In my opinion, it is best NOT to use any photographic image, or illustration that you have not paid a licensing fee for.
I know that there are few REAL copyright-free photo sites, but after seeing how “copyright infringement” is the latest get-rich-quick scheme, I think there’s a good chance you could still face a lot of hassle down the road if you can’t show proof that you are legally entitled to use the image.
After spending hours researching this topic, here are the two best positions I’ve found on what to do if you receive one of these ‘copyright infringement’ letters. These are letters sent from a variety of photo agencies, or, from a Licensing Compliance department/agency on behalf of a photo agency, etc. However they word it, they claim to have found an image on your website that you have not paid for and therefore you have violated the copyright of that image and you need to pay them anywhere from $600 – $2000.
First of all, this article from lawyer Oscar Michelen does an excellent job of outlining how these copyright extortion schemes work. And if you wish to hire legal counsel, he has created a streamlined and reasonably-priced “letter program” where he can take over the correspondence for you, so you no longer have to be bothered with the extortion campaign.
On the other side, there is a petition you can sign to bring this extortion scheme to light and lobby for a law against it. On the petition page, there is also an interesting summary of this issue, but the poster’s advice differs from lawyer Oscar Michelen in that he feels, “Unfortunately, there are those black sheep amongst the community of the attorneys who have started online help programs for such victims to make money off of these extortion letter by coming off as if helping the victims. Instead of helping them for free, they are charging them another $200 to $500 for merely writing a letter to the Getty Images.”
Personally, I’m not in a position to assess who is “right” on this issue. But I can say that if it were me, I would pay Oscar Michelen the $200 to take over dealing with these people, simply to get rid of the hassle and mental space this kind of nastiness takes up.
Also, from my research, when these cases do go to court and the person shows that they are guilty of “innocent infringement” (where they were not aware they were using a licensed image, or had been led to believe it was free) the amount they are fined is about $200.
So I figure, I’d rather pay the $200 now as there’s a good chance the issue would then never go to court. A classic tactic for these kinds of schemes is to hit the easy money, not the people who are knowledegable, or who show they will not go quietly!
However, so you can read the alternative viewpoint for yourself (and there is also some good info here), here is the petition commenter’s full post:
“If you are reading this, you are just one of the thousands (if not millions) of individuals or owners of small businesses who have been receiving extortion letter for using an image off internet which a company called Getty Images claims is theirs. They are misusing (and misinterpreting) the copyright law to make large amounts of money (in millions of Dollars), by employing greedy attorneys and legally abusive collection tactics i.e. letters, phone calls, etc. A little search over internet will reveal thousands of other links which are complaining about such extortion practices of companies like Getty Images. It is surprising that neither the Government, nor Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has taken serious note of it to stop it. There is a pending legislation in the Congress against such copyright trolls and you are highly encouraged to speak to your local Congressman to pass it as soon as possible.
Getty Images is an American Company (part of a Carlyl Group based in Seattle, Washington) operated by Mark Getty and Jonathan Kleinand. It owns hundreds of websites and operates with different names online i.e. Allsport, Word View, Liaison Agency, Newsmakers, Online USA, Hulton Press Library, Picture Post, Hulton Deutsch, Hulton Getty, Keystone Collection, EyeWire, Energy Film Library, Archive Photos of New York, Image Bank, Hulton Archive, Archive Photos, Pictorial Parade, Frederick Lewis Stock Photos, image.net, MediaVast, WireImage, FilmMagic, Contour Photos, Master Delegates, Isifa Image Service, Laura Ronchi, Jupitermedia, Jupiterimages, stock.xchng, StockXpert, Redferns Music Picture Library, PhotoDisc, Tony Stone Images, Hellman & Friedman (H&F), Flickr or iStockphoto. They deliberately populate the internet with their images, enticing people to get them off their websites for FREE by using keywords i.e. Royalty Free Images, Free photos, License free photos, etc. And then they use a software tool to spider all over internet, searching for their images, taking screenshots and sending them over to their attorneys who in turn combine all of that as “EVIDENCE” to scare and hound naive individuals and small business owners.
The best rule of thumb is to IGNORE such a non-sense. If you will speak to an attorney, that’s how they make money and they will want you to take it seriously. No court of law will punish you for doing an innocent mistake and removing/replacing the image immediately. If you are really that much interested in giving Getty Images some hard time via “out-of-court” settlement which they are desperately seeking (since they live off such activities), here are some of the questions that you’d want to ask Getty Images or their attorneys. In response they will either deny your request for further information (which is a clear proof they can’t take you to the court) or will offer you a more negotiated settlement. In either case, you can simply issue a “CEASE AND DESIST” request from contacting you any further. If they don’t stop hounding you, then you can start collecting all of the relevant evidence of their illegal practices and take them to the local civil court (using the legal aid help from local bars). Irrespective of what other attorneys tell you or whatever you hear from internet forums, IGNORING is the best, easiest and the most effective rule in addition to talking to your local Congressman about it. So, here are the questions you need to ask Getty Images whenever you decide to respond (provided you really have to get it out of your system);
1. How did you come to know about my website using your images specially things like;
a) The time and date you found out
b) The procedure you used to identify your images on my website
c) The legal authority you used to track and take a snapshot of my website without my prior permission.
2. The ownership of the images including but not limited to;
a) Name, Address and other contact information of the photographer who originally sold it to you or has some sort of contract with you (the copy of the contract). Chain of title of the image.
b) Your images hosting servers, data center and IP addresses host the servers where those images reside
c) What sort of image copyright is displayed on your images which identify it as your own?
d) The registration and certification of these images with US Government Patent or Trademark office or any other Government database
e) Sales data of the owners and purchasers of these images along with their IP Addresses and website addresses, owners and their contact information.
3. What is the average price of these images to host for an hour, a day, a month or indefinitely? And how did you calculate the price of $2,000 in my particular case? And since I never purchased any image from you or have any intention of ever doing so, how did you presume that I’d pay you ANY price or cost you will ask? If you have any fair market value of images statistics or comparison with other images providers, kindly present it along with your claim. Further, on what basis will you continue to raise the price next month or next year if I decide to not to give you a single dime?
4. And finally, instead of sending me a simple and a respectful “cease and desist” request, how come you sent such presumptive demand letters that it was all an intentional damage caused to you? If the images are hosted on anybody’s website as FREE and you are unable to secure your own images via some sort of watermark or security measures, how come you fault the end users online who innocently downloaded online from websites who might be the actual culprits after whom you should pursue?
You will be surprised to know that there are many lawyers and a large number of legal assistants who are on the payroll of Getty Images, actively participating in the comments sections of Internet Forums or Discussion groups on the same topic. Unfortunately, there are those black sheep amongst the community of the attorneys who have started online help programs for such victims to make money off of these extortion letter by coming off as if helping the victims. Instead of helping them for free, they are charging them another $200 to $500 for merely writing a letter to the Getty Images. This is a clear war between the power of money Vs. the power of people. Let’s show them who is the winner!
To avoid using any such copyright trolls’ websites, here are sources for FREE images. Pls. check each image’s license for a special word like “CC0″ or Creative Commons 0 which pretty much means no rights reserved. On Google Images search , set ADVANCED SEARCH for FREE FOR COMMERCIAL USE. Other sites of free images include pixabay.com, freepixels.com (be careful of the sponsored images on top of the search results from shutterstock), imageafter.com (do not remove their copyright notice in the image which is too tiny for anyone to notice) and imagebase.net.
If you need any further (and FREE) assistance, please contact your Congressman, local legal aid or chamber of commerce representatives for further assistance. Unless you will register your complaint with a Government-authorized representative (as mentioned above), the copyright trolls such as Getty Images will continue to not only hound you but many thousands of others and living off their abuse of the copyright law.
And lastly, please don’t let these trolls stop you from doing what you love doing i.e. innovating, creating and succeeding. Even though there are sick minds i.e. Getty Images, there is more good in this world than Evil. And always remember, the strength of evil lies into scaring you from a hoax.”
Oh and one last thing – make sure you KEEP all your invoices when you buy images from Photo sites, keep them for 20 years or more – as you may need this proof someday.
NOTE: The image used in this blog post is a paid, licensed image from Fotalia.com – which has very reasonable monthly download packages!