Like it has done for many other things, the internet has cheapened the perceived value of photographs. They are incredibly plentiful; search for any keyword that you want through the engine of your choice and you’ll likely find hundreds, if not thousands, of relevant results.
When there is a scarcity of resources, people tend to view them as far more valuable. This was true in the early days of photography. It has been undermined by the transition to digital images and the proliferation of these images online.
Intellectual property violations
The problem with this shifting mindset, which was also seen in the music industry, is that there is still a scarcity of assets if you consider what people are legally permitted to use.
There may be thousands of image results, but that doesn’t mean that they can legally be downloaded, altered and uploaded on another site. Photographers still spend millions of dollars every year as they seek out those shots, and they deserve proper compensation. Downloading an image and changing the photo credit is just a form of online theft. Yes, it often goes unnoticed, but that doesn’t change the fundamental issue at hand: the acquisition of property by those who have no right to use and benefit from said property.
Say your company pays a photographer $50,000 for exclusive shots of your products, employees and facilities. You use these to create your website and promotional materials. Then your main competitor begins to download the photos, alter the text, and use them on their own site. This violates your rights, robs you of the $50,000 you invested, dilutes your brand for the general public and decreases your sales. The financial impact is incredible.
What can you do?
Unfortunately, the internet has created this illusion that anything found online is free. People may steal your intellectual property maliciously or without any ill intent, simply believing that they are allowed to use those images as they see fit. If this happens, you need to have an experienced and sophisticated legal team on your side.