Let's talk about Pixabay. My experience

6 min read

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frozenstocks's avatar
For anyone who hasn't found about Pixabay it's a free stock photography database that's been garnering attention lately. I wasn't aware of its existence as for my art I either create it all from scratch myself or use paid stock from Fotolia or Shutterstock to avoid restrictions. I was introduced to Pixabay by a friend who praised it for the quality, variety and ease of access, actually called it 'best stock website' since the late sxc.hu. I loved and used sxc stocks frequently in my art in the early days, so Pixabay seemed like a blessing when I heard of it.

So I looked around, was impressed with the quality of some of their stocks and signed up. Once you download a few images you will be met with a message that says ads will be removed once you contributed 10 photos to the database. I had just turned a majority of my stock here to Unrestricted so I uploaded a few of the files in my gallery here, there. It was pretty successful, good acceptance ratio, even received an accolade in the form of an Editor's Choice front page showcase on one of my 3D rendered backgrounds. There's a 'Buy Coffee' donation button for every contributor profile which could be linked to a Paypal account, but I had no intention to monetize my unrestricted stock there, just like I am not here either.

A few days later I went back to upload some of my textures, around 15 at once, and had all rejected within a matter of minutes, with a mail asking if the stock was mine. I replied politely that it was, explained that I had this account, provided a link and told them this was the sole place I shared the same stock, if they found it somewhere else, it wasn't me,  nor done of my accord. I've had my stock distributed without my permission before so it didn't seem all that far-fetched that they could've found it somewhere else on the internet. It was only 2 days ago I saw my Tears Brushes stolen and distributed on a Photoshop resources website, file and preview picture with my actual name on it included. Went back, reuploaded my textures and was told they don't meet their quality standards and was also notified my account had been blocked from submitting any more files as a result.

That didn't sit well with me. I am sharing free stock on a free website, some of my well-received stock here, including a DD texture, and my stock is not good enough for them, so yesterday I wanted to simply close the gallery and continue sharing my stock within the Deviantart community. I went into my control panel and had no option to erase ANY of the 25 files I had submitted and got approved. I asked on the forums what the proceedings were for someone to remove their gallery and was told there's the option to deactivate the account. Here's where it gets shady. I went to erase my profile information, subsequently deactivating my account, and I'm met with a message that says doing so I lose any photo I submitted to Public Domain, because they remain in the database whether I like it or not! Nowhere during the upload process does it say you lose any and all rights to your photos by submitting them, nor that you can't choose to erase them at any given time if you so chose! 

And it doesn't end there. This is the remnant of the account I had pixabay.com/en/users/3209107-3… if you look in the top right corner you'll see the 'Coffee' button. If anyone were to click on it and make a donation because they like my stock currently on that page, it goes straight to them instead, it even says 'Pixabay' on the checkout to Paypal. They are currently monetizing off my stock and that's just wrong.

I've been a stock artist for about as long as I've been an artist. My 10th dA anniversary at FrozenStarRo is rounding up next month, I've had this stock account for over 7 years, and the 3 years before that I ran the collective stock account ro-stock with 2 of my photographer friends. I've always strived to provide the best stock I could, as others have in turn done before me with the stocks I used in my art. But never in these 10 years have I felt this hurt, humiliated and helpless all at the same time.

This was posted as a cautionary tale, whether you're an artist using Pixabay stock or a prospective contributor. I can't stop artists from using the stock there but perhaps this can raise some awareness regarding the origin of some of the stock you may be using. For all you know the original author could be someone like me, who was denied the option to erase it. For anyone contributing, your stock is worth more and you shouldn't have to cease all rights to that stock when you upload it.

It's late now. Sorry for the wall of text on this subject but I consider it an important matter that could affect a lot more people than just me and shouldn't be kept quiet. I'm sitting here at 3:49am because the situation is bad enough I can't sleep. It'll pass with time, and my stock remains here for you guys to use. I will add some new stock soon but I need to get a fresh perpective and let go of this first. 

UPDATE 19.09
With my account now deactivated for several days, they have gone back and published 3 more of my previously rejected files, making that 28 files they are currently holding and monetizing. This is freaking unbelievable!
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nitareed's avatar

very disturbing...glad I read this. thanks for sharing

RagamuffinRose's avatar

Thanks for sharing your story. I have only recently discovered Pixabay... but after reading this, I'll think I'll avoid them altogether.

I'm really sorry to hear of your terrible experiences there. :hug:

I too have had bizarre experiences with Pixabay. I found it is far easier to get a photo submitted to ShutterStock than Pixabay. 70% of my photos are rejected on Pixabay. Yet ShutterStock accepts about the same amount. I keep getting messages from Pixabay that I didn't meet their quality standards. Yet I use a Canon 80D with an expensive prime lens. One photo just got rejected today, a spectacular photo of a purple amethyst crystal. This was accepted by Shutterstock. Yet I looked at similar photos of amethyst crystals on Pixabay and many were pure garbage! So dark the color was almost black. Had the identical experiences with most of my photos. Mine rejected. Yet similar photos on Pixabay were garbage. These people must be on drugs. Totally irrational. Sometimes I submit a photo and it gets rejected for a DIFFERENT reason each time! It all depends on the person reviewing it.

frozenstocks's avatar
if you can sell on Shutterstock, do it! Pixabay don't deserve your photographs and Shutterstock doesn't ask you to give up all rights to your work. And you can delete at any time if you choose to also.
gdpr-10456262's avatar
I found this, because someone had shared some pictures they had posted to Pixabay, and I was curious about the platform, what is behind it, and whether or not it is the kind of "open" platform which one should consider for posting stuff to the public domain (CC0) or creative commons in anyway.  I have not so far got anything pointing to a strong "positive" indicator that it would be a good site, and enough of a "this is rather icky" feeling.  Looking at your "account page" you linked to 2 years ago, it does (if you're looking) say "inactivated account" so that could *almost* justify it, except unless they are blocking all access from the EU, you have a *legal* right to have them remove that content.  The argument that you "released it into the public domain" does not mean that you released the content entirely.  
frozenstocks's avatar
If looking for a place to share stock for free you don't need to look further than Deviantart. It has a better built in communications systems so you can be informed of usage of your stock, for me personally it's a big plus to have, as I enjoy seeing the different projects artists can make of mine, be it traditional media, digital and even a couple short film/video projects on Youtube. There was also a comic style illustrated story once with one of my backgrounds!

If you're looking for a different avenue, Morguefile got a makeover and is looking better than ever, I've been using stock from there for the better part of the last 10 years, it's been around a really long time, I just don't think it gets the word of mouth advertising it deserves. Pixabay I would not recommend to anyone given my experience, unless they have no attachment to their stock images and willing to give them up entirely. 
gdpr-10456262's avatar
It seems like it.  
MabelAmber's avatar
Your quote:  "Nowhere during the upload process does it say you lose any and all rights to your photos by submitting them"

From this line it appears you failed to familiarize yourself with the ins and out of CC0 content. Pixabay makes no secret of the fact that it is a repository for specifically the content license CC0. That is a waiver, introduced by Creative Commons in 2009, which basically means you lose your copyright since the image from then on is destined as "Public Domain by Dedication".
Go here: pixabay.com/ and you will read this if you scroll down a little: 

"Free images and videos you can use anywhere

"Pixabay is a vibrant community of creatives, sharing copyright free images and videos. All contents are released under Creative Commons CC0, which makes them safe to use without asking for permission or giving credit to the artist - even for commercial purposes. Learn more...  "

It can't get much clearer. And then of course there is Pixabay's FAQ: pixabay.com/en/service/faq/
All the necessary information is there on the pages you are expected to read before joining a site. 

Pixabay reserves the right to keep your images up and running after you have chosen to delete your account seeing the people who have already downloaded your pictures need a fixed point of reference in case of legal issues at their end. They can then refer people to the photo page on Pixabay which serves as proof of the CC0 waiver attached to the image. You also need to realize that you  cannot "undo" the license to the CC0 licensed images which are already circulating on the Internet. That waiver is irrevocable. As are all the other licenses issues by Creative Commons.

About the coffee button: it is true that Pixabay will take over the coffee buttons of deactivated accounts. Pixabay sees that as a welcome supplement to the costs for maintaining the site (those coffees that come in, do not expect it gushes in by the buckets, far from it) - personally I find that reasonable with a view to the fact that regular contributors do not bump into  *any ads* on their Pixabay experience, which in itself is cool. 

You write: "You shouldn't have to cease all rights to that stock when you upload it"

YOU should have taken the time to acquaint yourself with the site, its goal, its aim, the FAQ and from there acquaint yourself with CC0 content. Then it is also not strange to read the Terms of Service before diving into a site. Here is the TOS page of Pixabay, containing a rather extensive explanation plus a link to Creative Commons: pixabay.com/en/service/terms/#…

However, I have some good news for you: meanwhile Pixabay has implemented the possibility of "hiding" content upon request of the contributor, meaning it will remain on the Pixabay server, but no longer visible on your Pixabay profile. So I could advise you to create a temporary Pixabay account and put this request in the forum, or else send a message to the webmasters using the email address Pixabay provides for contact (alternatively send an internal message, you can find them in the Forum: Simon and Hans, with "Admin" below their avatar).

Mabel Amber

PS Just for the record, I am not a member of the Pixabay team, and I have no particular interests there which others could assume would explain my apology; I am just a contributor. I posted to set a couple of things straight, also for the benefit of others who may come across your post and from it glean misinformation. Thus my post serves to counter that. 

frozenstocks's avatar
I've already accepted my part of the fault in it but I will take things with a grain of salt seeing as they come from a ghost account on Deviantart. 
trampanya's avatar
I've only recently stumbled upon Pixabay and have used some of the available stock, for which I donated using the "buy a coffee" function on the artists page.  

Not only am I angry at the thought of my donation not going to the artist, I'm seriously angry at the way you and other artists are being treated.  I won't be re-visitng their site any time soon and will definitely be letting others know your story.

I'm sincerely sorry that your work and generosity is being treated so disgracefully!!
improart's avatar
Thanks for this! I actually was looking for an answer (as I considered Pixabay) to my question,"Why would anyone put the fruit of their labor on Pixabay?"  Why did you?
AllThingsPrecious's avatar
Hi there. I was wondering about pixabay. Because there is someone selling a whole stack of images they have downloaded from there, on etsy. www.etsy.com/au/shop/Photoprin… Around 1000, in teir 4 stores, and to be honest, i would not like to think that my work was filling someone else's pockets. Does pixabay really allow this? This person also stole my own textures to sell, so, yes, I have a personal problem with her. Wink/Razz 
frozenstocks's avatar
There were cases of stock being taken from Pixabay and later uploaded/sold for royalties at Dreamstime or their affiliated Shutterstock. I imagine this Etsy shop case is similar to that and I'm sorry to hear you've had this happen personally with your textures. I recommend filling a copyright strike to at the very least have your photos removed from that Etsy shop, say they belong to you and you did not authorize them being sold by this shop/user, but don't link your Pixabay, the loose terms of use and CCO will not work in your favor.  
AllThingsPrecious's avatar
Thank you for your reply! I can't find her shop anymore, so I am actually hoping that her ability to make money out of other peoples work has been stopped. I guess if more people report her bad behaviour, ( besides me who has a personal vendetta against her LOL! ) it would force her to cease. One can only hope! I for one will certainly be watching what she does, simply because I have seen how much stock she sells which is NOT her own!
HermitCrabStock's avatar
What does it Happen with PIXABAY?I was contacted by Envato to do some tutorials and accepted their proposal which may give me an interesting income supplement… If I succeed to master their layout software (20 years ago, it would have been fine, but I’m 66 now, and everything is more difficult). So I decided to use only stocks coming from Pixabay, which are all allowed for a commercial use.
I decided to thank them, uploading some of my best stock photos (a small sampling of what you can find here:  https://hermitcrabstock.deviantart.com/gallery/
Of course, I will not earn anything by uploading them to Pixabay, where they are offered for free, including commercial use. It is a gift to all users. And, I repeat, I sent some of my best photos.
What was not my surprise to see ¾ of my submissions rejected for bad quality!
Here is their terms of use: https://pixabay.com/en/blog/posts/pho

For the "cafe", their terms are confusing: the donation don't go to the owner of the picture, but to pixabay.

I had the same problem: I removed all the pictures they accepted, except one which was impossible to remove (but I changed the tags for meaningless letters, typed at random on the keyboard, so nobody can find it anymore). And I can see on the forum where I wrote a protestation AFTER REMOVING ALL MY PICTURES (except one ;) ), that they still had all of them!

It is not very important to me, because all my pictures are unrestricted, including commercial use, and do not need a credit (decision I took in the past, due to the large amount of thefts: the
thieves will find harder to sell your pictures if you can find them for free everywhere). But I really don't like this way they do. :(

mirandaadria's avatar
So glad I realized quickly how skeevy they are, and VERY glad I found this journal. I uploaded some pretty basic stock images that I felt were good quality. Definitely nothing I was ever planning on using. Only 3 of my 12 or so submissions were accepted. I just deleted my profile, because I thought it was BS.
plynxis's avatar
I'm glad I did a reverse image search with both tineye and google when I found one of your stock images. I found it on pixabay and I've learned to be very cautious with stock websites that provide free content since they often feel scammy to me (not just because of the massive amounts of content, but also the often disjointed and deceptive site design). Despite pixabay claiming it was CC0, I wanted to see if the account they were uploaded under was an actual person (the numbers made it seem weird). I managed to find the image here on DA so I can finally provide attribution (required or not).

About the pixabay CEO that posted here: Yes CC0 is effectively the same as Public Domain, which _does_ indeed give them the right to keep hosting your images and having users pay them for the hosting is not controversial. However, the fact that they _disallow deletion_ of images you clearly uploaded yourself and keep a functional donation button on a profile that has been deactivated (and I'm not sure I trust that sending cash to pixabay first, instead of the link pointing directly to an artist's paypal account is necessary or helpful) is _terrible UX design_, bordering on intentionally misleading.

The default assumption is that you always have control over what you place on your own account, no matter what content that is. As an example, lots of video game companies have profile systems where _all_ the content is owned by the company by necessity and law, yet you're still allowed to remove it. At the very least they require that you give them legal permission to host and distribute the content, so _everyone_ could do what pixabay does. Yet they don't, I wonder why. Additionally, what is the purpose of deactivating an account if it has no effect on the account, _including_ showing a donation link? If pixabay's rules deviate (no pun intended) from the expected norm, especially when wrong expectations can be so punishing, they should make it blindingly obvious at every step for users, so nobody is surprised.

This, coupled with the fact that they present a donation button on a profile with _no linked PayPal account_, which is intentionally misleading, leads me to believe that pixabay is intentionally riding the technical truth of the law to scam uploaders out of their content and monetize it, claiming it's the uploader's fault for not reading the rules. This is the textbook form of a caveat emptor scam - they play on your expectations. It may not be a scam by the letter of the law, but it is by any degree of common sense.

Addendum: Anyone who has played EVE Online, where scamming is considered part of the game, is very familiar with this type of scam. In the largest trade hub, the chat is perpetually spammed by so called "money doublers". What they do is they claim they'll double any money you send them, even going so far as to pretend they just doubled someone's massive donation. The trick is this - they say you need to read the rules, which are in their profile. The rules are often simple, but just as often there's fine print. The claim is that if you read the rules carefully, they will double your money, otherwise they won't - "them's the rules". Fact is, they never have to double anyone's money - if anyone complains, they can just say that person didn't read the rules. The sender can never prove that they did. It's the _same scam_ and just like here, those scammers say "It's not a scam, the rules are clear - it's not my fault if people don't read them". Sound familiar?

Sorry for the wall of text but I felt people were being way too polite with pixabay. If this is their behavior, it's a scam, not by law, but by any sane person's measure. I've already got a personal userscript to remove w3schools links from search results, pixabay is getting added today, congrats to making the list.

edit - one more thing: the CEO of pixabay claims that this kidnapping of content is somehow necessary to protect those using the content. This is straight up false. If this were true, DA would never allow you to delete art, GitHub would never allow you to delete repositories or change their license and every single website that hosts user content would have to do the same if they cared about their users. But nobody complains about how those hosting platforms operate because it's the expected and non-controversial way of operating. Simply put, whatever you get under a license is _always_ under that license - the license can only be changed if the content is modified (if people get a project you open-sourced, they get to keep that version forever as open-source, even if you change the license on subsequent versions). Interestingly, this is exactly what they're using to host _your_ content as if it's theirs, but somehow _others_ need protection and they're "just trying to protect the poor artists", how heartwarming.
frozenstocks's avatar
Thank you for this! While I've gotten a lot of support from the community after this incident and hopefully helped others make more informed decisions about where they get or post their stock, it is quite refreshing to see someone address the real issues so candidly. They do hide behind the veil of CC0 and the sad excuse of protecting their 'users' on a false pretense to keep all stock in perpetuity. They do not care for or respect the contributors which are effectively the ones helping Pixabay grow, because if there were no good stock that others submitted no one would go there! Even all PAID stock websites allow their contributors remove their stock images if they so choose, and that is stock such 'users' actually pay for, via subscription or credit packages. For Pixabay to claim this must be done in order to protect the users is an absolute sham. And I'd know, because for almost a year now they've been monetizing content they never created, content that I spent my time and money to create, while they reap all benefits collecting laurels because users unkowinngly attribute credits to Pixabay instead of me (and it's now close to 25k downloads) and Pixabay probably got money out of it too, since the coffee/donation button has always been there on the page. 
GerDukes's avatar
Hey fellow artists, I must start by stating I am not associated with Pixabay (referred to as "the site" in the following) in any way shape or form other than being a regular contributor. Also, I do not mean to start any row or make anybody angry. It's just that I think a contributor should read what they are signing up to when they contribute; the CC0 terms are very brief, clear and not complicated at all. I have been a trained professional photographer and graphic designer all my working career and I contribute and am happy to. I have held a post as Head of Design to a private company and therefore careful about copyright ownership, used bought licenses etc. At first joining as a member (not for business), I did wonder why artists were giving their work away free, but then I had so many images not selling on paid stock sites that I thought why not have them be of use to some purpose. It is against the regulations for users to claim personal credit or resell the works as their own, so if that occurs it is outside the site jurisdiction and would be up to you to gather evidence and pursue it, though I feel confident the site would support a contributor in any way they could if that were proven to occur. Even if it were just advice or redirection to elsewhere to seek the right help. The 'coffee button' as I understand it, does link to the artist's Paypal account and donations do not go to the site, although there was a temporary IT glitch following an update but that has been fixed. As an artist myself I do understand your concerns and apprehensions about not being able to delete, and personally I would like to have that function as I develop my work I like to get rid of older (and in my eyes not such great quality work), however I see Simon answered that query and it seems logical and legal that the users/downloaders need protection here. Please also do not lose sight of the purpose of the scheme; a rich source of high quality imagery for digital artists to be able to have free material to use in their layouts, adverts, compositing illustrations, marketing materials and promotional products etc. This is why I joined, and this is why I also contribute. It's called sharing. Just be fully aware what you are entering into, there is nothing shady if it's stated clearly and it really is! Finally, please do use my images freely, and enjoy them without worry - just enter on Pixabay search "user:GerDukes" - if your work incorporates any of my images from there, then becomes viable in a commercial sense, you know you won't be sued from the image source or original creator. Blessings to all xx 
HermitCrabStock's avatar
The terms used are confusing, but when you make a donation, it is specified that it goes to Pixabay, not to a specified stock provider.
frozenstocks's avatar
Hi and thank you for posting this. I believe it is important for artists to get the opinion of others and form their own conclusions, so I'm glad to read the perspective of a happy contributor at Pixabay. This is why I titled this as "my experience" as I wanted it to be clear from the start. Skimming over the CCO  license was an error on my part and I've stated and accepted that fact, but I can't excuse the fact the account is monetized after I deactivated it nor publishing previously rejected stock after the account had gone inactive. 
GerDukes's avatar
Yes, fair comment Frozenstocks. Thanks for the message, I couldn't find the original forum thread. All the best :D
Praada's avatar
I shared a link to this on my FB page since I have a few graphic artists on my friend's list who may or may not use Pixabay and I don't want them to go through the same experience. Thank you for sharing your experience and thank you for being so generous with your artwork.
frozenstocks's avatar
thank you for helping spread the word :thanks:
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