I discovered this week that my 500px Marketplace photo is being sold elsewhere, and I haven’t gotten a dime of sales (yet). If you sell photos through 500px, this is something you should be aware of.
I have a habit of searching for my photos in Google’s Image Search from time to time. A few days ago, I searched for a photo I shot of my beloved cat.
To my surprise, I found that photo for sale on Fotolia, which is now owned by Adobe. And if that weren’t enough of a surprise, the “Author” is listed as “500px.”
“What the hell?,” I thought to myself.
Then came another surprise: the same Google Images search revealed that my photo was being used in an online booklet by a Swiss company.
I immediately contacted the company, and they confirmed to me that they had purchased my photo from Fotolia some time ago. So in that moment, this is what the situation looked like to me:
1. 500px was selling photos without photographers’ permission
2. Photographers are not being given credit (I even thought this could possibly be intentional, to obstruct buyers from contacting author directly as buyers sometimes do)
3. Proceeds from photo sales were going to someone, but apparently not to the photographers
4. Photographers are completely being left in the dark about this.
I immediately contacted 500px regarding the attribution and the sales issues. Here’s what they told me:
Fotolia is a branch of one of our major distributors – Adobe Stock. We’ve reached out to Adobe Stock in the means of adjusting the author to the photographer who owns the photo, so we’re hoping this will be adjusted shortly. In the meantime, if you view your photo on Adobe Stock’s website, you’ll notice appropriate credits are given to you as the author of your photo – https://stock.adobe.com/ie/stock-photo/standing-bow-yoga-pose-on-a-mirror/133929125
Notice the strange “standing-bow-yoga-pose-on-a-mirror” in the URL they provided me. It turns out these words actually don’t matter as you can replace them with any text and the URL will still work due to the ID number found at the end.
As you see, they did not answer my question about sales in their response. When asked second time, they replied:
Any sales you’ve made on your content will appear in your sales history here – https://500px.com/settings/store/sales. If you do not have any history of sales for this particular photo or any available in the Marketplace, no sales have been made. All sales made through Adobe stock will appear as a “Distributor” sale.
So, I looked in my “sales” section… and there were no sales at all (and by the way, if you try to find this “sales” section without a direct link on your own, it’s difficult as it seems to be tucked away quite well).
At this point, I began wondering about who (Fotolia or 500px) had profited from my sales and how much they had earned — it looked like clear copyright infringement and photographers were being robbed of their money.
If you sell photos through 500px, try to find your photos on Fotolia listed with “500px” as the author — there are currently 18,582 of them.
If you find any photo of yours, take a screenshot. Then do a Google reverse image search and see if you can find any proof of sales.
As you might expect, I wasn’t happy with 500px’s initial answers at all. Could it be that the software was buggy, or were sales being hidden? I asked some clarifying questions, but for about a week there was no answer.
I then decided to write a long post on my Facebook page and post a copy of it on Reddit. I just wanted to know whether I was the only one this kind of strange sale happened to. After that things began moving faster.
One photographer commented on Reddit about how he had seen his picture being bought through 500px but he himself was neither informed nor paid for the sale, and another managed to tag a high level exec from 500px. Very soon after, I was contacted by a “channel sales manager” guy who wanted to chat with me about this. After trying hard to speak with me on the phone — I couldn’t at the time — he finally sent me an email explanation:
Regarding your attribution questions, if you check the Fotolia photo ID for your image (133929125 – https://en.fotolia.com/id/133929125 ) you can see that it matches the ID found on Adobe’s site (https://stock.adobe.com/ie/search?k=133929125). The matching ID is so that Adobe can keep records of sales and when they report their sales to 500px, we can match the Adobe ID with our 500px ID and associate the sale with the proper photo and photographer for accurate payouts. That’s how your information is stored with all of our distributors and although there is no credit on Fotolia due to limitations with partner collections on this platform, you can see clearly that the image is attributed to you on AdobeStock.
Regarding sales reporting from our distribution network, we receive monthly, quarterly and sometimes even bi-annual sales reports from our distributors depending on their own royalty reporting process. When we receive the sales and royalty reports from our distributors we wait for full payment from the partner before we process the sales in our own system. Once the money has been received, we process the payouts through our system and if necessary, backdate the payout to the month it was sold.
This image is part of a recent sale from Adobe which occurred on Feb 28th but we have not processed the payout yet – the sale will be backdated accordingly and you will receive your payout as part of our royalty and reporting process outlined above.
So here are the basic details that 500px photographers should be aware of:
1. 500px is offering photos according to the 500px and Adobe Stock/Fotolia Partnership
2. Photographers are not given credit only on Fotolia due to limitations with partner collections on this platform, but the image is attributed to authors on Adobe Stock.
3. Although it may seem at first that proceeds from sales are going to someone but not to the photographers, eventually, after several months, the money should find its way to your “sales” section.
4. Photographers are completely in the dark during this process, which can last several months
Why does this delay happen? The reason seems to be that 500px receives monthly, quarterly, and sometimes even bi-annual sales reports, then waits for full payments from the partners (in this case Adobe Stock) before they process the sales in their own system.
The photo in question was sold on Februrary 28th, 2017, so I guess Adobe Stock only reports sales twice a year, otherwise it would come in 2017 Q1 report and would already be processed.
Is there a moral to this story? If you sell images on stock sites, be proactive about it. Search for your best pictures online. If you have questions for sellers or buyers, ask them right away. If the answer isn’t satisfactory, look for others who might be in the same situation. Turn to the photography community. You may have your answer after all. 500px support turned out to be quick (after I took the issue online) and clear (but pushy).
Still, some issues remain. One of the main ones is: Fotolia is still not giving credit to photographers of photos being sold through the 500px partnership, but at least photos are being sold for a price that matches 500px.
Editor’s note: We also reached out to 500px for clarification and heard the same details as Alex. But 500px also noted that photographers can easily opt out:
“500px contributors can always opt-out of our distribution network (under their distribution settings) if it’s not right for them,” 500px tells PetaPixel. “Interestingly enough, less than 1% of Marketplace contributors have done that to date.”