Archive for January, 2013

Perpetual Vigilance

January 23rd, 2013
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

I don’t know if it’s age, cynicism or personal general grumpiness but there seem to be a lot more villains around now than when I were a lad.

If you run a shop, shrinkage is the name you give to shoplifting. I guess it’s endemic. If you run a website like fotoLibra, you make sure you are as well protected as possible from shoplifters, or hackers if we use a general term for web-based criminality.

To put it in terms that I understand, we have to stop thieves. We have two sorts — those who want to steal your photographs, and those who want to steal our money. The latter is far more common, I’m sorry to say.

Stealing photographs, first of all. The basic fact is they can’t, not unless they can design and mount an incredibly expensive and sophisticated assault on our firewalled servers. But frankly, we’re not Cartier or Tiffany. It’s much cheaper to buy an image from us than spend months trying to figure out how to steal it. So there’s little incentive. The few infringements we do spot are people using fotoLibra watermarked Previews on their websites, on the basis that if it’s on the internet, it must be free. On behalf of our Pro and Platinum members, we have successfully sued every commercial infringer we have discovered in our jurisdiction.

Stealing money is far more devious, and we fell for it once — and only once. This is how it works. First ‘You’ steal someone’s credit card details. Then You join fotoLibra as a free member and upload one picture. Then You join fotoLibra as a buyer, using the name on the stolen credit card. Then You buy the picture You’ve just uploaded for a humungous amount of money, using Your stolen credit card.

Unfortunately for You, we at fotoLibra scrutinise every sale carefully, and if something doesn’t look right, we pounce — unlike lethargic banks and credit card companies.

There was an incident last year when an Indonesian photographer uploaded a couple of images and six hours later two separate women in the USA signed up as buyers and bought his images for large sums of money. We notify photographers of sales every 30 days, but somehow our Indonesian chummy felt sure his images had been sold long before we would have informed him and pestered us daily to pay him ‘his’ money. We didn’t, and six weeks later the bank removed the entire amount from our account, citing credit card fraud. Strange that we never heard back from the photographer after we informed him a criminal investigation was under way.

Yesterday and today we made two big image sales, both of (I’m sorry to say) of unremarkable images, both uploaded by different Vietnamese photographers. One was bought for a great deal of money by an Australian, the other for nearly as much money by a lady in Leicestershire.

Now if my name is Gwyn Headley, I can’t for the life of me see why I should open a Hotmail account under the name of It’s just not logical. So when we saw the lady in Leicestershire — let’s call her Lulu Leicester — had ‘bought’ the image using the email address Debbie Derby the first warning bells began to ring.

We searched for ‘Lulu Leicester’ online, and found a telephone number for her. She is a respected academic. We rang her and asked ‘Have you recently bought a photograph from’ No, she hadn’t heard of us. ‘Does your credit card end in 1234?’ Yes, it does. “Cancel it immediately,’ we said, ‘it has been compromised and has been used in an attempt to commit fraud.’

We haven’t contacted the Australian gentleman, but as he signed up as a buyer seven minutes after the second Vietnamese photographer joined up and uploaded his one photograph we suspect he’s probably not what he claims to be.

All this takes time and vigilance. The scam works this way: we pay 50% of the money we receive to the photographer, the thieves prove the use of a working credit card and go on to empty its resources in a matter of hours. Six weeks later (it’s always a little over six weeks, never any quicker) the banks wake up and deduct the money from our account, never informing us in advance.

The Australian purchaser tried three different credit cards in three different names before the fourth went through. We cancelled these transactions immediately.

We can track these people down — we know where they are — and we would be happy to pass the information on to the competent authority. The trouble is, who has the authority? And are they competent?

Wouldn’t it be nice if the banks were as alert as we try to be?


Selling Your Images

January 2nd, 2013

A Happy New Year to you!

We’re always looking for new outlets to which to sell fotoLibra members’ images, and between Christmas and the New Year we had a very interesting meeting with an extremely high-powered yet friendly executive who lives close by fotoLibra’s Hertfordshire office.

There is a vast European educational and public sector out there which is largely untapped by normal picture libraries because like most organisations funded with public money, Accountability & Transparency in Procurement are their watchwords. This inevitably means routes to market are not so much Jude The Obscure as Jude The Invisible — there is no way a company such as ours can ring up a representative from one of these monolithic organisations and mutter “pssst! wanna buy some images?” We couldn’t even find out who to talk to.

Everything has to take place through bureaucratic procurement procedures, grim, inflexible ordeals which are less concerned about the quality, range and variety of the images we have to offer than discovering the number of ethnic Welsh people we employ and our policy towards recycling hard disks.

By the simple expedient of not paying taxes, global corporations can afford to employ the sort of people who love ticking all these boxes, so they get flooded with grants, incentives and bonuses as well as three-yearly contracts to be exclusive coffee and image suppliers to the Ruritarian Public Affairs Ministry.

We struggle on. Thanks to our executive friend, we now have at least an inkling of the riches lying out there, just beyond our reach at the moment. But we have more contacts who understand this world far better than our simple viewpoint, and we believe they may be prepared to help us.

Like every other picture library, our sales have fallen over the past three or four years, and we are doing everything in our power to restore lost revenue and explore new possibilities. If our photographers aren’t making money, we’re not making money, so we need to find out about these overseas procurement procedures fast. Even so, our friend warned us “Don’t expect anything to happen for three years. This is the world of bureaucracy, after all.”

We went on to the website of one of these organisations and found this rather good and clearly explained guide to copyright for picture users in the EU. I should point out that this was discovered on the English-language subset of a foreign-language quango’s website:

Information for image users

    When will you have dealings with us? Virtually every publication, every website and every television programme uses images. Copyright law stipulates that the author’s permission is required for this. That permission is usually linked to a financial payment: image creators must, after all, live on the income from their creative labours. 
Apart from a couple of exceptions, publishers and producers are obliged to trace the creators of the images in order to ask permission for publication. The fact that this is not always easy does not detract from this obligation. Our agency enables the user to arrange this effectively in advance. Over 50,000 image creators both in this country and abroad are registered with us and we issue licences on their behalf. Our rates are harmonised with sister organisations abroad. Our agency arranges permission for publication.

    Asking permission is compulsory
 Users are often confused as to what they can and cannot do under copyright law. The golden rule is: anyone who wants to publish someone else’s image must ask permission for this from the creator or their heirs. This obligation only lapses 70 years after the death of the artist. Hence the work of Rembrandt is rights-free, but that of Picasso is not. Anyone who publishes a picture of a painting by Picasso in a book or leaflet without permission runs the risk of having to pay damages.

That’s nice and clear and straightforward.

Not every government announcement has to be draped in the cobwebs of obscurity. And this was English as a foreign language. I wish I could write as clearly. I think we could work with these people.