My Corbis Nightmare

By Deane Barker on June 11, 2004

Yesterday, I wanted to buy a stock image from Corbis to use in a Web site I’m developing. It was a standard hi-res image of a man standing in front of a building reading a newspaper. This should have been simple...

For those that don’t know, Corbis is the largest respository of digital images in the world. It’s owned by our good friend, Bill Gates (though not Microsoft, I understand – Bill owns Corbis personally).

After I found the image on Corbis, I clicked it and got a pop-up window. I found a link called “Pricing” and clicked it. Simple enough – things were looking straightforward.

Then Corbis told me that I had to be logged in. Why? Annoying, but I guessed at my username and password to the best of my recollection. Wrong password. I tried the “forgot my password” link. I had to have the answer to a question (“What is your favorite name?”) that I must have set up when I created the account two years ago. Four guesses later, I got it.

The password arrived via email, and I managed to get logged in. I went back to my image and clicked “Pricing.” This is what I got:

This image is distributed as Rights Managed. To price this image, add it to your Lightbox or Cart and click “Find Price” to answer a few usage questions.

What is “Rights Managed”? For that matter, what’s a “lightbox” (no Wikipedia entry for it – I looked)? Is it a shopping cart? Well, no, because there was a shopping cart too. I found a link under the image that said “lightbox” and clicked it. Nothing happened. I looked around some more.

There was a lower frame in the browser window with a link that said “Create new lightbox.” Now, at this point I still don’t know what a “lightbox” is, but evidently I have to have one, so I clicked that link.

The resulting pop-up (thank God I wasn’t running a blocker – this site lives on pop-ups) asked for a “name,” “a client name,” and a “parent lightbox.” Evidently all I needed to enter was a name. I named my lightbox “THIS SUCKS.”

Now that I had a lightbox (but not a clue), I was able to add my image, and a thumbnail of it appeared in the lower frame. Score one for me.

I went back to my image and clicked on the “Pricing” link. Same message as before:

This image is distributed as Rights Managed. To price this image, add it to your Lightbox or Cart and click “Find Price” to answer a few usage questions.

But now there was a little button that said “Price this Image.” Awesome – we’re making progress. I clicked the button, hopefully.

I then got a little wizard. I had to a pick a “Category,” which appeared to be how I was going to use the image. I picked “Web/CDROM.” Then I had to pick a “Use Type.” My options were “Educational,” “Single-Use,” and “Multiple-URL.” Since this was going to go in the Web site banner, I picked “Multiple-URL.”

Another form appeared below the first. The heading was “Secondary Usage Parameters.” I could check either “Exclusive Rights” or “Multiple Uses.” I think this meant whether I wanted the image all to myself, or whether other people could use it too. I didn’t care, really, but there was a warning that read:

Selecting “Exclusive Rights” or “Multiple Uses” will restrict your ability to get online pricing.

I left both options blank. The rest of the fields in the form were required.

The next option was “Geo. Distribution” and there was a list of countries. Geographic distribution? This is going on the Web – it can be accessed anywhere. I picked “World.” (What if I had picked “United States” – would I have to geolocate my visitors and block the foreign ones?)

Duration? Well, forever, I guess. But “two years” was the longest, so I picked that.

Industry? Real estate. Simple enough.

Language? What the.... this is a picture! There is no language! I picked “All.”

Exposure? “1-4 Web sites”

I said a little prayer and clicked “Apply Usage.” Here’s what I got:

Online pricing of Rights Managed images is not available for the usage you have selected. Please contact your Corbis account representative to obtain pricing.

I slowly cocked the revolver and placed it against my temple...

First of all, what does “Rights Managed” mean, anyway? (Yes, I searched Wikipedia...nothing). Second, I don’t have a “Corbis account representative.”

I looked around the page some more, and to my amazement, I found a link in the header for “My rep”. I clicked it and was taken to what looked like, by all appearances, a standard contact page. In fact, the email address was “[email protected]”. Yeah, that looks like my rep all right... [insert eye rolling here]

Since I had come so far, I sent an email anyway asking for pricing on the image and giving the ID number. Here’s what I got back:

For pricing & licensing information or research on Corbis images, please contact our sales support team at 1-800-260-0444. When you call, please be prepared to provide the image number(s) you are interested in as well as the usage specifications. To receive pricing, you must be registered at our Professional Use website. A sales support team member will be happy to register you over the phone or you may do so online.

Are you kidding me with this? I’m done with Corbis for good. I will find another man standing in front of another building reading another newspaper – this particular guy isn’t worth the trouble anymore.

Does anyone know a good site where I can purchase simple stock images?

Comments (76)

Chris says:

Rob says:

Want me to come take your picture. You bring the newspaper, I’ll bring the camera.

Rob says:

Here’s another one.

Tim R says:

The publisher I work for uses images from these two for both print and web work:

Philipp Lenssen says:

Wow, this sounds like Corbis service sucks.

Sometimes I find copyright-issues and unclear rights are getting those into trouble who are willing to pay.

I went to and paid 5 dollar or so for a digital video on the rise and fall of some dot-com-boomer. I downloaded the thing, paid for it, then clicked to see if it would work. It worked, but apparently now I only had 48 hours to watch it – and I bought it to see on the weekend, and that was a wednesday. (OK, so apparently I only rented it. I am still unsure wether or not the rental period starts the time I download, or the time I buy.)

In any case, I later downloaded one more movie, paid for it, but then it said “File couldn’t be found”, but apparently the payment was still going. That was the last time I used that site.

Windows Media Player Digital Rights Management (or whatever it is called) has some serious restrictions on what I can do, e.g. I also can’t make screenshots of videos I watch in Win Media Player. E.g. I could not burn a movie on CD and watch it on another player, depending on the rights I have. (I could not do it with

Then you got issues with DVD and region code. I buy a movie on (I’m in Germany) let it be delivered to my home, only to run into possible problems with the region-code restriction (DVDs from USA and Europe carry different region-codes to play only on local or region-free players.) Well, apparently my PlayStation 2 is region-free, as I could watch the movie (I would have cancelled my order but I couldn’t.)

Other issues are when I want to copy CDs I bought to my computer. Sometimes, the CD prevents me from doing that. I will not continue to buy from bands who allow this to happen.

I’m no user of KaZaA and I don’t like to download illegal stuff. I mostly use public domain images if I can, or just draw them myself, or make a photograph. I wish services offering material would clearly separate between users who want to buy (and serve them well) and those that want to steal (and not serve them so well, but not risk their service to others by trying to prevent those intending to steal).

Well, good luck finding a better stock photo site!

austin says:

You can use the ‘other’ image company:

jr says:

There’s a bunch of others I find quite good: (Free Stock) (OK, another rights controlled one, but has great works and links to more :))

HTH, jr

Remi says: - free stock

Timc3 says:

Sorry to hear that you are having problems. It really is standard industry speak, and Corbis are bad at explainations.

Rights Managed: The usage of the image is agreed at sale and the purchaser has to renogiate for any other usage including extra copies if the copies are limited to a finite number.

Royalty Free: You buy the right to use the image where you want and how often you want.

Lightbox: A place to put potential purchases much like the amazon wishlist.

Oh and yes I work in the industry for digitalvision

dude says:

an alternative to Corbis and Getty

James Wellington says:

check out these sites: and : very good stock photo archives, good service and lower fees than corbis or getty!

Steve says:

Here’s another alternative: Very attractive prices – inexpensive!!!

Anonymous says:

Holy crap – talk about a hellish online experience!

Anonymous says:

I worked for Corbis for years. No one seemed to know or care much about actual photography. It was all about the money. Management was extremely uneducated (Bob St Clair (very poorly spoken), Tony R. (bean counter)., can you read this?) and very unprofessional. Clients images were stored poorly, and no input from the worker bees was taken seriously. I was a manager with Corbis and I was not allowed to refer to any contract worked by name , it was manadtory to refer to them as TEMPS. It was the worst experience of my 25 + years in the photographic/editorial profession. I still have nightmares that I’m working there (seriously!). I encourage all in the industry to avoid them; either as clients or source providers.

Freddyv says:

Try Acclaim Images at

I own them. We are much easier to use and our photos are much better than or the other low-priced sites. We have over 60 photographers contributing and SOME GREAT PHOTOS!


Anonymous says:

Check out

David Kilpatrick says:

Actually, Corbis bombards publishers like me (real magazine, paying real photographers small sums for pictures which are not copies of every other picture around) with offers of $14.99 use-forever ‘Corbis Bizpresenter’ pictures. Big rival Getty occasionally fires off a link to a ‘use it free’ image too. The content of anything offered free is either so strikingly irrelevant or meaningless, and the range of the cheap Bizpresenter stuff so specific to people who have to make identical Powerpoint presentations and are stuck for anything to put in them... that basically Corbis has never successfully done business with me. Nor Getty. Nor any of the people who send me offers of Royalty Free CDs. In fact I used to get loads of these to review in the context of my magazines when it was a new idea. Even with them free, I never found a single image on any of them which I wanted.

tom says:

Hi; Here’s anothr stock photo source that no one else has mentioned: Htere are both Rights managed that is to say pay for what you want. Or Royalty Free, which is pay one time for all. I’m sure that you’ll find what you are looking for.

Terry says:

Try – artist owned and managed.

Anonymous says:

try – almost 200,000 images and you can negotiate direct with the photographers, so no Big Brother forms to fill out!

Anonymous says:

try - almost 200,000 images and you can negotiate direct with the photographers, so no Big Brother forms to fill out!

Gregg Stallings says:


They have great images

Paul Ambrose says:

Try It’s a small eclectic collection from thirty photographers around the world. It’s all rights managed. We’re one of the last agencies that pay photographers a full 50% split.

The site has a robust licensing fee calculator, but I would say almost half of our customers end up calling for some kind of custom need. The good news is, you can usualy talk to the guy who runs the agency . . . me.

We also feature luscious, big, watermark free comp images as free downloads (you do need to register). Sure, we get ripped off from time to time, but our goal is to make it as easy as possible for a designer or art director to get what they need.

Bruce Chesebrough says:

There are indeed on a downward spiral with delusions of grandeur, poor imagery, high prices, overworked employees while VPs and execs ride around in limosines and have the company budget pay for all their non-business expenses. I’d recommend

Bob Croxford says:

Dear Deane

Lets assume you want to by almost anything else; a car, a piece of software or a new pair of shoes. Do you expect to make purchases without providing any kind of input, any knowledge of the subject or any understanding of the industry you are buying from? How about buying a car without the dealer asking if you can afford it, without you providing details of how many seats or doors you want or without you doing any research to ensure whether you are talking to a Ford dealership or bicycle store? Would you buy a new PC and be surprised when a Mac arrived instead of a Dell?

Photographs are pieces of someone’s intellectual property, covered by the laws of copyright. Sometimes thousands of dollars will have gone into their production, paid for by a talented photographer with many decades of experience and expensively aquired skill. These are not cans of beans or Big Macs.

Assuming you are buying a picture for a commercial use wouldn’t you like to know that your client’s competitors are not using the same image? Most picture libraries and agencies employ staff who will be only too willing to talk you through a sale, help you with technical details like file sizes and ensure you are satisfied with your purchase. Many of the smaller agencies pick up the phone in a couple of rings.

I am sorry you have had this experience.

Bob Croxford

Norman says:

try these guys as great service and they offer both RF and RP cheers and good luck

Disgusted with Corbis says:

“Photographs are pieces of someone’s intellectual property, covered by the laws of copyright. Sometimes thousands of dollars will have gone into their production, paid for by a talented photographer with many decades of experience and expensively aquired skill. These are not cans of beans or Big Macs.”

Reports one jaded post.....That has been our point in these posts, CORBIS does treat all this material like super-sized fries. This is why CORBIS can not be trusted as a vendor or a client. Please read the original post before giving redundant opinions.

Tom Barradas says:

Unfortunately we hear this from photo buyers all too often. Our response was to create All of the images we sell (over 650,000 last count from publishers such as Getty Images, Photodisc, Creatas, Comstock, etc.) are Royalty Free. Royalty Free stock photos and illustrations come with fewer of the restrictions associated with “rights managed” images and are generally more affordable. We sell them on CD or you can download them one at a time, as needed.

We just gave our site a huge makeover making it faster and much easier to use. To celebrate, we’re giving away iPods, digital cameras, gift certificates and many other goodies. Please feel to drop by.

Designer says:

Has anyone any info about design or educational use?

Sarah says:


jon says:

Try out shutterstock...

JeffGreenberg says:

Deane & all,

How long did it take to write your feature-length post? How long would it have taken you to call Corbis toll free number?

Regards, JG

webmaster says:

Jim Tyler says:

Try fStop:

bruno says:

Corbis is not worse than any other photo agency. You can find the most large collection of pictures on the corbis site. Normally the local service is excellent. If you don’ t know the difference between Rights Managed and Royalty Free you are a layman. zefa and Corbis will merge soon and zefa is well known of their excellent local service !

Deane says:

If you don’ t know the difference between Rights Managed and Royalty Free you are a layman.

Yes, I am. Obviously Corbis is not for people like me.

Jo says:

How about

Arun.T says:

Alamy Stock Photos Enjoy the benefits of the Alamy Difference

  • Over 3M mainstream, global brands and high quality specialist/culturally diverse images. Over 100,000 are added every month.

  • Friendly, responsive offline support, extended working hours to cover non-UK markets and 24/7 download of 100% of the collection from the fastest online service in the business.

  • Offerings for all budgets and needs – RF and RM, Virtual CDs, single images. Competitive rates, great value-add products and favourable terms for regular users.

  • A wide range of file sizes up to 70MB; in-house interpolation facility also available.

J. says:

You may want to check out Also a Rights Managed image is an image that will be used by you and only you for whatever particular catagory you are using it for. In your case, no one else in the real estate industry would be able to use that image while you are using it.

LL says:, they can search for you, create a lightbox (a record of your search), help you register, download, and give you excellent customer service

Theresa says:

You should check out everyone has an account rep there! Very friendly; they help you find the right image. They can even explain what rights managed is and the benefits of a lightbox! 800-764-7427

Joe says:

You should try They have the largest collection of Royalty-free images and their reps will be glad to help you anytime.

[email protected] says:

I found you just after my own experience with Corbis. I didn’t like the $200-plus for using one little ole picture. Unfortunately, I’m not sure where else to find pictures for a children’s historical biography I’m self-publishing.

I normally use Stock.Xchng ( but those photos are mostly modernistic – not exactly what I need. Plus, their download quality seems to have been reduced recently. Or maybe it’s just me, but you used to be able to download great jpg pics. Now, I can only download as bitmap, and they look horrible. The one on my site now is from Stock.Xchng, before this new problem I’ve been having. It looks great, to me.

Thanks for venting. I’m going to try some of the links given here.


matthew lamb says:

I’d stay away from shutterpoint, they have far too many internal problems. The one I do recommend is

Publix says:

Try CAPL for license free educational images or

Buster says:

The present management of Corbis is really raking the clients over the coals in regards to sales and service. Not only that but they have created a commission plan that benefits upper management but have taken a considerable payout awards away from researchers and sales personal. Regular employees can expect 1/2 as much commission this year from last. A sad year for stock indeed.

Corbis Sucks says:

Yes, I would love to start a website called Corbis Sucks but I would not waste any more time on them.

Time wasting site, rude staff and aggressive legal department who try to get big bucks out of small companies for very low visibility usage of images.

There are just too many good Image Banks around like Getty Images for me to ever bother with them again.

Andrew says:

I work for Corbis and we sell many images and also have a product called e motion. We are working hard to ensure we are number one in the future. At the moment we are recruiting staff fom other libraries to enable us to do this. We pay more than Getty etc/ We also get the Getty staff customer contacts and offer customers lower prices. The aim being to drive customers to our images and hurt the competition. Getty Images remain the number one and they have very good sales staff. I called one last week and pretended to be fom a major bank. The sales executive in London was very clever and positive. He handled the call well. I

Leslie says: and are the least expensive, best sites out there.

Eric says:

Try This. China’s greatest stock photo.

Harvey Flitt says:

I was trying to use CORBIS to find an image on a book by Victoria Clark called “Holy Fire” After an hour I gave up. There seems be is no reference of index number you can use to find images.

Regards Harvey

Paul says:

Corbis are not the worlds number one image library. Getty Images are. Corbis have to discount images to very low prices in order to compete with anyone.

I used to work for Getty Images and moved to Corbis because they offer more money.

GA says:

Try - provides royalty free pictures, and are very customer oriented

Donna says:

check out – great images, best service ever

Andrea says:

STAY AWAY FROM CORBIS – it is a business designed to watch your every mistake and before you know it, you will receive a scary letter from their lawyers, of course the best lawyers from Seattle, and my dear run to shut your corporation down!

Today I read they are letting people use their images on their personal blogs – as long as they advertise corbis back – BEWARE! Corbis is just a mouse trap with their fine print...

Thanks to them I had to shut down my little corporation and my client spent thousands of dollars. My lawyers said that was the trickiest small print they had ever read. Go to or – their prices are affordable and no tricks!

jeff C says:

use the gun... puhleeze

James says:

I use Corbis and don’t have any issue, learn their system and use it. If you are a designer, you need good images, not the $1 shots, and you need lightboxes and quotes for particular uses and certain times. You don’t just buy an image forever to do with as you please, you need to pay the photographer.

lmm says:

james... Im a damn good designer and is inexpensive, totally web quality, so I wouldn’t say “if your a need good images, not the $1 shots...” thats just ignorance.

BrerveCew says:

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Lars says:

check out this sites: very good stock agency, specialiced in landscapes and road images, good service and high quality!

lame says:

basically...if you don’t understand what they’re talking about, you shouldn’t be buying from corbis. try microstock.

former employee says:

I also worked for Corbis, and I can honestly say that it is the worst place to work. They don’t care about anything artistic and the whole thing is run EXTREMELY poorly. Anyone that says that they are proud to work at that failing institution is lying.

Lisabette says:

Old thread, I know... but had to add my two cents.

One time I mocked up an ad for a client with a red car stock comping image. When the ad was approved, and I was ready to purchase the image, I found I had unintentionally selected a “rights managed” image. I knew the difference, but was a little unprepared for the price tag... When I called the rep and described my usage needs: one time, small, regional publication... the fee was $10,000 !!!! I had to redesign the ad with a new photo... now I watch these things more closely. I usually use istockphoto, partly out of habit.

Hank Castello says:

iStockPhoto is easy to use and has some good stuff. Some of the images are as low as $2

Paul A Houle says:

Try where all pictures are public domain or creative commons and can be used freely for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

Although we started it last July, we’ve already got 500,000 pictures of 275,000 distinct topics and we add another 7,000 or so every day... So it’s getting better and better.

Curious Nelly says:

Deane – While I’m sure you’re not a glutton for punishment, have you ever gone back to see if Corbis improved their website since your initial experience? I seem to recall seeing some site improvement announcements over the last few years. While I don’t source images in my day-to-day I did find your post and the corresponding comments very funny especially since years later people still have something to say about it!

Jim says:

A client of mine found an image on Corbis they wanted to use on their website. They asked me how much it would cost so I said I would find out, only to walk into this nightmare. I found your post and realized this wouldn’t be simple, and gave them a call right away. After a short phone call, they gave me a price of $1,925. My client was suddenly not interested either.

Jirka says:

Thanks. I found the Corbis web, and I was not able to find HTF this web system works. So I asked google “corbis images how to get one”, and here I found the answer.

San Beeharry says:

I went through the same nightmare. I thought I wouldn’t do a shooting because the photos were available. But I couldn’t imagine it would suck that much. I didn’t find the cart either but “A sales representative will contact you” when prompted to request prices.

DC says:

Try dreamstime they are very reasonable and have great quality like istock but i feel better pricing. corbis and getty I would stay away from as you found out with corbis, plus they charge a lot, have crazy lic structure and are mainly used by mags and news companies so because of this I consider them a pro lev photo house and the pricing is such. If all you need is images for your site now or in the future try and to name a few.

You can also try to search for images at the envato network great stuff low prices. A large community of artists, coders, photogs

Incognito says:

I haven’t used Corbis before, but use This is getty owned and has some good quality images. My only issue is Getty’s and if you have ever been, or know someone who has been victim of their threats regarding unlicensed use of their images then you will feel a little like me.

I want to find a good image library supplied by a company that has some form of morality. People do make mistakes unknowingly thinking images they have used can be duplicated for themselves. More down to naivety rather than infringement of law, but Getty’s seem to treat everyone as a criminal, and although people remove the image in question, they continue to bombard people with threatening letters.

Totally unethical behaviour, and I really hope it bites them on the back side one day. I too received a letter, because a listing/directory site I own, a contributor used a Getty licenced image, naively! We received one of their letters, and if they had taken the time to explore the site, they would have read our terms which covers us legally for this probable situation, with many thousands of listings.

What they also didn’t realise is I subscribe to a site where I can download that image legally, under the agreement/terms of the website. There approach is one size fits all, and the methods of approach are disgraceful.

If anyone recommends a library that is owned by someone other than Getty’s, functions well, and can be purchased on a subscription to download a certain amount of images per day, then I would appreciate the response.

The Getty tactics are wrong, wrong, wrong!

Clive Branson says:

I’ll photograph it for you. Just tell me what type of building you need.

Buh Buh Loo says:

If you don’t know what copyright is, then you shouldn’t be publishing anything. You think it costs too much? Then hire a photographer or shoot it yourself and see what that costs. If you think these charlatan ‘agencies’ are difficult on your end, you should see how they treat the photographers.

boring says:

Corbis are thieves. Do not trust them. Their pictures are not watermarked it seems and there picture are all over the Internet. Once you google a picture and use is, you are sued by them for thousands of dollars.

Pierre says:

Rights Managed is used primarily when you want to buy the rights to use an image and essentially not allow anyone else to use it. they are higher priced but you get better restrictions. Sounds like you want a Royalty Free image , there are some amazing collections out there and you do not have to give all your dollars to Getty. here are some i found useful