Recently, I had an issue with OnlyFans. While I don’t feel it’s right to disclose the details of that particular case to preserve privacy, I uncovered a much bigger issue. Boiled down, if your work is stolen, you will have to pay to see it and stop it from being used unlawfully.
Ah, OnlyFans. It is a great website for various content creators with various content. The business idea of the website is fantastic, and I applaud the creators of the business. They entered the market at a high point (COVID) and ended up becoming a very profitable enterprise. Riding the new wave of the porn (let’s face it) industry, they made a great business model that has been copied a few times already.
What Is OnlyFans and What Does the Legal Side of Selling Images There Look Like?
OnlyFans is a commercial site, which comes as no surprise to anyone aware of what the platform does: sells images. This is no different than putting your photos up on Shutterstock and selling a license to them. The way OnlyFans describes it is that you give them a license to sell imagery. As I said, legally, it is not that different from Shutterstock. Content-wise, well, you will find better images on Shutterstock, in my opinion.
Numbers Are Impressive
There are over a million creators on OnlyFans and 120 million users. That’s a lot of people, a lot of transactions, and consequently, a lot of money exchanged. The revenue reported by March 2021 was $3 billion. OnlyFans says that they pay out over $200 million a month to creators. I think that for a website that is essentially Instagram with a paywall and a nonexistent nudity policy, the figures are impressive. Achieving them is not an easy task. Luckily, there is an audience that will gladly pay for some tasteful, and not so tasteful, content on websites such as OnlyFans.
How Do You Uncover That Your Images Were Stolen by OnlyFans Creators?
The short answer is that there is no easy way to uncover that your images were stolen by an OnlyFans creator. The problem lies in the paywall, which restricts users from viewing potentially stolen imagery. In one way or another, this is basically the covert sale of stolen images, similar to the black market. Unfortunately, this means a few unfortunate things to photographers behind these images: their work is making models and OnlyFans money, but they’re not getting a share.
Because it’s hidden, this can be going on for years without anyone noticing. What is worse, for particularly large creators, it could be making thousands of dollars. Thousands, that frankly, you should have a share of.
Popular platforms used to uncover unlawful usage of images are useless against OnlyFans, again because of the paywall. There is no way to get around that paywall for anyone who isn’t a) OnlyFans staff b) a creator posting stolen work. Let’s examine and see whether any of these two would be interested in protecting photographers from having their work stolen. OnlyFans staff are, as it seems to me, committed to helping photographers recover stolen imagery. But that comes with a caveat: only if they are notified. People have reported having no problem having stolen work removed and the user investigated. The problem is that someone has to find out about the misuse of their images. As for you, b) the creator, well, if they’re stealing it, they would have to be fairly talented to uncover it themselves. Although this has also happened. Someone posted stolen content publicly and then directed their audience to buy (that exact content) on OnlyFans. Ambassador of logic right there.
Doesn’t the Model Own the Image and Have the Right To Sell It?
The copyright to images is owned by you. The moment you take a photo, it is yours. Nobody else is entitled to your copyrighted work. As for the model, they don’t own a single pixel of your file. They are free to take pictures of themselves in the mirror and post online all they want. If a team, including the photographers, has worked on an image, the photographer owns the file. It is a whole different topic on who owns the makeup idea, and who owns the styling idea. The bottom line is that you, the photographer, own the full copyright to the picture and decide where it goes.
What Should Be Discussed Before the Shoot?
Before the shoot, you must discuss where the images will be used. If you want, even sign a usage contract for this. The crew must be clear on what they can and can't do. As well as that, you should agree on further usage such as re-licensing of the photos. Your team must be aware of how the work will be used and what will happen if the images will be sold to a third party. It also must be discussed what the team can and can't do with the photographs.
There Is Nothing You Can Do To Uncover That Your Work Has Been Stolen and Is Being Sold by OnlyFans
Nothing can be done. There is no way to check if your work has been stolen on OnlyFans besides paying for a subscription. Getting a refund on the latter because of trying to uncover stolen work is also impossible. The feedback you get is that their fee is non-refundable. This practically means either losing money due to your images being stolen or losing money because of subscribing to the "creator" on OnlyFans. Unfortunately, either way, you are losing money with no real way to recover it. OnlyFans has also not offered a refund on the money a creator possibly could've lost due to their work being sold without permission.
Message to OnlyFans
It is with great disappointment that I have to write that there is no way to see if the content was stolen by your users. There is no way, besides paying a fee that is non-refundable and sending a DMCA takedown notice. OnlyFans, implement a way for photographers to view if their work has been stolen by finding a match to images they want to check. Alternatively, refund the creators who had to pay out their own pocket to send takedown notices. Not only are creators losing money due to their work being commercialized, but also they have to pay for a website they would rather not be on.