A photo agency owner claims that Fleet Street newspapers have tried to “rip off” thousands of pounds worth of images from him.
Jonathan Mitchell, managing director of Atlas Photo Archive, has accused The Guardian, The Independent, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph and Scotsman of wrongdoing.
He says the practice is common among newspapers and that most national titles are trying to use images without payment.
"With many newspapers losing money, this practice is now quite widespread," Mitchell said.
Mitchell added: “I don’t see why they [national newspapers] think they can rip photo agencies and freelance photographers off. They do not pay for images they publish.”
Atlas Photo Archive, based in Portugal, sends images in on spec to national newspapers, mainly comprising NASA satellite imagery and weather photos, as well as images taken from on the spot news stories in Lisbon.
Many of the images are plucked from NASA-related websites, which Mitchell believes national newspapers picture teams don’t have the time ar inclination to source themselves.
Atlas Photo Archive, which charges newspapers on average between £50 and £90 for an individual image, claims that Fleet Street papers are guilty of not informing him when they publish his images and publishing his images without his agency credit.
He also says that newspapers are frequently late payers.
Mitchell said: “I have submitted hundreds of images on spec to the nationals and had many used, though it is quite clear that their policy is to rip off photo agencies and freelance photographers wherever possible on a ‘don’t see, no pay’ basis.
“In other words, they use quite a few images and these are mysteriously not reported to the accounts department and if you don’t find the image, you don’t get paid for the licence.
“I have outstanding bills with Metro, the Evening Standard, the Daily Telegraph and the Irish Daily Star. Often it requires several emails and phone calls to get a payment sorted out and then often they delay it as long as possible. This obviously causes me several financial headaches.”
Mitchell said he is now forced to spend hours trawling through newspaper websites to see if his images have been used.
Evening Standard deputy managing editor Will Gore said: "I’m surprised about this. I confirmed to Jonathan Mitchell on 31 March that a payment had been made in respect of an image we had used from his agency and I haven’t heard from him subsequently.
"He had previously said a couple of other pictures from his agency had been used by us but as I said to him via email early in March, there was nothing in the metadata of those images which linked them to him or Atlas. The only copyright information we had in our system connected them directly to Nasa, which led us to conclude we’d got them directly from there.
"In short, we didn’t think it was appropriate to pay him on those occasions because we couldn’t establish the images had originated from his agency. If he has more information to the contrary of course I’d be happy to hear from him again."