500px’s Hostile Licensing Policy

…and why you should not allow them to license your images

Jeff Escalante
Jan 24 · 5 min read
This is my photo and I will not sell the rights to use it for $0.54

I have been a fairly happy paying user of 500px for a few years now. It’s a really nice photography platform and community that lets you upload, share, display, and sell licenses for your images. As a hobbyist photographer, I have enjoyed it thoroughly.

But recently, something popped up which set off some red flags for me. I got an email that someone paid to license one of my photos. This was pretty exciting — I don’t put much effort into getting my photos licensed as this is just a hobby for me, so when someone purchases a license, it’s exciting. I went to the interface to see what I had been paid and who purchased it, and I found that it was not revealed, and I was paid 54 cents.

I was a bit confused about this, as I have previously licensed images for somewhere in the range of > $50, so 54 cents was pretty ridiculous. This led me to believe that something had changed in the way that 500px licenses their images, so upon visiting their licensing page, I saw this was in fact true — they had partnered with getty images, which is a huge, very popular stock photo site. Maybe, I thought, getty images has much lower pricing. So I headed over to the site to check it out. Surprisingly, I found that the standard pricing for images is $500 for a license. Damn, that is a lot! You could license a “small” version of an image for $175, but that was the lowest price I found. So how did I end up getting 54 cents, exactly? Even if it was a single license of the smallest size, my cut here would have been 0.03%, which does seem a little too low to be reasonable.

So I reached out to 500px support to see if I could get any information about what happened with this particular licensing deal. This was the response I got:

With Distribution sales an additional party is added to the equation, so it’s important to keep in mind the gross sale amount is split 3 ways.

There’s also sometimes a difference between a list price and the actual sale price. Our distribution partners work with key accounts and high value clients that at times may request large volumes of images. Our partners may negotiate a discount and other times may offer promotional pricing to incentivize these clients. Being flexible with pricing gives distribution partners leeway to entice more clients to do business with them.”

So basically, they are saying 500px takes a cut, Getty takes a cut, and I get a cut. I do not know what those cuts are however, and they were unwilling to tell me. Additionally, they are saying, Getty can give whatever discount they want on images for the good of their own business, so potentially they licensed my photo along with others for a bulk discount. This is reasonable from a business perspective, sure. But the lack of transparency is not, and the fact that I do not know what cut or pricing I am getting for licensing my own photos is also not. I followed up to ask if more detail could be provided on who licensed my photo, or how the payout percentages were broken down, and this was the response I got:

“Our partners reserve the right to control their own pricing. As per the Contributor agreement, “Company (and its Distributors) shall have complete and sole discretion regarding the terms, conditions and pricing of Selected Images licensed to customers without the need for any consultation with Contributor. Company and its Distributors may enter into licensing arrangements for a quantity of Images, and may need to calculate royalties based on a ratio of Contributor Images licensed to the total number of Images licensed.”

Due to privacy reasons, we do not provide end user (Buyer) information.”

So to be clear:

  • Getty can pick any price they want for your images, including $0, and you have no visibility into this, or any say in it at all, before or after sale.

This is a very hostile policy toward photographers. When 500px previously licensed photos directly, none of this was the case. There was a price, buyers paid the price, and you as the content creator got a certain amount as a cut. Perfectly clear what you are signing up for, from the start. Under these terms, you put up your images for licensing and anyone may or may not pay anything for any number of your images, and you may receive some arbitrary amount and not know who licensed it, or what license they got.

As such, I am removing all of my photos from being able to be licensed through 500px, and would strongly encourage other photographers on the platform to do the same (although in my attempts to do so, I got multiple errors saying something went wrong and to contact support, ironically). If you are selling your work, you should be able to have some say in what it is sold for and who it is sold to, not just give away all your photos for free to a company that does literally whatever they want with them and may decide to pitch you some arbitrary amount of a given sale if they please. Additionally, you can just submit your photos directly to Getty images if you want, then not need to give 500px a cut for doing pretty much nothing.

The fact that 500px sold its users out in this manner is, honestly, despicable and greatly erodes my trust in the platform in general. If anyone has suggestions for a better photographer community that actually cares about its users, please leave notes in the comments for the benefit of us all 😀.

Jeff Escalante

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lifelong learner