One photographer has learned about royalty-free licensing the hard way. After failing to read the terms and conditions when uploading to Shutterstock, he found his image was used on over 500,000 units of merchandise being sold at Walmart stores. He received $1.88.
Michael Stemm, who is based in Fredericton, often finds himself taking pictures in the city. The photo in question is one he took of a snowy bridge back in December 2017. In seeking additional income from his photography, he uploaded the photo the following February, as part of Shutterstock’s royalty-free library.
He then completely forgot he had even done so, until a couple of months later when friends discovered it again. As per his own words in a video posted to his Facebook, which has 70,000 views at the time of writing, Stemm found the picture used on a calendar, greeting cards, and large throw blanket, all of which were on sale at Walmart.
So, what happened? Newfoundland-based Islandwide Distributors were using it on their merchandise, having purchased it from Shutterstock. Upon further inquiry, Stemm discovered the company has distributed 500,000 units of the calendars and cards. Ordinarily, usage of an image for such a large production would equal a hefty payday for a photographer. However, Stemm pocketed only $1.88 for the sale. To add insult to injury, he is also unable to redeem the money until his account reaches $50.
Speaking of the incident, he said:
[I feel I’m] being taken advantage of: the small guy who makes the time, effort to take the picture, and upload, and now, it’s being exploited by big companies.
Marc Belliveau, a copyright specialist of over 25 years, dispelled any foul play and said the situation is “consistent with copyright law.”
Walmart reached out to Stemm in the comment section of his Facebook video. He says he sent them his details but is yet to hear back.