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Sued by Getty images

John McMillin , Nov 13, 2013; 10:38 p.m.

My wife runs a small website concentrating on project management. No money changes hands through it, but it does enhance her professional reputation. To illustrate her articles, she uses photos and illustrations from various free-use sources. Apparently she picked up one photo that belonged to Getty Images and posted it to her site. Now she's charged with copyright violation. Getty is seeking $850, after opening with a four-figure demand.

Though she keeps records for most pictures she uses, my wife can't document where she got the Getty image. She's certain that it had no warning of copyright attached. She took down the photo as soon as she got a notice from Getty.

Does anyone have any experience to share in dealing with Getty Images? I'm looking for specifics, not general rants on the overall importance of copyright. I'm a photographer too, so I get that. She should have been a little more careful, but I'm suspicious that an agency could, hypothetically, salt the internet with unmarked photos and bring in a nice payoff by charging unsuspecting bloggers who pick them up?


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Ian . , Nov 13, 2013; 11:02 p.m.

Not sure, but $850 is pretty cheap for this kind of situation. Maybe try and get it down to half that.
My stock agency partners with Getty and when they find a violation they send an invoice for, I think, 5X the actual usage fee. The artist rep told me they always win.
You might get some better advice here.

Mike Dixon , Nov 13, 2013; 11:07 p.m.

She's certain that it had no warning of copyright attached

The lack of a copyright notice does not mean that an image is free for everyone to use. As Ian suggested, you should try to negotiate a lower settlement.

Matt Laur , Nov 13, 2013; 11:07 p.m.

I'd say Ian has it about right.

As for "salting the internet with unmarked photos" ... every image is owned by the person who creates it or the person/entity to whom they've transferred copyright. Unless you see it accompanied by license language that makes it clear you have the right to use it on your business promoting web site, you can very safely assume you don't have that right. We're many years past the change that removed the need to assert that on the image itself.

John McMillin , Nov 14, 2013; 12:01 a.m.

Thanks for the responses. I'm finding plenty of advice from a simple Google search, among them http://www.extortionletterinfo.com. Evidently this is a widespread issue among web content creators.

Craig Gillette , Nov 14, 2013; 12:12 a.m.

Yeah, "web content creators," sounds better than copyright infringers. There was a Las Vegas law firm (IIRC) that made it a practice to get transfer of copyright from a local paper then they searched out websites which used full copies of the news articles and tried to hammer them. They got away with it for a while but then think they overdid it and got hammered as well.

There are "fair use" situations which might allow for use of random "found it on the internet" images but the rules change when you are working for a business compared to a history report in fourth grade.

John Williamson , Nov 14, 2013; 12:20 a.m.


I feel for you. It sucks that they wouldn't just send you a " Take our image off your web site ! " letter. but... when you build a web site with someone ELSE'S stuff, you are not really a content creator, your a content borrower. Some license holders take offense at that.

Michael Chang , Nov 14, 2013; 01:30 a.m.

John, was the image used in a transformative way? This Wiki page might be of interest to you:

I came across one of my images used in a blog whose author is located in Greece; an apparent academic. From what I can gather, she used it as an illustration for her poetry which I had no knowledge of, but I believe her transformative and non-profit use makes it fair use. I would not have objected even if it wasn't.
http://lygeri.pblogs.gr/poihma-apo-dhmhtrh-einai-kati-meres.html - top picture is mine.

Allen Hale , Nov 14, 2013; 05:47 a.m.

You need to hire a lawyer if you are indeed brought to court. Lawyer's fees vary a great deal but I estimate lawyer fees, in the USA, to be around $250 an hour. Every letter that you get from Getty Images will have to be reviewed and most likley responded to by your attorney. Estimating one hour to review and one hour to respond will end up costing you $500 for every letter you get from Getty. How many letters do you think they will churn out? $850 is less than two letters would most likely cost you. As others have recommended - try to negotiate a lower settlement, pay it, and learn from your experience.

barry goldberg , Nov 14, 2013; 07:47 a.m.

Your wife did something that was illegal. Whether this was intentional or not really does not matter. I would not hire an attorney but explain to Getty that this was an innocent mistake and see if they are willing to negotiate. In the end though, you are going to need to pay.

I am sorry that you and your wife have to pay but I actually applaud Getty for what they are doing. Too many pictures are being stolen and used without proper licensing. By Getty doing this, it actually protects us small photographers.

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