Whats the biggest problem facing stock photography today? Is it finding pictures or is it licensing pictures? For a certain group of clients and buyers it’s finding pictures that meet a specific criteria, which inevitably includes a level of trust that the image appears nowhere else and that the model release is solid. That market is fixed and declining so I believe the potential for growth lies in easier licensing of images. That way you can license to consumers, to people who have no clue how to do it and to people who steal images. This is where the potential exists (story here) and this is where image span has taken a step in the right direction with their license stream software (here). They allow you to attach licensing to an image and publish it anywhere. You can even publish it straight into google from their dashboard.

In the words of CEO Iain Scholnick, “Image Span hopes to do for digital content what credit card companies do for physical content. Make it easy to buy.” They even take a credit card like five percent of the transaction. Now, buying images with credit cards is not an original idea and two recent high profile failures in the industry, that were geared towards selling the pictures of any photographer around should be enough to tell you it’s a tough market to crack. Ian told me the problem with their licensing was that humans were doing the transactions. The solution is to automate it. I can certainly see how the future of stock photography is about buyers clicking on images and making instant purchases with instant delivery. But, for me it’s about the ability to distribute the content in new ways. On google, blogs and even the NY Times website. When photography travels with it’s own license the potential is endless.

Sounds pretty sweet right. You attach licenses to your images and scatter them around the internet and when people want to use them they click and make a purchase. Well, here’s where it becomes real interesting because they announced a new development today called content tracker (press release here). The images you want to license can now also be tracked and when they appear in unlicensed uses you will be notified. I was told by Ian that they create a digital fingerprint of the image from the ones and zeros and that makes it impossible to crop the tracking out. They even have one click notifications that you can send to the offending party to ask them to license, remove or properly credit the use. This closes the loop on publishing images online because it allows you to track all the uses of your images and can be a powerful deterrent in preventing theft.

I’m sure this is just the very beginning of the potential for something like this and if the investors are any indication (Bertelsmann) there’s a huge need for licensing and tracking on the corporate level but what I like best is they’ve created a solution for everyone.

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  1. Fantastic and very much a need given the speed and ease with which information (read: photos) can travel online. Watermarking, unless it sits hideously in the center of an image, can be cloned out in many cases, and it is far beyond nearly anyone’s abilities to sniff out all possible uses of their property.

    It seems like a natural evolution and a no-brainer that this kind of technology would be introduced by Bertelsmann given the music industry’s experimentation with DRM in the last few years. While those developments haven’t been without their share of problems and big missteps, it looks like this is a real simple and robust solution for “photo DRM.”

    Based on the pricing on their website, the solution for “Creators” seems to be affordable for most, as well – I’m definitely going to look into it.

  2. Spot on: reducing transaction costs (time, price comparison, effort) is the biggest opportunity in stock photography to allow stock photos to reach that long-tail market.

    TinEye has had the ability to track unlicensed uses, but it’s kind of a one-off: combining the tracking of unlicensed with a licensing platform is much more powerful.

    What happens when there’s an even larger flood of images? How will we sort through everything? Who will be our our filters?

    What we’re learning from the “long tail” model of economic organization is that everybody except the truly great get flattened, and that profits in the tail spread out to a larger and larger number of people, making it harder for anyone to earn significant money.

    Will it get so cheap to license and distribute photos that we’ll license photos for free? What we’ll pay for LicenseStream as a “marketing expense” instead of an investment to earn licensing income?

    Fun times…

  3. >…May Change Stock Photography Forever.
    Getty buying Jupiter is a bigger change.

  4. Interesting….

    Wonder how Image Span and this will work together…. or not:


    LTU Technologies Releases New LTU Engine
    Updated Multimedia Content Control API Platform Enhances Capabilities for Comprehensive Image Search and Recognition

    Last update: 4:51 p.m. EDT Oct. 22, 2008
    PARIS & WASHINGTON, Oct 22, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) — LTU technologies, the global leader in multimedia content control solutions, announced today a new version of its LTU engine, a comprehensive platform that packages LTU’s suite of breakthrough image and video content control and search tools into one platform, using one single application programming interface (API).
    Designed for government agencies and commercial enterprises as an easy to integrate platform with a flexible API, LTU engine powers the technology to quickly and efficiently control, organize, search, or identify images and video within large databases. For the first time the platform also features new local matching and color search capabilities. Local matching enables the user to detect small, common parts between two images, or logos, within an image or video clip. Color search enables the user to sort and identify images according to various shades of color, compute color palettes for collections of objects or images or suggest color arrangements based on the colors used within a collection. In addition, the new version of LTU engine boasts enhanced search speeds and video recognition capabilities, offering customers the ability to not only manage a great amount of images, but also process videos much faster and more efficiently than ever before.
    With the integration of LTU’s powerful multimedia content control and search tools, law enforcement agencies worldwide identify inappropriate and illegal content on seized computers, most often related to child pornography. Commercial enterprises have also deployed LTU’s solutions to monitor the image and video content on their own corporate networks, as well as protect intellectual property in the form of brand logos, proprietary documents and other visual assets vulnerable to copyright infringement.
    “With the release of LTU engine today, we have brought to market a new and even more powerful way to control the content that matters most to an organization. Whether it’s to protect intellectual property, keep inappropriate content off the network, or simply have the ability to quickly search, filter and manage images more easily, LTU engine can be customized to meet those requirements,” said Alexandre Winter, CEO and co-founder of LTU technologies. “We’ve worked diligently in our research lab and with our partners to develop a platform that is flexible yet robust, and are very pleased with the result of our hard work. We are excited for our existing customers to experience the enhancements and look forward to introducing the new capabilities to companies still seeking help with their visual assets.”
    The launch of LTU Engine coincides with the launch of LTU’s new website: http://www.ltutech.com. Aside from the new layout, LTU has provided more information about its solutions, clients, events and partners. In addition, visitors to the site can view the LTU Visual Search demo: http://corbis.demo.ltutech.com/en/demos/corbis/
    LTU engine is available now with a new pricing structure. Contact sales@ltutech.com for more information.
    About LTU technologies
    Founded in 1999 by veteran scientists of MIT, Oxford and INRIA, LTU technologies provide mission-critical multimedia content control software solutions. LTU is the exclusive owner and developer of its patented technology. LTU’s clients include: government organizations active in the fight against child abuse, such as the US Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (DHS-ICE), the French Gendarmerie Nationale, and the Italian state police; agencies investigating traffic in cultural goods and stolen objects (OCBC of the French National Police); as well as commercial media organizations such as Corbis andMeredith Corporation. The technology has also successfully been integrated in third party solutions for forensics and e-Discovery, brand protection, enterprise search, digital asset management, and online content control. LTU technologies has offices in Paris, France, and Washington DC. For more information, visit http://www.ltutech.com.
    Trademark Notice: LTU technologies, LTU engine, LTU moderator and LTU finder are trademarks of LTU technologies. Any other third party trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
    SOURCE: LTU technologies

    Megan Grenter

    Copyright Business Wire 2008

  5. This might help little guys like us get our images out there. Thanks for the information!

  6. This does look really awesome, (if only their registration form worked).

  7. If your stock licensed via imagestream makes less than $2 per GB per year, you may incur a loss — I think I’ll wait to hear if other photographers are seeing sales before I hop on board and spend hundreds of dollars / year to manage my image licensing with them.

    • @eric hamilton,

      Seeing that they are offering the basic 2GB package free for the first year, how can you lose?

  8. #7 – Eric. Did you see something that I missed? I can’t see how you are going to lose significant money here.

  9. “I was told by Ian that they create a digital fingerprint of the image from the ones and zeros and that makes it impossible to crop the tracking out.”

    And will that also work with screen grabbed images?

    • @imajes,
      Yes, that’s what I am told. Should work with a cropped image too. It would be fairly worthless if it didn’t because that’s where the majority of stolen images online will come from.

  10. Sounds like a good idea at the right (stock photography) times.
    Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Would have given it a try, but it works for US/Canadian contributors only.

  11. If only the fine folks at Flickr had thought of this. They would have been Bazillionaires.

  12. […] License Stream from Image Span is a product worth experimenting with. The online software gives you the tools to embed licensing with an image and publish it anywhere…Google, your blog, your site…effectively making you your own stock agency. They company says it is impossible to remove the tracking from image. Rob has more on it over at A Photo Editor. […]

  13. This is good for the industry! I am ready for something that allows artists direct access to the buyers of today.
    However, I am a bit nervous about any new content provider in this market. I just found out this AM that I only have 24 hours to download all 85 gigs of my work from Digital Railroad before they turn off the lights. Just a bit of advise to anyone in this field, make sure you have backed up all your work, media and metadata that is online!

  14. The protection of images in this industry is so important and the quick easy access and instant downloads for buyers is really important.

    We took all of this in mind when designing our new online stock website. All images are watermarked right thru the middle as suggested above.
    We hope you will check out our site and we are now accepting new photographers. We also have a list of buyers when we are ready and have enough images. Yes, the industry is difficult to get into but not impossible and not when you really have the photographers rights in mind like we do.

    Thanks so much

    Susan And Dawn

  15. Didn’t put our web address in the above email but you can click on the name above and get a link to our website. We would love to hear from anyone who has viewed our site.



  16. Fine company with VERY smart leadership. I’ve been pushing LicenseStream for nearly a year. I had a representitive, Candace Murray, speak on my panel, Licensing Stock Direct, last fall at PhotoPlus Expo. Highly recommend.

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