Copyright Enforcement Service Claims $600 Billion-Worth Of Images Are ‘Stolen’ Every Day

Tech Dirt – by Tim Cushing

A new “report” has been released by Copytrack, supposedly detailing the insane amount of “stealing” that goes on every day. “Report” is in quotes for reason. First, the “report” [PDF] opens up with a literally unbelievable statistic conjecture.

[I]t is estimated that more than 2.5 billion images are stolen daily. These license violations have the potential to result in up to €532.5 billion in damages daily.  

Not even in the most fevered dream of the most overwrought copyright maximalist could this number be considered plausible. As attorney/law professor Jeff Pearlman points out, this hilarious extrapolation from facts not in evidence conjectures that copyright infringement of images alone results in a number that swallows the entirety of the world’s economy.

If you can’t read/see the tweet, it says:

Let’s do some math! GWP (combined global GDPs) is ~$87 trillion. That’s ~$240 billion/day. Copytrack says $600 billion/day in “stolen” images.

So: they say the value of “stolen” images is more than twice what the entire world produces in goods and services.

Color me skeptical.

Yes. Skepticism — massive amounts of it — is called for. Copytrack’s assertion of GWP-destroying infringement starts with another unbelievable number.

Two studies from IMGembed and Copytrack show that of the 3 billion images shared on the internet daily, around 85 percent are used without a valid license.

Let’s talk about sharing. Images are shared frequently, often without licenses. Does this mean each share can be equated with lost income? Of course not. People often use images on social media as placeholders for reactions or as standalone comments. There’s no replacement of the market for these images, unless someone — possibly Copytrack — assumes such innocuous, non-commercial use of images is a market that hasn’t been captured.

Supporters of Article 13 seem to believe this is the case. So does Copytrack. While the legislators behind the internet-crippling law in Europe may be beholden to powerful lobbyists, Copytrack’s reliance on ridiculous extrapolations to compose this report is pure self-interest. Copytrack follows its laughable claim about the “cost” of infringement with a sales pitch. And not “follows” as in “a few pages later,” but “follows” as in “it’s the very next damn sentence.”

Here’s the whole paragraph:

According to the figure above, it is estimated that more than 2.5 billion images are stolen daily. These license violations have the potential to result in up to €532.5 billion in damages daily. Many image owners feel that the extent to which image rights are violated signals a lack of respect for photographers’ work. Looking one step further, violations result in the loss of important revenues for rights holders on a daily basis. In 2018, Copytrack was able to obtain an average of €320 for each copyright infringement case submitted by a Copytrack user.

The pitch goes on from there, assuring users that a) billions of dollars are being “lost” every day and b) Copytrack can help them claw back a few of the billions of “lost” Euros.

If you have anything less than complete skepticism by this point, you’re probably a Copytrack employee.

Somewhat ironically, Copytrack claims the country performing the most infringement isn’t any of the countries listed on the USTR’s annual country-shaming Special 301 reports. According to this report, the USTR’s home country is worst infringer.

Our leader in regards to copyright infringement was not Asia, as many may have assumed, but rather North America with 33.90 percent of image copyright violations coming from this part of the world.

The US is ahead of every other country by a healthy margin, something Copytrack believes is due to the large percentage of the population with internet access. It then breaks this down by city, coming to the astonishing conclusion that the most infringing US city is… Scottsdale, Arizona. Here’s how Copytrack attempts to explain this finding:

Scottsdale was responsible for 5 percent of image infringements and did so with a population of only about 250.000 inhabitants! Finding reasons for this placement is not easy, however, in 1993 Scottsdale was rated the “most liveable city in the USA and made a name for itself in tabloid media as a celebrity vacation spot. In Scottsdale, photos of popular locations are some of the most commonly used pictures without a license. It is therefore quite possible that the sudden fame of the city was picked up locally and was spread across the internet – without sufficient diligence for image rights research.

Ok then. Maybe next time, try to perform some of that “sufficient diligence” before hitting the “publish” button. Here’s a more likely explanation why so much infringement appears to be coming from Arizona: domain registrar GoDaddy is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona and private registrations default to GoDaddy’s home address. This logic failure is especially ridiculous considering Copytrack suggested it was private domain registrations driving the surprisingly high amount of alleged infringement in Panama City, Panama — which leads the world in infringement percentage according to this report.

Given Copytrack’s inability to rein in its statistical leaps of faith or its bizarre theories about mass infringement in the Arizona real estate industry, perhaps it shouldn’t have applied its… um… prowess to minutia no one cares about. But it did and so there’s a whole page dedicated to breaking down the resolutions most commonly “stolen.” This, unsurprisingly, turns out to be 1920×1080, followed by sizes commonly used by online publications to ensure viewability across a wide variety of platforms and devices (600×400). Basically, the most popular sizes for infringement are also the most popular sizes for non-infringing use.

I mean, is there really any usable knowledge to be gleaned from this chart?

Obviously, Copytrack thinks so. Maybe this chart is included to let rights holders know they can limit infringement by uploading creations in resolutions no one would even take for free… like 600×150 or 350×1200 or whatever. Sometimes you just have to realize that not all data is relevant, useful, or even marginally interesting. Copytrack appears to feel it needs to use all the data it collected, even if the data is completely devoid of information.

I guess if the ultimate point is to pitch your services to new customers, Copytrack’s report can be considered a success… but only if it results in new customers. By any other standard, it’s a failure. And an embarrassing one at that.


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