Shutterstock allowing pirate accounts to steal and sell thousands of images, videos

Jan 14, 2011
St. Louis
The big stock photo sites, in particular Shutterstock, have been repeatedly allowing pirate accounts to upload thousands of stolen images to the site, allowing these works to be sold to third parties.

The issue has been known to them since at least 2015, as numerous posts on their own user forums have indicated. A few examples:


Several chasers have been affected.

Shutterstock has taken no proactive measures to mitigate this problem, such as basic reverse image search vetting or even algorithmic matching of existing photos on their own service. They remove images and accounts only when they are discovered and reported by a photographer. In many cases, by then the works have been sold and used commercially to third parties multiple times.

Shutterstock's approach to this is to invoke DMCA safe harbor protections, asserting that the liability is on the infringing uploader (who, in most cases, is an overseas bad actor that will be impossible to pursue legally). However, this ignores the fact that since the stolen images are a direct profit generator, the company loses the safe harbor provisions of the DMCA.

If your images are stolen, do not contact Shutterstock about it or let them know of specific instances (as this allows them the opportunity to destroy evidence). Just call your attorney.

I've said this many times on this forum, but it's worth repeating: *register your best work* now, BEFORE this happens to you. Prior-registered photos give you a much more powerful stance in an infringement case, most attorneys will not take nonregistered image infringement cases as they do not allow for the reimbursement of legal fees and court costs.

US Copyright Office registration, signing on with a contingency fee attorney and doing regular searches for your best work are all important to protect your images from this kind of threat.
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The infringement floodgates will open like Moses parting the sea if the new copyright law comes to fruition -- although there may be a multi-year waiting period. I suspect Shutterstock is protected by some type of clause preventing photographers from taking action in the event of pirating, even by negligence. Clients who use the images are certainly protected if they did not know the images were illegally pirated. So glad I'm out of the stock business!
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May 6, 2017
It is not just ShutterStock! We have found a lot more outlets that I have sent extremely large invoices to for the SCV crew.

The down side is that once those companies take the bogus user off line, anyone that did not go in and document the abuse is pretty much S.O.O.L.

Shutter Stock is one of the worst to go after but when it is all said and done when the CASE Act becomes law, it won't be parting of the Red Sea, it will be more like Thanos killing off half of the Universe.
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Unfortunately, the offenders know how expensive and time-consuming it is to go after an entity for Copyright infringement. This is because complaints (at least for now) still fall into Federal Court jurisdictions = very expensive. I know of several cases where photographers went after magazines or corporations and spent hundreds-of-thousands of dollars only to lose or break even, although some won big.

Infringement actions are much harder now days than they use to be, as something published (printed) was usually straight forward evidence. Today's Internet infringements offer a briefcase-load of defense options for offenders to lean on. Having said this, it's generally worth the effort to notify and bill someone for Infringement -- via Registered Mail. Just make sure to craft the billing notice with expiration dates so you don't box yourself into a "fixed" price that could change if further action is necessary. Many companies will come to their senses. The second option is to hire an attorney to send a "demand letter."

Depending on how much action you take now, it could reflect on how a case is resolved if the CASE Act is made law. As always, register your images and footage with the Copyright office as a yearly, group submission.
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