Creative Review / Imgembed: what and who is it for?

Lisa was recently invited to comment on the new photosharing site Imgembed on the Creative Review blog.  Read her thoughts below and let us know what you think about it... '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.'

Read the rest of the Creative Review blog here.