Don’t Assume Your Picture is Legal

October 21, 2014   |  No Comments

Photograph Copyright

A while ago I received an unwelcome letter through the post from Getty Images informing me that I’d used one of their images for online promotional purposes. It also told me that without a valid image license it would be considered copyright infringement and as such liable for a fine. This was a complete shock for me as I’ve always been extremely strict about what type of photos I will use in any given project and where they’ve been sourced from. What was more frustrating was that I’d only recently developed a personal website for Nick Marsh Design which included my portfolio of work, and this itself was from a narrow selection process.

Luckily(!) Getty Images had included the image in question on an additional page of the demand letter, outlining the reference number from it’s library collection. This appeared to be dating back to a project I’d worked on approximately 7 years previous to receiving this letter, and one that had been heavily modified in Photoshop, so resemblance to the original image was quite limited.

Nevertheless, the image identified was accurate and definitely used on a printed design I created for a previous client. I assumed the image was supplied to me in good faith and any licenses for use had been cleared, obviously this was not the case. After much discussion with the client it became clear that they didn’t own a license for the photo, but more worryingly was that it was being used on my own website from which I was ultimately responsible for. The amount of money in the ‘cease and desist’ notice was quite substantial which made me think about how I’d settle the costs.

Getty Images Letter

Well it’s times like these that Google became my friend and it wasn’t long before I’d uncovered similar cases around the globe which included these demand letters mailed out by Getty to owners of websites which held their images. All of the stories were the same where they’d try to intimidate people by sending collection agents to retrieve the money. It’s a very scary tactic and as well as small businesses I also found an article in The Guardian relating to a website owned by a church in Lichfield, Staffordshire. They had received a £6,000 bill for photographs used on their site apparently submitted by a church volunteer. The diocese’s communications director said:

“Getty was not playing ball or following the normal litigation or dispute resolution procedures and I advised the church to ignore them. We don’t deal with bullies; we deal with legal threats appropriately. I told Getty by letter that’s what the church was doing, that we were not going to play, and didn’t hear any more.”

Following on from this I explained to Getty in an email that the image was published unknowingly without a license and that I wouldn’t be paying the amount stated on the letter. After some back and forth, I was sent another letter weeks after the initial post informing me that the cost of the fine had been amended to take into account of my concerns and it eventually became payable. This was dealt with swiftly by myself and the client and nothing more was heard from by Getty.

Should i have pursued this further? Maybe I shouldn’t have paid anything to the company from just a simple demand letter? No matter, the morale of the story is to take responsibility for any content you wish to use on a project. If you want to use photos for part of the design you have to understand where they’ve been sourced from. Not downloaded from Google. Not scanned from a magazine. Not taken from another website.

If you want to stay safe and stay legal there are few options to choose from. You could hire a photographer, which would make your photos completely original and could gain you the perfect shot. You could take them yourself and maybe achieve comparable results to a professional, and obviously costs would be quite low and would be ready for processing in no time. Most popular though is to use a stock photography library as favoured by myself. There are millions of images to choose from, ranging from size, quality and license. Over the years these have become very cost effective for all budget types and used on the vast majority of my projects.

As a designer and online developer I take licensing very seriously, and any piece of work undertaken by myself will be scrutinised to confirm the source of all media and establish the legality of it. Please contact me if you have any questions on this matter.

Remember kids, don’t steal!



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