any other credit or debit cards. I said that I had a Barclaycard Visa credit card and a Barclaycard Mastercard credit card. She asked for details of these cards and she looked up the activities on them. She read out a list of recent transactions on them and these were in the West End that evening. I said that none of them were anything to do with me. She asked me if there was anyone in my household who could have copied my cards. I said that there was only me, my cleaning lady and my brother, who had stayed overnight recently, and I was sure that they wouldn’t have done anything.

She then said that she must speak to her boss and again said that I must stay on the line while she was away, emphasising that I might be considered to be a suspect in a fraud. She came back to say that a special team in Surrey was working on this sort of fraud and they wished to have my cards to examine and contrast them with some counterfeit ones. They were going to send a courier to collect them. She would therefore put a block on my cards and would then ask me to put them in a sealed envelope for collection – it was important that only my recent fingerprints were on them.

She then went through the process of putting a block on each of the cards – this ended with me having to tap my pin number on to my telephone keypad. During the time that the courier was coming up from Surrey, she asked if I had any other credit cards and I said that I had an American Express card. She said that she would be able to ask American Express if there had been any recent activity on that card. I therefore gave her the card number and she came back with a list of very recent transactions. These had nothing to do with me. She therefore advised me to put a block on this card as well and went through the same procedure. She suggested that this should also be sent to the Surrey experts.

There then followed a period during which the courier was coming up from Surrey. While we were waiting, the Barclaycard lady said that she needed to write a report on this whole event for her boss. She asked me which phases I could remember and we constructed a report together. The courier then arrived in uniform, collected the envelope of cards and left. I didn’t get a view of any vehicle.

The Barclaycard lady wanted me to stay on line in case there were any further queries. I inadvertently dropped the receiver a short time later and was planning to ring the lady back, but couldn’t find her number. Without her pressure, I was able to think what I had done and realised that there could well be a scam here (although I had never doubted the ‘Barclaycard’ lady during our conversations). I thought that I would go down to Notting Hill police station and ask whether DCI Harris existed. They were very busy with other things at the station, but they took time to tell me that I was undoubtedly the victim of a scam and lent me their telephone to call the real Barclaycard. My respondent there confirmed that money had been withdrawn from each of my Barclaycard accounts in the last hour or two. I then realised that I had been completely hoodwinked.

I now realise that the key element in the scam was my telephone. When I rang off initially, the ‘policeman’ stayed on the line and the scammers were able to create a dialling code when I lifted my receiver and appeared to get through to the ‘Barclaycard’ lady. She kept my attention and confidence very cleverly throughout the rest of a very long conversation.

If you get a call like this, call your card company on a different phone, as per the last paragraph. If this can happen to David, then it can happen to any one of us. Fraudsters used to be relatively easy to spot — Dere valued Natwest customer pliz give me yore pin numbre now, yours in the Lord — but now they are getting smarter than us. David got his money back from the banks, of course, although American Express seem to be reluctant to settle. And the scammers have got away with £4,000 plus. And the banks will want to recover that somehow, so gradually they’ll get it back from us, in higher costs.

We all suffer.