- "Suing Perez Hilton sent shock waves through the blogging industry, resulting in a lot of bloggers becoming clients."
- Splash uses face-recognition software to check published snaps against its 1.2 million archived images.
- "Often we have to look into people, use private eyes to find out whom they are because often these people hide and use pseudonyms, but it's not that difficult to find people. The problem is that often when you track them down it turns out to be a 13-year-old girl who is doing it from her Dad's work laptop."
- "We have a company put an indelible watermark in the image; the image can still be used, you can't see it."
- Splash send out 10 'cease and desist' notices every day.
- Splash now deals with 250 blog sites: "It's really is a boom industry. It's like the gold rush again."
- Do you see blogs and message boards as potential clients? "I think we do so now, they are very agile and adept at knowing what the public wants… It's the way of the future and we can resist it, we just have to find a way of adapting ourselves and letting everyone now this is the way its done."
Journalism.co.uk: What have been your experiences with copyright issues?
Kevin Smith: It's mostly a bad experience; it's a real problem. Theft is a huge problem, particularly with the material we have. Britney Spears is very popular, especially on the net. It's one of the biggest problems that we have.
Our job as an agency is to police it and try to protect the copyright of the people that syndicate through us, both staff and freelance.
What measures do you take to protect your copyright online?
One of the first things we did was sue a very high-profile blogger, Perez Hilton. We made it very public that we were suing him and that sent shockwaves through the industry he's in and as a result a lot of people signed up and became clients.
It was a good result for us, the lawsuit is still going through, but it showed people that we were serious and we have turned it into money for the people we syndicate for. We routinely sign up new websites every day.
The other thing that we do is use a system that we internally call Scan X, which is face-recognition software. It's similar to what the police use in stadiums in America where it scans the highs and lows of an image.
Every single image in our archive, that's 1.2 million images, is scanned and all the newspapers and magazines are scanned also.
So when I come into work in the morning, I go to a website and I can see what images have been used by the publications that we monitor.
Do you have a cuttings service to do that for you or is it in-house?
We have outsourced it to a company in Canada. It's expensive, but if people were honest I wouldn't have to do it.
We have been doing it for magazines in the UK and US for a long time; it's only fairly recently that we have been able to do it with UK newspapers.
One of the first days we did it we spotted a tiny little postage stamp picture image of Tony Blair that was ours.
Normally we would have missed that because we don't photograph Tony Blair that often. If he came out of the nightclubs in Hollywood a bit more often then perhaps we would. I doubt we would have been paid for it if we had not spotted it.
So the onus is on you to find your photos to get paid?
Yes, there are some publications, to be frank, that can't afford all the pictures that are in them. So they are forced to steal.
Now that they know we are monitoring it, it doesn't force them to stop stealing. It just forces them to stop stealing from us.
So have you adopted this policy with copy too?
We are trying; it's a lot trickier. We started as a copy agency, we didn't have any photographers or videographers, but we found that we were breaking some very big stories, massive international stories, but we were finding that we could sell it in the UK but that was it.
The story would run worldwide but we wouldn't get a penny for it because it would get lifted. Plagiarism is the first rule of journalism. By the time my story had been translated into German, how did I know if it was mine or not?
Where do you find the biggest problems come from? Is it commercial clients or one-man bloggers?
We very rarely see it through proper commercial interests... We have just moved our servers to Paris, we are blocking access to certain IP addresses, but there is only so much security you can do. The problems come where we transmit our pictures and videos to third parties.
Do you have a policy if you spot images or copy on the web that's yours? Do you send a bill or a take down notice?
We issue them with a 'cease and desist'. Often we have to look into people, use private eyes to find out who they are because often these people hide and use pseudonyms, but it's not that difficult to find people.
The problem is that often when you track them down it turns out to be a 13-year-old girl who is doing it from her Dad's work laptop.
A lot of the time there is no point pursuing these people for money, because they haven't got any and they are too young to understand that what they are doing is wrong.
But, when people are big time, they know what copyright means. They even generate their own pictures so they should know what copyright means. So these are the ones that we go legal on.
More and more we are finding that the money we make is made very quickly; long-term we can't guarantee that people's copyright will be respected.
We had the record for income from a video clip; when Anna Nicole Smith died we had the clip of the last frantic moments of people working on her.
Before that even aired in the US for this record sum of money, it was already on YouTube.
In a typical week how many cease and desist notices do you send out?
We probably do 10 a day. And that's really just the tip of the iceberg; we really couldn't do them all.
So you presumably go for the bigger ones?
Yeah, but a lot of it comes down to technology; you have to find a way of automating the process otherwise you'd go mad. Using the Scan X software we do trawl websites that we know are repeat offenders.
It’s incredible, amazing software. We have a company put an indelible watermark in the image, the image can still be used, you can't see it, but if I find an image stolen I can run it through my computer and it will tell me from where it was stolen.
That helps, because you can see where the leaks are, but the problem is that you have to pay for every image to have this on in the hope of catching a few leaks.
Unfortunately ours is the news content that is popular. A recent image of Britney Spears can attract a lot of interest and attract lots of hits to your site.
Is the web more a burden than a helpful tool then or do you see blogs and message boards as potential clients?
I think we do so now, they are very agile and adept at knowing what the public wants.
Some of them, the amount of hits they are getting, the News Of The World would love to get something like that.
They are smart and they cost nothing to run. It's the way of the future and we can resist it, we just have to find a way of adapting ourselves and letting everyone now this is the way its done.
To the blogs we mostly sell by subscription now and we have done well out of it. America is the king of the blogs, if you look at the traffic on some of these blogs the traffic is almost exclusively American; Europe is yet to wake up to this phenomenon.
What's the future?
It will be about taking back control. At the moment we push our images out to 75 destinations, that's our entire archive.
In the future it will be that everything stays in my bank vault here so that I know who you are and what you have withdrawn.
It will be more like a library and you will only be able to take what you want rather than download 100 images and just use one.
Are you concerned that the theft of images can end up crippling the industry?
It's an irritant; we have turned a lot of these people into clients so instead of having just eight daily tabloids in Britain we are now dealing with 250 blog sites, so it really is a boom industry.
It's like the gold rush again. The gold rush was run by a load of crazed cowboys who got organised and now that is happening here too.