How do buyers use microstock pictures?


Every microstocker sooner or later comes to deal with this question: how do buyers use my images after buying them from a microstock agency? Impossible to give a sure answer. In fact there’s no way to know exactly how every image has been used, because microstock agencies, in order to respect the privacy of their customers, generally do not provide any information on who bought the image. If they did (and Fotolia used to do that in the past, before changing its policy on this matter), buyers would likely be assaulted with questions by the authors and maybe in some cases some of the authors could complain about the way the image is used or modified by the end user. To be precise, it would be rightful for an author to know how someone else uses what basically is his own creation, but the implementation of this right presents complications that simply make it an impracticable option. [pullquote-right]”authors should be aware from the start that they do not have any right to know how their images are used once sold”[/pullquote-right]Therefore, authors should be aware from the start that, becoming contributors to a microstock agency, they do not acquire any right to know how their images are used once sold.

However, there are some tools that allow you to get around the problem, at least partially. If an image is used for the realization of a printed catalog, a brochure, a billboard or any other printed material, then it’s almost impossible to trace it, unless you accidentally come across the print, which is highly unlikely since the microstock images are sold worldwide. Things are different when the images are published online, i.e. for the creation of a website, for advertising campaigns or any other material that has visibility on the internet, such as the cover of an e-book). In this case it is possible to perform a “search for images” in the internet and get some interesting results.

You can perform such a kind of search by using the TinEye service, which allows you to search directly on TinEye website, simply uploading the image you want to search, or installing a plugin for your browser (available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer & Opera) that allows you to search with a single click, starting from your image taken from your online portfolios. Personally I like more the Google Images search service (which I already covered in another article), because it yields a larger number of results than TinEye.

In both cases, the search mechanism is based on scanning throughout the network those images that “look like” our target image, through algorithms that compare and identify similarities between lines, colors and objects. Of course the accuracy of the results depend mostly on the image we are looking for: the more this is an original image, distinctive and unique, the more the search will be accurate and will return many results. A short note about the research: if the image that we are looking for is present on several microstock agencies, among the search results there will be dozens of links with the same image for sale on the various agencies, moreover multiplied by the many languages in which the single website is available. In other words, you have to scan among the results discarding all occurrences related to the pages of the microstock agencies (see screen example below).


I must admit that I’m very curious about how my images are used once sold through a microstock agency: I think that for a microstocker it is an unbeatable satisfaction to see his own images used to publish a website or to populate an advertising campaign or anyway to build a eye-catching project. To me, this kind of satisfaction is often much better than the earnings generated by the image itself. Therefore from time to time I spend some hours performing searches on Google Images, starting from my bestselling images on Shutterstock (available on the “insights” and “image gallery stats” panels from the “Contributor” section of the Shutterstock website). In the category “Usage of my images” there are some practical examples about how my images have been used on the internet over the past couple of years.  

More about the world of Microstock at the following pages:

Liked this article? Would you share it?

Expert in Marketing and Communication in a major company of the Italian FMCG market, traveler by vocation, passionate photographer, contributor at all major international microstock agencies, founder of Marcor$tock, a blog focused on Microstock Market and Digital Photography.