The Web For Blog

Internet marketing observations, perspectives, tips and tricks for your education and enlightenment.

Getty Copyright Infringement Letters

Mark Kawabe - Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A client of mine informed me today he had received a letter from Getty Images claiming he had violated their copyright on two images used on his website. Along with the claim was a request for over $1000 in "damages".

This is a potential challenge for anyone with a website, because as my client noted, he had no idea where the images on his website came from. He had his site built years ago by a designer who is no longer in business who subcontracted the work to another developer in another country. Being able to find out whether the images were licensed or not is virtually impossible.

So, what to do?

Unfortunately, in cases like this, if you are the owner of a website you are liable for the images on your site. You can ask your designer where they got the images and if they can't tell you, then you'd likely be able to pass along anything you pay to your designer as they're the one who got you into the mess in the first place.

Otherwise, you could be stuck with the bill.

Some of the arguments I have read about alleged copyright infringement discuss how people downloaded images from websites offering "free" pictures. Rarely is anything truly free when it comes to images, so tread cautiously if you're going to do this. I have read some stories about "free" image websites where the images were stolen from another website and then offered as free. If you use one of those images and get a copyright infringement letter, you'd better be able to prove you got the image from a free website, along with the exact URL(s) and the date of download.

At The Web For, we use only use licensed images from stock photography sites for our clients' websites unless they provide us with images to use. We also ask our clients to sign a waiver that acknowledges any images they provide to us are free of copyright and are properly licensed. If they don't sign the waiver, we don't use the images which protects us both.

Copyright infringement is widespread online. Avoid it by purchasing licensed images for your site. There's a cost, but it's worth it to avoid the stress and possible financial penalties when the copyright lawyers come calling.


Mark Kawabe - Monday, March 29, 2010

Here are a few words that ruined my day around a year ago:

" 'ABC Company' can find no reference to this image having been licensed for reproduction on your website. The usage above directly violates 'ABC Company's' and the artist's exclusive rights to reproduce, adapt, display, distribute, and/or create derivative works. Be advised that any entity that violates these exclusive rights of the copyright owner is an infringer of the copyright and is thus liable, regardless of prior knowledge of the unauthorized usage. Also note, the Copyright Act provides for individual liability for all those associated with the infringement as well as corporate liability."

There was more (courtesy of 'ABC Company's' lawyers) but on the "Claim Invoice", the amount of the claim made by 'ABC Company' on behalf of its client was $4020 + GST for unauthorized use of the image.

Let me help that sink in a bit more.

$4020 + GST for the unauthorized use of ONE image on a website.


In this case, the image in question was provided to me by a former client for use on their web advertising. However, after consulting with a lawyer specializing in copyright law, I learned that I was still responsible for the copyright infringement because I hadn't confirmed with my client that the image in question was free of copyright and further, not only did I not check, but I didn't have anything in writing from the client.

Fortunately for me, 'ABC Company' shifted their attention to the former client and that appears to have been the end of the story for me. I suspect hundreds if not thousands of people worldwide receive letters from 'ABC Company' and other rights management companies with claims of copyright infringement. For me, it was an important lesson to learn, so I thought I would share it with you.

Whenever you get new artwork, ensure with your graphic designer that the work is indeed free of copyright. Ask where the image came from and whether they have permission to use it. Image licences can be purchased for as low as a few dollars from many stock photography sites so there's really no reason you should ever get stung with a copyright infringement.

Just a word of warning from one who's been there. It's worth $10 or $20 now to avoid the stress that could befall you in future.