For several years now, Getty Images has been sending aggressive letters threatening website owners with litigation for using their copyrighted photographs without appropriate permission: Getty's lawyers warn that, unless a website owner pays Getty immediately (usually an exorbitant amount), Getty will soon be filing a lawsuit against them. If you get one of these letters, what should you do?
Call a lawyer
First, let's acknowledge that Getty Images does distribute copyrighted images, and the company is entitled to demand payment for unauthorized use of their work. And it's much better, particularly for websites relating to commercial work, to avoid the issue entirely by using original work or licensed images.
But that's just the beginning of the story
When it comes to that letter you may have received, the first question we must ask is if you actually used one of Getty's copyrighted images, and, second, if you did so, did you do so without an authorization? It's possible that you may have properly licensed the same image from another vendor, maybe even from Getty itself, but Getty's attorneys wouldn't know that. So having a license would, of course, negate their claim.
But there are also legitimate reasons why you could have used a copyrighted image without paying for it. For example, if you were doing a scholarly analysis of the image, then your use of it might be protected under the “Fair Use Doctrine.”
Additionally, it's not a forgone conclusion that Getty even owns the copyright for the image they are complaining about. And even if they are entitled to the copyright, they may not yet have registered the image with the Copyright Office. If they haven't done that, then any claims of bringing suit are hollow. Getty cannot file a claim in federal court without having the copyright registration in hand.
If you have any questions relating to intellectual property or copyrights, whether in terms of protecting your own work or using someone else's, call John Marshall, Attorney at Law, at 949-724-1116 or send us an email to schedule a consultation.