You received the Getty Images letter threatening a lawsuit, now what?

You received the Getty Images letter threatening a lawsuit, now what?

You get done with work and after your long commute you grab your mail and head inside your home.  After getting inside, you view your mail and see something from Getty Images.  You open up the letter and it hits you….Getty Images is demanding that you pay for images that were used on your website.  Typically the range is between $750 to $950 per image for copyright damages.

Your stomach sinks; you wonder how this happened, and then you come to the realization that you are faced with hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in debt.  How do I know this feeling?  A good friend of mine was faced with the issue for roughly $1000.00 for an image of a welcome mat.  This same image could be bought for $18 on a different website, but now Getty Images is stating that “the damage has been done” and the settlement is your only chance to avoid a copyright lawsuit.

I also had a similar thing happen with my website focused on helping teens find jobs.  Though that time it was the fault of a developer I was using.

Usually this is done when someone purposely steals an image, or they forget to filter a photo by license and grab an image that has a copyright.  Before I explain what happens next, make sure that whenever you use these photos you provide photo attribution to the original author.

So, what is going to happen next?

1)  Getty Images will send between 2-3 copies of a similar letter explaining that if you don’t settle with them, they will take you to court and the penalties could be far beyond what they are asking as a settlement, sometimes in excess of $5000.00.

2)  If Getty Images doesn’t get a response from you, they will turn you over to an attorney that they work with who will send you a new letter stating a similar scenario as the original Getty Images letter, but the price to settle just went up because they now have a lawyer involved.  In this letter you may receive a copy of a judgment that resulted in a $5000.00 settlement where a company lost their case against Getty Images for the use of a single image.

3)  If Getty Images is still unsuccessful with those attempts to get you to settle, they will turn your information into a collection agency who will then tell you that you owe them for the settlement.

4)  You CAN potentially be taken to court by Getty Images if they own the copyright for the image. So, now that you have seen the steps above it all looks like doom and gloom.  You must be thinking, “How on earth am I going to pay all of this money to Getty Images?”  Although the steps above sound very bad, they really aren’t as bad as you’re imagining.  In other words, there is hope!

Questions and answers:

Q:  Did I violate a copyright by using the image if I don’t have a license for it?

A:  If a copyright for the image exists then yes, you did.

Q:  Can Getty Images sue me for this?

A:  If Getty Images can prove that they have the copyright for the image, then yes they can.

Q:  Will Getty Images sue me for this?

A:  Everything that I have seen on the internet says that “they will not sue you and rarely sue anyone”.  Do I know if this is true or not?  The truth is I have no idea, but the trend of various outlets stating it won’t happen is encouraging.

Q:  Should I just pay Getty Images and get this over with?

A:  No, that’s right, the answer is NO. Why am I saying “no” to that last question?  Because at this point in time Getty Images hasn’t proven that they own the copyright of the image.  If you call Getty Images and tell them that you removed the image from your website/server and any other excuses such as; the whole thing happened on accident, you didn’t build the website, you only had it on a webpage that was viewed twice, etc.

This is the type of response you are going to get: “Removal of the imagery alone does not resolve the matter.  Getty Images is entitled to seek actual damages for the use of the imagery. Included in Getty Images’ actual damages are the lost licensing fees and related expenses incurred in pursuit of its claim, including things like research, correspondence, accounting, and retaining outside counsel.” You see, Getty Images goes after small business owners who don’t have the legal resources to fight and continually barrage them for use of the images that they may, or may not, own a copyright for.   In my opinion, it’s a predatory company with bad moral principles and I will never use them or any of their subsidiary websites for anything as long as I live.

What should you do about the Getty Images demand letter?

Instead of calling them and stating you are sorry and “it was on accident” etc. talk to a lawyer and have them deal with the correspondence moving forward.  I know that you don’t want to pay a lawyer (who does?!) but it really is the best course of action right now.  I say this because Getty is leading with intimidation practices and the best way to defend yourself is to use an equally intimidating resource.  Technically you DID potentially infringe on a copyright if one exists, but Getty Images needs to prove that they own the copyright before you pay them anything.

If you go to them and write a very professional letter asking for the copyright information, they will just respond and tell you that they don’t need to provide that until it goes to court.  They do so because you aren’t a lawyer and you don’t know how everything works.  Keep in mind, if Getty owns that copyright then they are able to sue you so don’t just ignore everything. I mentioned in the beginning of the post, a friend of mine was faced with this situation.  The way I see it, you have two alternatives.

1)  Utilize a service like Legalmatch which will find you a highly rater lawyer in your area to help.  For a Getty Images case, make sure you select “Intellectual Property” and “Copyrights” when choosing what type of lawyer you need.

2)  Speak with Ric Gruber who is an Internet law attorney located in Chicago.  If you are outside of Chicago, probably better to go with the Legalmatch option mentioned above.

*Two things to note*

First, I am giving my endorsement to the attorney because I know that he handled the situation well and my friend avoided any potential lawsuit.  On the other hand, I do NOT get any type of referral fee from this attorney for the endorsement.

Second, this entire post is based on research I have done and the experience my friend dealt with.  My post is based on suggestions from resources I have seen, but it is up to you to decide what to do in this situation.  To avoid this issue moving forward, if you want to to find website images then I would use Shutterstock as they are reasonably priced and offer some great options.