Recently a federal judge in New York who happens to see Ed and his associate in his courtroom with some frequency, asked a pretty good question. Paraphrased the inquiry was, “How would you categorize the types of infringement claims and cases that have been coming into your office”?

So Ed did an informal inventory of the types of claims and suits that he has handled over the last couple of years.   Most claims/lawsuits for infringement fall into one of the following six categories:


  1. Photos of celebrities, famous or notable persons used for editorial purposes by websites, publications, in social media or video without permission or license;
  1. Celebrities, famous or notables who themselves have infringed by using photos taken of them for their own purposes.  This includes infringements for PR, merchandising, packaging and other purely commercial purposes;
  1. Routine, lifestyle images offered for stock that are scanned or otherwise blatantly copied from photographers and/or stock agency web sites who regularly license such images for stock use. These appropriations are done by web masters, PR firms, and others who have every intention of using the image without paying any fee;
  1. Infringements by once legitimate licensees (clients) who employ images beyond the licensing term and/or in manners prohibited by the original paid for license;
  1. Usage of “private” images ie. shot at weddings or at community events by amateurs which wind up being used in ads as a result of some illegal copying;
  1. Published commercial shots used by legitimate clients who paid for use but were later scanned or stolen for commercial purposes by another party unknown to the creator and/or client AND who stole the image for the purpose of using it commercially without having to pay;.


Cases that fall into the first two categories draw the most attention – especially from the media. The simple explanation is that photos of Bo Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Rick Ross and others well known to the public naturally catch the eyes of viewers whether they are in the photo industry or not. Such uses of celebrity images by nature tend to spread quickly and can be found “everywhere”.

The cases that are by far the most numerous however, are those that fall into category “3”. If you regularly promote and license images out for stock you are a prime target for copyright thieves. Consider: if you are looking to shoplift a bottle of cognac you would head to a liquor store to do the deed. Here infringers who need photos that are in commercial demand simply go to the usual sources of those images.  Famed criminal Willie Sutton when asked why he robbed banks was credited with saying, “Because that’s where the money is”. Same scenario here.

Classic lifestyle images are valuable because they can be licensed to many clients and used in many industries. Their very flexibility makes them valuable for stock and thus ideal to steal. Relatively limited infringing uses by small or medium sized clients frequently fly under the radar and go undetected.

Some classics:  young couple off to the high school prom, 35 year old All American dad driving pick up truck with 12 year old son by his side, multi ethnic group of college kids, active senior citizens doing…well doing anything, couple being handed the keys to their first home or car, a single mom helping her daughter with her homework. Those are the type of images that get ripped off most often by far.

If you are one of those people who doesn’t think you need to register because your images are not “fancy” or “special”, think again. Famous photographers who shoot famous people are much less likely to be infringed than a “blue collar” shooter, located outside of a big city looking to make an honest living by shooting and licensing stock.

Precious few infringers regardless of category are “innocent”. Nearly all of them intentionally ripped off a photographer or illustrator to avoid paying for the use of the image. Few believe they will ever get caught. Still others don’t care if they get caught. They know that in such event most photographers will foolishly accept a mere take down of the image and/or a token check for say, $100. Whether you call them scruples or ethics is irrelevant because infringers possess neither.

So few photographers actually register their work and are prepared to sue when infringed, that the odds are simply heavily in favor of the thieves. You can’t therefore, blame ’em for trying to get something for nothing.