Why Shutterstock’s Copyright Infringement problems should concern you

If you’ve been active on both the Shutterstock and MicrostockGroup forums lately, you’ll have seen an abundance of similar threads related to one core issue: contributors that are blatantly passing off others’ work as their on for profit.

This problem seems only to be getting worse as many of accounts flagged up weeks/months ago are still active and uploading new misappropriated content.

So why are Shutterstock not taking this issue seriously? What should you do if you suspect one of your images was stolen? Read on and I’ll try to provide you with all the answers. I’ll also name and shame some of these scum.

For the latest update, see here – https://brutallyhonestmicrostock.com/2019/01/27/update-why-shutterstocks-copyright-infringement-problems-should-concern-you/

Unsplash, Pexels and Pixabay – Creative Commons

One avenue that many thieves (I’ll just cut down to the chase and call a spade a spade) use is to download a Creative Commons license (CC0) from free sites such as Unsplash and Pixabay. The terms and conditions of these agencies state that users can use such images freely in digital and printed format, for personal and commercial use (you take your own risk for unreleased content). However, this forbids them from re-licensing as one must be a copyright owner (wont get into the legal nitty gritty).

March 11 Update: A thread on Pixabay has recently been created linking to this blog post. Seems like many contributors on there are also worried about this issue, rightly so!

Example from Pixabay


As above, the user “vpngor” blatantly downloaded the image above of the fox from “Jacky73490” from Pixabay and is licensing it as his own on his Shutterstock account. This is low-level thievery, in my opinion, since Jacky73490 is stupid/naive enough to put such a fantastic image on a free site “for exposure”. Guys, if you want to be taken seriously as a photographer, don’t give away your best work. I’ll get onto more hard-core thievery soon.

On a hilarious side note, even if it’s such a great image, “vpngor’s” image probably will never been seen by potential buyers with such poor use of the caption/keywords:


Stealing from Flickr

Things start to take a more cynical turn when thieves start taking content from Flicker, such as in this occasion by “ttp1001“:


Amazingly Shutterstock accepted this image even there’s a watermark from the copyright owner of the image “(c) Joseph Holub 2017” (circled in red) – ffs SS!

Stealing from other SS Contributors and/or other Stock Agencies

Now it’s getting serious and some contributors have gone this far, unfortunately. Here’s an example with the left as original and right as stolen-modified copy by Krishbranden.


Perhaps in an attempt to avoid detection, the same thief downloaded an image off Adobe Stock and is re-licensing it on Shutterstock with slight modifications.


With his excellent Photoshop skills it amazes me as to why he doesn’t just create his own work!

Otherwise, this contributor just went down the lazy route of outright purchasing a license and then re-licensing as his own (left is stolen):


Calling Sherlock Holmes

Sometimes a thief has stolen from another thief who has stolen from a copyright owner. Same image in four different accounts with only one being the copyright owner…time to call in Detective Holmes…


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shutterstock thieves

What do you do if you suspect one of your images was stolen?

In the unlikely event that one of your images is stolen, as the copyright owner of the image, the first step is to get in contact with submit@shutterstock.com and infringementclaims@shutterstock.com with all the details, who will then forward their query to SS’s compliance department.

Then, you’ll probably receive the following generic email pertaining to making DMCA Copyright Infringement Notice. More details on the steps below:

If you misrepresent that material is infringing, Shutterstock may terminate your Shutterstock account, or you may face other legal consequences.

Infringement Notice Requirements:

1) A physical or electronic signature of a person authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

2) Identification of the copyrighted work claimed to have been infringed, or, if multiple copyrighted works at a single online site are covered by a single notification, a representative list of such works at that site.

3) Identification of the material that is claimed to be infringing or to be the subject of infringing activity and that is to be removed or access to which is to be disabled, and information reasonably sufficient to permit the Shutterstock to locate the material.

4) Information reasonably sufficient to permit the Shutterstock to contact the complaining party, such as an address, telephone number, and, if available, an electronic mail address at which the complaining party may be contacted.

5) A statement that the complaining party has a good faith belief that use of the material in the manner complained of is not authorized by the copyright owner, its agent, or the law.

6) A statement that the information in the notification is accurate, and under penalty of perjury, that the complaining party is authorized to act on behalf of the owner of an exclusive right that is allegedly infringed.

Only the copyright owner or their authorized representative may file a report of copyright infringement. If you believe content on Shutterstock infringes someone else’s copyright, you may want to let the rights owner know.

Please note that we may provide the rights owner’s name, your email and the details of your report to the person who receives the complaint.

For more information, please review Shutterstock’s DMCA Copyright Infringement Notice at: www.shutterstock.com/terms/dmca-notice.


Shutterstock Compliance Team

One key takeaway from the above is that:

“Only the copyright owner or their authorized representative may file a report of copyright infringement. If you believe content on Shutterstock infringes someone else’s copyright, you may want to let the rights owner know.”

Be aware that as a third-party you can and should still flag up potential copyright infringements.

“High-fraud risk areas”

The Brutally Honest Blog doesn’t shy away from controversy and many of these stolen accounts appear to be from contributors based in India. So sad that in such a culturally rich and vibrant country with so many stories to tell that some of their contributors resort to the lowest common denominator.

Shutterstock has taken a wise course of action and complied an undisclosed list of “high-fraud risk areas”, which I’m 99.9% sure India is part. One potential good news is that if one of these thieves does reach the $50 payout, this money will be on a 90-day waiting period. I assume it applies from the moment the payout request is made. More details here.

Sometimes there’s good news!

Earlier this week I had enough of watching these obviously fraudulent accounts have their last laugh and I confronted one such contributor head-on by posting a negative review on his business website and suggested other contributors do the same.


Then, I contacted him on his Facebook Messenger business page to remove his account, while also notifying SS (he never used any of my images). Lo and behold, either he shut down his own account or SS pulled the plug. Either way, a small victory.


Still unclear what happens with money that is earned from thieves’ accounts. Does this go to Shutterstock’s coffers or is it distributed to the original copyright owner?

To be continued…

I don’t expect this matter to be even close to ending as the number of Shutterstock contributors continue to expand.

“Online photo library Shutterstock is kicking off the new year [2019] with a worldwide recruitment drive for new contributing photographers. The microstock site already has 550,000 contributors which have been accepted onto the company’s books during its 15 year’s in business.

The new push has a distinctly international feel – as Shutterstock’s website and app will now be available in 21 different languages. The app had previously only been available in English – and the website could only offer 14 different language options.” – Source

However, the fact that Shutterstock appear to be taking SOME steps to address the issue and shutting down SOME accounts is promising. I know that these things take time and need to be investigated thoroughly. As mentioned earlier, sometimes a thief has stolen from another thief who has stolen from a copyright owner!

Some instances of infringements are not so straightforward and in rare occasions, there can be innocent coincidences.

Wack-a-mole exercise 

Shutterstock and other agencies need to have this issue at their forefront. I’ve proposed a few ideas to tackle this problem and if you have any to add, please comment below:

  • More advanced tracking software to notify whether an image or similar image is currently licensed at Shutterstock (or at a free site), in the same way that similar images used to be rejected…or if you try to upload the same image again by accident as I did yesterday:


  • Bring back the 7/10 inspection test to be a contributor. If they upload their own images, they would probably never be able to pass this test. I have seen time and time again that some contributors begin by uploading their own pathetic images and quickly given up when they have no sales and resort to stealing, as in the case of this contributor who went to upload snapshots of flowers to excellent content within a few weeks.
  • Make it easier for people to report without complicated DMCA rules. Simply a button on the image itself that anybody can click that says “report potential unauthorised usage”.
  • Stricter checks on potentially high-fraud risk countries. I know there’s already a 90-day payment wait period for such countries, but a stricter test, perhaps on first joining, may deter some would-be thieves.
  • More education towards contributors and reporting unauthorised usages. Some of the material seems outdated and need a fresh re-write. Also more education on avoiding uploading to free sites would be welcome too!

Non-exhaustive list of some currently active “thieves”* on SS – Updated on January 25, 2019


Please take your time looking through the portfolios above and if you do see any images that appear to belong to you, take immediate action by contacting SS Support!

Legal disclaimer on name and shaming list: I am not making any moral or legal judgement on the above contributors, but simply reiterating, exercising my journalistic liberty, what is already posted in public at the SS and MSG forums. Therefore, I hold no liability whether any contributor or contributors above license fraudulent content or not or as to the accuracy of the list above.


Update: The above accounts are getting a lot of view from you guys. If you see any of your images being used, ensure to report. Even if you’re a third party, flag it up and put pressure on SS to look into these accounts!

May 2019 Update:

Thank you Daniele Carrere for mentioning me on your blog. Link to his take on the thieving situation (in Italian) can be found here.

About Alex

I’m an eccentric guy on a quest to visit all corners of the world and capture stock images & footage. I’m determined not to waste my life away as a corporate drone and have devoted five years to making it as a travel photographer and freelance writer. I hope to inspire others before it’s too late.

I’m proud to have written a book about my adventures which includes tips on making it as a stock travel photographer – Brutally Honest Guide to Microstock Photography

Check out my new photo review service, where I’ll help take your images to the next level and get them sold regularly!


  1. Thanks Alex, incredible post. I had not idea it is that bad when it comes to stealing and even re-stealing.
    You are right also about the site like Pixabay. The exposure there is non-existent since nobody ever bother to leave credits for your work. People just download images and basically appropriate them.
    Again, great post, quite an eye-opener.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. B******s is all I can say. People put the effort into stock photos which doesn’t earn much and someone has the nerve to do this what a joke hope they crack down on it somehow. Great post Alex.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! It’s discouraging to established contributors that their concepts and images are up for grabs by lazy scum. Fortunately, they butcher the keywords so doubt they have many sales! They’re cracking down on these accounts but often taking too long so we need to keep putting pressure on SS!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alex. Thank you for spreading the word about this increasing concern. I own and operate a 25 year old stock footage brand. We are rights managed only and produce our own content. A software company well known for their photo editing application contacted me a few years ago and asked me to join their new stock image brand. I told them I don’t want our material on a microstock web site and warned them of the issues. Recently, one of our photographers contacted me saying our content was being sold on their web site. I contacted them and was directed to a DMCA take down notice form. Yes, DMCA take down notice form at a company who previously was just in the business of creating and selling software (intellectual property). On that web page, it says they are providing the take down notice because they respect the creative community. They actually say that. “Respect.” Well, they are not protected by the DMCA and I have every intention of being compensated for our (registered) copyrighted footage. I’d like to suggest some options to image creators/owners with teeth. First, register your works with the US Copyright Office now. This will give you teeth when pursing infringements. Don’t fall for the DMCA protection claim. Did they acquire your permission before using your property? If no, then it’s infringement plain an simple. Send them a certified letter with your evidence, a reasonable but large dollar amount you want, the deadline and heads up that you’ll be suing them in Federsl court if necessary. If they don’t resolve it by the date, sue them. Other precautions: Always use watermarks – visual or digital, and post a copyright warning wherever your images appear on-line. This may allow you to acquire legal fees in court …if your work is registered. You can check out our collection at http://www.notmicrostock.com

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It is funny (not really) that with all this technology and algorithms and image similarity based search at it’s best, companies are not putting down duplicates in a blink of an eye.The problem seemed to be maximized last year in Youtube as long as a possible monetization profit existed for literally everyone uploading whatever. But in Shutterstock and of course other microstock sites, where person’s verification required and legal and tax information also provided, perhaps should be bigger penalties than just an account removal.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, it’s beyond me how the SAME image gets through these algos…but as I mentioned, if I accidentally try to upload the same image that already exists in my port it won’t get through. Their systems have more holes than Swiss cheese!

      Would be reasonable if the original copyright owner would be compensated with the royalties earned by fraud, but I think SS just pockets the change (probably not much anyway but it’s the principle)

      All the best

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. The same happens on social media. I saw one of my images used by someone who bought it on Shutterstock, edited it slightly, used it on Instagram as his own, and got it even reposted by a large page that has thousands of followers. His entire account was composed of images bought on stock sites and used as his own. I contacted him to remove the image, and he did remove it at the end. But this shows how far people are willing to go to seek fame. I am sure a lot of people are doing the same on social media.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Alex,

    I have reported these portfolios, not that it will do much.

    If only someone could write and inform investors some how about these theft.. maybe then it’ll be taken seriously after Shutterstocks stock price hurts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well done Alex!…..this is why they nurse the distributors and eastern block of countries! SS is unsustainable its like sitting on a time-bomb.

    Nowadays earnings for established photographers are so bad that it isnt even worth it. Its purely for hobbiests and weekend snappers and thq quality is falling by the minute. These kind iof contributors dont worry about copyrights etc, etc.


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