Depending on the information you have to begin your search, The American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP) recommends using the following approaches for locating copyright ownership for visual images (primarily those created by North American authors).
- If you have a digital image file, search its embedded metadata information for additional source information. To do this in Adobe Photoshop, open an image document, under "File" go to "File Info" to view various data such as document title, description, author and copyright notice.
- Searching locally in job folders, download folders, emails, invoice records, in- house image databases, and chat sessions could link the image to a project, supplier or co-worker who might provide additional insight into the image's origin. Look for the image's creation and/or modification time stamp (via Photoshop's "File Info") to search by date range in the aforementioned places to find more clues.
- To enhance local searching on your hard drive, try Google's free Desktop Search application. In addition to a simpler user interface, the application's ability to search metadata within many different document types could be beneficial. To download and install Google Desktop, go to http://desktop.google.com.
FOR IMAGES WHERE THE PHOTOGRAPHER OR ARTIST NAME IS KNOWN
- Search for the photographer on one of the many sites listed under the heading "Photography" below.
- If known, contact the original stock agency or successor agency. They should be able to contact the photographer on your behalf or put you in contact with the photographer even if they no longer represent him/her. For help finding a particular stock agency, contact the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA) who can provide a list of member agencies (see "Photography").
- Contact the original publisher. If you found the image in a magazine, look on the masthead and contact someone in the photo department, if in a text book, call the publisher and ask for photo permissions, if seen on the web, call or email the author or website owner.
- If it is an advertisement, contact the company and try to find the advertising agency that may have purchased the rights or hired the photographer. Search by the photographer's name at various stock agency sites to try to find the image or to see if the agency might represent the photographer.
- Download the free PicScout add-on product, ImageExchange. This product can connect you to the creator of the work by utilizing digital fingerprinting technology. PicScout indexes images whose sources are image agencies and photo collections such as Flickr. When you download ImageExchange and do an online search by the creator's name, keywords, or other metadata, images that are indexed by PicScout will appear in your search results with an information icon. Clicking on the icon will reveal information such as who owns the image, a connection to license it and more. Visit http://www.picscout.com.
- Contact the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and use their photographer registry http://www.photographerregistry.com.
- Contact the Picture Licensing Universal System to search in their artists and licensor registry http://www.useplus.com/useplus/registry.asp. The registry will launch for public beta in phases commencing during the fall of 2010
- Search by photographer's name using mass engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo as well as through photo-sharing and networking sites (i.e., Flickr, LinkedIn, Facebook, Lightstalkers) to follow leads and find resumé information, professional affiliations or educational institutions where the artist studied.
- Search using keywords that give information about the subject of the image and find the image by subject matter (which might lead to contact info for the photographer).
- If the image is an historical photo of a known location or historically significant event, contact a local newspaper or historical society. The image might have been published with a story or archived. Often staff of such organizations will know how to locate the copyright holder or will be able to direct you to a source with answers.
- Contact the U.S. Copyright Office at http://www.copyright.gov/records and search their database of copyright registrations (available since 1975). This search is limited, as you need to search by title of the work or name of author or claimant; there is no image search.
FOR IMAGES WHERE YOU DO NOT KNOW THE PHOTOGRAPHER OR ARTIST
- Search using the Picture Archive Council of America's (PACA) pacaSearch, a web-based stock image metasearch engine targeted to photo buyers/researchers who seek licensable images on the web, via http://www.pacaSearch.com. Keywords and other data related to an image can be used to search hundreds of databases simultaneously for disambiguated search results. At this time, more than 70 million images are included. See the tutorial to the engine at http://www.pacaSearch.org.
- Try Google Image Search with keywords that use information about the subject of the image and contact the administrator of any sites that come up with the same image (warning: you may uncover uses that were never properly licensed).
- To try to find the image by subject matter, search various stock agency sites by keywords, using information about the subject of the image. The following are sites that list many stock agencies in one place by subject/type of imagery or aggregate keyword search results from a variety of agencies:
- Picture Archive Council of American (PACA). Click on pull down menu at top of page to indicate specific subject matter: http://www.pacaoffice.org/ic/paca/devpages/mem_dir_redesign.html?li st_type=k%3 A97
- Stock Index Online:
- A Photo Editor: http://www.aphotoeditor.com/2008/02/27/stock- photo-agencies
- Photographic Library Directory:
- CreativePro's Media Bakery Image Search:
- About the Image Industry Directory:
- Do a search with the aforementioned ImageExchange add-on product downloaded onto your computer.
- Another web-based measure to assist you is TinEye, an engine that uses image identification technology to locate images on the web. The software company Ideé is beta testing TinEye, an innovative reverse image search engine that is a fast and revealing way to find other instances of the image on the Web. Even when the TinEye search yields other sites displaying the same image, it's possible that these other instances may retain the image's original source filename or embedded metadata. TinEye uses image identification technology rather than keywords, metadata or watermarks. Go to http://www.ideeinc.com/products/tineye.
- Digimarc is a product that uses digital watermarks (imperceptible codes embedded in digital content) to track unlicensed uses on-line. Conversely, researchers can look for the Digimarc coding in an image file to obtain information on the image's creator. To do so, open the image file in Adobe Photoshop. Select "Read Watermark" from the Digimarc plug-in menu (Filter > Digimarc > Read Watermark). If the creator is a Digimarc subscriber, you will be presented with the image's copyright information or directed to the creator's website.
PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY ORGANIZATIONS THAT MIGHT BE HELPFUL
- American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP): http://www.aspp.com
- British Association of Picture Libraries & Agencies (BAPLA): http://www.bapla.org.uk
- Coordination of European Agencies Press Stock Heritage (CEPIC): http://www.cepic.org
- North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA): http://www.nanpa.org
- Picture Archive Council of American (PACA) http://www.pacaoffice.org/
- Society for Photographic Education (SPE) http://www.spenational.org/
- Stock Artists Alliance (SAA) http://www.stockartistsalliance.org/
The following sites allow searches by a photographer's name:
- American Society of Picture Professionals (ASPP) "Find A Pro":
- American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) "Find a Photographer":
- Advertising Photographers of America (APA): http://www.apanational.com
- Association of Photographers (AOP) (UK): http://hub.the-aop.org
- Editorial Photographers (EP): http://www.editorialphoto.com
- National Press Photographers Association (NPPA): http://www.nppa.org
- White House News Photographers Association (WHNPA): http://www.whnpa.org
- AGPix: http://www.agpix.com
- Photographers Direct: http://www.photographersdirect.com
- Independent Photography Network (IPN): http://ipnstock.com
- Picture Archive Council of American (PACA): http://www.pacaoffice.org
- PhotoShelter: http://psc.photoshelter.com/photographers
- Photo Source International: http://www.photosource.com/index.php
- Professional Photographers of America (PPA): http://www.ppa.com
- Workbook: http://www.workbook.comThe Black Book: http://www.blackbook.com
When searching for fine artists or trying to clear rights for works of fine art, the following links are helpful:
- Artists Rights Society (ARS): http://www.arsny.com
- Visual Artists and Galleries Association (VAGA): http://www.vaga.org
- Check the WATCH File (Writers, Artists and Their Copyright Holders), a searchable database of names of creators: http://tyler.hrc.utexas.edu
- Check Art in America magazine's August 2010 issue, an annual directory of museums, galleries and artists.
When searching for illustrators, the following sites are helpful:
- American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA): http://www.aiga.org
- Graphic Artists Guild (GAG): http://gag.org
- Illustrators' Partnership of America (IPA): http://www.illustratorspartnership.org (Go to "Gallery" to find an illustrator)
- Society of Illustrators (SI): http://www.societyillustrators.org/index.cms
Once you have exhausted your search using these resources, consult legal counsel about the business risks associated with using the work. If you determine that the risk of infringement is low, be sure to maintain, in writing, what steps you took to locate the copyright owner and the date you took those steps.
The following sites can give you a better understanding of the legal pitfalls of image use as well as advice on licensing images with confidence.
- Getty Images' "Stock Photo Rights": http://www.stockphotorights.com
- American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP):
- Picture Archive Council of American (PACA) http://www.pacaoffice.org
Steps to take going forward in your search will depend upon current legislation related to Orphan Works. Be sure to consult the latest legislation. One place to check is the section on the American Society of Media Photographers' website dedicated to this issue: http://www.asmp.org/news/spec2008/orphan_update.php.
It is likely that there will be additional measures, including databases that will enable searches of images and other technological measures to assist in facilitating the search for copyright holders. For example, image registries are relatively new concepts that are positioned to become standard business practice. Various companies and organizations have announced products and services that will enable image providers to submit their assets to one or more searchable registries. If broadly adopted, image registries could significantly streamline the Orphan Search process for digitized content. This document will be updated as needed to include other measures as they become available.
This document should not be relied upon to determine if the steps you have taken are legally sufficient. Since there is no current legislation that permits the use of a work if the owner cannot be located and any legislation will not be retroactive, the fact that you have tried to locate the owner and did not succeed is not a defense to a claim of infringement by an emerging copyright owner. The copyright owner could seek monetary damages as well as an injunction to prevent the future publication of the work in certain circumstances. If the work is registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, the owner can also seek statutory damages and attorney's fees.
©2011 ASPP. All rights reserved.
Written by Holly Marshall with contributions from Amy Wrynn.
Updated January 25, 2011
Click here to download a pdf version of this document (suitable for print)