Introducing Success Stories by PhotoClaim! ’To Capture all the European capitals and raise global awareness of image theft‘, Nico Trinkhaus, PhotoClaim’s founder, talks about his goals and dreams.
PhotoClaim: How old were you when you had the camera in your hands for the very first time?
Nico Trinkhaus: Must have been sometime in high school, when there were still traditional, analogue cameras. I even explored how to develop the images in the darkroom and print them.
PC: Was it love at first sight or… how did your relationship with a camera begin?
NT: My first contact with analogue cameras was interesting but it did not catch me back then. My real love was the editing process. This is where it all started. The first time when I took a camera with an intent to take a specific picture was in 2007, during my gap year between high school and university. I have been travelling a lot at that time and used the camera only for documenting my journeys. It was not anything artistic. I had it also during my studies and the Erasmus exchange in Prague. It was when I stumbled on the blog HDR shooter by Miroslav Petrasko and got fascinated by his way of editing the photos. On his blog, I also found a lot of photos from Prague so I was immediately drawn into that and figured I would love to give it a try as well.
I started doing it with my point-and-shoot which, I have to admit, was a nightmare back then. Despite the inconveniences, I began to really enjoy creating such images and swiftly got myself the first DSL camera to be able to bracket the photos for the whole HDR process. Naturally, it became a hobby and a passion in one.
PC: Just a hobby or a way of life? Have you ever wanted photography to become part of your professional career or rather keep it in the sphere of your hobbies?
NT: I used to and still treat photography as a hobby. At the same time, it’s my profession, my craft and it does pay the bills. Which I am grateful for, but I never want to lose the joy involved with it. So it’s my job, but I try not to treat it like one.
I do it for myself, for my pleasure. I do it because I love to create. If other people appreciate what I am doing there and purchase my photographs that makes me very happy and proud of what I accomplished. Yet, I always try to remind myself to treat it as if it was just a hobby because that way, I keep my creative juices flowing. It also became a way of life. Right now, it is simply impossible for me to not see the photo opportunities while travelling and walking around different cities. It is impossible to turn it off.
PC: The first photo that you were truly satisfied with?
NT: I am usually satisfied with most of my pictures after… editing. I am usually amazed by what comes out of it when this whole vision comes to life through editing. But if I am to choose the first photo that truly gave me the feeling of satisfaction that would be the one with the lightning striking the Berlin TV Tower. It was the first time when I realized I have enough skills to capture such a phenomenon.
PC: Your first steps in the photography industry? Where did you start?
NT: It all started with the photo of the lightning striking the Berlin TV tower which quickly went viral. A press agency contacted me asking for or a short interview about this photo. This was the first time when anyone has ever paid me for photography. The picture got printed in one of the biggest German weekly newspapers as a double-page feature. That was quite something to start with.
PC: When did you realise that you can make money on your pictures?
NT: Kind of at the same time when I had the photo sold to the agency and published in a German newspaper. Since the agency was not communicating explicitly to whom they were selling my pictures I started using Google image search to find who is using my images so that I knew which magazines to buy. While doing so I also found my photos being used by some websites so I decided to double-check and asked the agency if they sold my pictures to these particular websites. Their answer was: no. This is how I discover that my pictures are getting stolen. I had a feeling there might be more findings so I continued my research. During just two days I found 140 URLs with the pictures from my blog being stolen online by big hotel chains, travel agencies and airlines. I quickly realized that if all of them would have paid the licensing fee, then I could have been making enough money on my pictures to make a living. It was the moment when I knew I had to take my fate into my own hands.
PC: So this is how the idea for PhotoClaim was born?
NT: I sent a few invoices to some of the enterprises that used my pictures without my permission, taking for granted they would pay for the copyrights. But all I received were rude answers. I called a lawyer for help. We took some cases to the German court and… lost one of the very first ones. The court claimed that it was not responsible and allowed for taking actions in this field. I am grateful for the lost case back then because it made me realize that it was high time to take action against image theft. Soon I found out that it was not just my pictures getting stolen. Image theft turned out to be an international problem. While searching for lawyers in different countries, I realized that one photographer could not catch their attention. A bigger community was needed. This is how the idea for PhotoClaim – a company created by a photographer for photographers – was born. The goal was simple: get the money from the copyrights back. The news was spreading quickly around Berlin. But it was just a starting point on the way in gaining protection for photographers.
PC: What is your definition of success?
NT: There are so many ways to define it. The one that stuck with me over the past months is a quote of Tony Robins: ‘Success is creating consistent pleasure in your life and causing yourself to grow’. I don’t think that any outside measures such as e.g. money could define success. If you enjoy what you do and make yourself grow, then, in my opinion, you are successful.
PC: What has been the biggest challenge you managed to overcome in your business?
NT: So many, so so so many. 😉 But let me focus on one that I am still trying to overcome. I tend to try to please people too much. It used to be extremely difficult for me to fire somebody. To make such a decision, even just the thoughts of a potential conversation with the person to fire would have kept me awake at night. Such struggles made me question my ability to handle the pressure connected with running a business to the point in which I started thinking about changing my profession and quitting the business. The good thing is, that I was never alone, but my wife Daria and me we grew it together. Seeing the company growing and developing, we wanted to keep it going. So, luckily within the team this accountability is much more distributed and not on my shoulders anymore.
PC: What has been your most memorable moment, the real highlight, in your career so far?
NT: I do not have any of such. I think that I suffer from imposter syndrome since I often feel like I have not achieved much so far. But there is something that gives me a feeling of satisfaction. Since the entire team works remotely and we do not get to see each other daily it is hard to grasp how we develop and what we become as an organisation. So, whenever (every 3-4 months) we meet in person, I love seeing clearly the growth of the company and the development of people whom I work with.
PC: How do you manage to combine your interests in entrepreneurship and running a company with photography?
NT: I treat my photography as a hobby and real passion so for me it is not regular work time. I do it with pleasure whenever I find time and possibility for it.
PC: What is your drive for taking pictures? What do you enjoying shooting the most?
NT: I love cities and man-made influence. I love to wake up early in the morning to capture empty streets and have the city all for myself. If it was not for taking pictures, I am not sure if I would have this urge to get up so early and see something that disappears as soon as people start commuting to work and the first shops open.
PC: From your professional experience, how has image theft evolved over the years? What is the current situation? Any predictions for the future?
NT: From my observations, I can tell that over the past years more photographers became aware of image theft. In 2014, when I discovered my photos getting stolen, there was almost nothing going on in this field. Now with us as PhotoClaim and our competitors running similar services which help photographers to get back the money they deserve, the awareness of copyright infringement is constantly growing. Unfortunately, I don’t see big changes as for the theft itself. Except for Germany, where most of the Internet users and companies are familiar with the rules of using someone’s pictures and if they steal, they do it as a ‘calculated risk’, in many European countries image theft is still a surprising phenomenon. Since I was based in Berlin for a long time, I observed that it took quite a while plus a lot of people had to sue and go to court until the proper understanding of photographers’ rights sunk into the German society.
I have a feeling that it will still take another seven to ten years for other European countries to build the common ground and a proper understanding of copyright. My prediction is that image theft scale will not change in Europe for as long as the law does not change. There is still very little harm and low penalties for image thieves. When caught, they usually need to pay the equivalent of the license they would need to obtain for publishing the pictures. So why would they bother with it if there is a chance no one would get a notice that the pictures are being used without photographers’ approval? Hopefully, over the next couple of years, this legal situation will change in such a way to protect photographers.
PC: PhotoClaim is not the only company on the market dealing with image theft. How do you stand out from the crowd?
NT: As I mentioned above, when it comes to the process of executing money from copyright infringement, very often the thieves only have to pay what they would have to pay anyways if they bought a license. Our competitors have, unfortunately, fallen into this pitfall. They offer the thief the post-licensing option which means that the invoice they send once they detect the infringement is the equivalent of the license. Such practise does not influence and change the way of thinking of those who used the image illegally. PhotoClaim does it differently. We always work with a lawyer. On top of what the license fee is, the opponent always has to pay for the legal fees. Stealing a photo has to be more expensive than buying a license, otherwise is hurts photography.
Plus, I know how it is for us photographers. We don’t have time to deal with this topic and we much rather spend time outside shooting photos. Our service is designed in a way, that it takes the photographer as little time as possible. You don’t have to go through findings yourself and than we reject the cases. With us it’s turned upside down, we manually select it (with others you have to do that job) and present you only actionable cases. I’m quite sure that our clients have the highest return in terms of “Income per time spent”.
PC: What’s next? Any important projects that you are currently working on?
NT: When it comes to business, one of our biggest current projects is to get massive funding for lawsuits. We have been able to settle several cases outside of court which already serve as a very good income for many of our clients. But, at the same time, there are many cases when the opponents do not agree for the out-of-court settlement. I think it is all a scam and I want to take them to court. Unfortunately, most photographers do not have the financial means for that, and it requires massive funding. Apart from the very first one that we lost, we didn’t lose in court anymore which makes the cases very promising. Bringing cases to court is the only way to cause media outcry and, in consequence, improve copyright awareness.
Photography-related, my goal and dream at the same time is to have a gallery setting for my photos from Europe. Ideally, when I manage to capture all the European capitals which is something that I am doing to show how Europe can be strong together.
PC: One dream you wish to come true?
NT: I think I will stick to the obvious here. I wish that more and more photographers could make a living out of their passion. And we will keep on working on it at PhotoClaim.