Shutterstock May Have Paid Out Over $4 Million From its AI Contributor Fund

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Shutterstock’s Contributor Fund aims to give back to photographers and artists whose work has been used to train generative artificial intelligence (AI) tools — such as the AI image generator the company is currently promoting.

But how much does it pay? A recent analysis from stock photographer Robert Kneschke reveals that Shutterstock may have paid out $4.24 million in May.

How Does Shutterstock’s Contributor Fund Work?

As reported by Kneschke, Shutterstock will pay photographers from its Contributor Fund every six months — with it having its own section in the sales overview.

Kneschke asked 58 other photographers how much they were paid from the fund and also factored in the size of their portfolio to calculate averages.

“On average, the portfolio size of the participants was 6,343 images,” writes Kneschke.

“Because the average can be quickly consumed by some extreme values, the median is usually more meaningful. This was 2,112 images.”

Kneschke’s survey found that the average revenue from the fund was $0.0078 per image, and the median was $0.0069 per image.

“Incidentally, my own value lay between these two values,” he adds.

Kneschke reveals that the photographer with the highest value per image ($0.0378) had a relatively small portfolio (1,480 images).

How Much Money Has Shutterstock Paid Out for AI Use?

In Shutterstock’s FAQs, it describes the Contributor Fund as a “new revenue stream” that “goes beyond downloads and licensing.”

The photo stock giant says photographers will receive a share of the total contract value it has with its partners.

“The share that individual vendors receive is proportionate to the amount of their content and metadata included in the datasets purchased,” it writes.

It’s Shutterstock’s way of compensating photographers and artists whose work has been used to train AI, but how much are they actually paying out?

Kneschke extrapolated his data; by taking Shutterstock’s own reports that they hold 615 million images in its portfolio, multiplying the median payment per image ($0.0069) with 615 million comes an approximate $4.24 million.

While that is a big number, Kneschke remains unimpressed.

“With reported sales of over $215 million and net income of over $32 million, that’s not a big deal for Shutterstock,” he says.

“Are around two-thirds of a U.S. cent per image in the portfolio twice a year sufficient and fair to adequately compensate for the use of AI in your own images? I’ll lean out the window and say: no.”

Kneschke has previosuly explored the generate AI world. After he requested the LAION dataset remove his photos, he was instead sent an invoice from them demanding $1,000.

PetaPixel reached out to Shutterstock in a bid to confirm these numbers but it did not have a response as of publication.