When I started my blog, I liked to grab pictures off the Internet to emphasize a point or a line in a poem. I remember being amazed at the resources! I’d Google “happy face“, for instance, and have 100’s of smiles to choose from.
But what about copyrights? On Google, I found the image-search tools, then usage rights. They listed: labeled for reuse, with or without modification, etc. I used “Not filtered by license.” Okay. I’m good to go.
THEN , one day in December I received a five-page letter from “Getty Images“, stating I illegally used their copyrighted photos (2), and owed them $1140.00 for each one. It said I had a mere 14 days to pay or contact them to make payment arrangements.
I was devastated! I had no idea I’d done this! I immediately checked my site, checked the Google search tool, and with a pit in my stomach, realized that “not filtered by license” meant the search criteria – NOT that the actual pictures were unrestricted! Big mental error.
But then I noticed something else. Other companies, like “StockPhotos”, had their name all across their photos (watermark), and even some of the “Getty” ones did as well. But NOT the ones I used.
The next thing I did was search “Getting sued by Getty Images”. Guess what? There were SEVEN pages of articles about Getty Harassment Demands, and what to do. My heart was still racing at the thought that I’d have to cough up $3 grand, but I was hopeful, too.
What I learned was very interesting. First of all, the entire copyright issue is quite a mess, what with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and bloggers. It’s very difficult to sue every infringement case. Craig Peters, a senior vice president at Getty Images, found that “tens of millions” of Getty photos have been shared without legal licensing.
They recently opted for offering embedded photos for non-commercial users to use for free. Businesses using their photos to promote products or businesses will still have to pay. But they still have their massive legal department, partly because many people who receive a letter such as the one I received will just go ahead and pay.
People who dispute the charges rarely end up in court. According to records compiled by Bloomberg Law, Getty has only filed seven copyright infringement lawsuits in the past five years.
Following the advice of multiple sites, I composed a respectful email response,
I am so sorry! I always look for copyright info., but it turns out I’ve misunderstood “not filtered by license”. I realize being naive is not a legal defense, but it is true. I have removed the photos on my blog. I will check to see if they show up anywhere else and remove them as well. I’ve deleted them from my computer. I’m hoping this resolves the issue.
A representative wrote back immediately “Since copyright infringement already occurred, Getty Images is seeking fees for the past use. The balance on the settlement demand presented remains due.”
Sources also encouraged me to ask about the amount they came up with. So I searched for the images on the Getty site. Sure enough, I found it, but I didn’t fit any of the criteria used for determining price! Finally, I opened “chat” with the site and here’s what they said:
Pete: Hello! How can I help you today? jane: if I want to buy this image to illustrate a line in a poem, what “use” category is it? Pete: What is the image number and where/how will the poem be used? jane: Creative image #: 89368514. I write on a blog… Like a Facebook-post. Pete: You may want to have a look at the embed feature…if you fit the category you may be able to put it on your blog at no cost. Or you could purchase an editorial use license, low-res version of the image, for $65.00; are you interested? jane: I’ll check the “free” idea first! ;) Thanks!
Even if I paid $65.00, how did it become ~$1200.00??? They stated in the first letter that they weren’t charging damages. When I asked for the formula they used to come up with the settlement demand, they refused. In my opinion, if someone presents a demand for payment but refuses to justify the total on the bill, I will not pay it. So I finally emailed the advised letter,
I am a blogger. My pictures are not used for anything but to emphasize a phrase in a quote. They are not for promotion, corporate or otherwise.
I have acted in good faith to resolve this matter. You have not satisfied the burden of proof for your CLAIM and I will therefore consider this matter closed.
I ask that you CEASE ALL COMMUNICATION. Any further contact will be deemed HARASSMENT and subject to a lawsuit.
In addition, I will begin tracking my time. If you continue to pursue this matter I will be charging $100.00 to read your letters/emails, and $300.00 per hour for any research required in formulating a reply. It is very important that you pass this information along to your client, Getty Images. Sincerely, Jane Weiss
Who knows – maybe I’m not out of the woods yet, but I haven’t heard from them for a few weeks. Lesson learned? Search “free” sources instead of Google. Information sources: http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-03-06/since-it-cant-sue-us-all-getty-images-embraces-embedded-photos http://www.extortionletterinfo.com/forum/getty-images-letter-forum/how-to-stop-gettys-employees-harassment/