Beware the Danger of an Unauthorized Photo

And How It Almost Cost Me When I Didn’t Use a Stock Photo

Kimberley Payne
Apr 19 · 10 min read
Photo by Clker via Pixabay

Imagine my surprise when I received an email from Getty Images that alleged I had stolen a photo and now owed them money!

As an author, I am a member of three different national writer’s groups and many Facebook groups as well. I learned years ago that it was bad to use other people’s pictures. I prided myself on the fact that I only used royalty-free or stock photos from the internet.

But I obviously missed one!

This is the email I received:

605 5th Ave S, Suite 400, Seattle, WA 98104 USA
Tel 1 800 972 4170 www.gettyimages.com

December 1, 2017

Via physical mail and email

Unauthorized Use of Getty Images Imagery — Reference Number: xxxx — Kimberley Payne

According to our records, there is no valid license issued to your company for the use of that imagery.

Use of imagery without a valid license is considered copyright infringement and entitles Getty Images to seek compensation for infringing uses (Canadian Copyright Act, The United States Copyright Act of 1976). The cost of settlement for past usage of the imagery on your company’s website is C$262.00.

They then included a screen capture of the image. This was no joke!

The email continued…

To Resolve This Matter :

You are requested to take one of the following actions within 14 days of the date of this correspondence, as follows:

If your company has a valid license / authorization for the use of the imagery, please email the license purchase / authorization information to: copyrightcompliance@gettyimages.com.

If your company does not have a valid license / authorization for the past use of the imagery but does wish to purchase a valid license for the future use of the imagery or for other Getty Images’ imagery, please contact copyrightcompliance@gettyimages.com or 1–800–972–4170 and remit the settlement payment of C$262.00.

Please be aware that purchase of a valid license for future use of the imagery alone will not resolve this issue; we want to ensure that photographers are compensated for the past use of their work on your website.

However, we can offset some of the settlement payment by providing you with free credits for our Royalty Free (RF) imagery from www.istockphoto.com or a discount on a subscription for www.istockphoto.com. The credits or subscription will allow you to appropriately download multiple Royalty Free (RF) images that you can use in multiple projects in accordance with iStock’s license terms. (See http://stories.gettyimages.com/copyright-faqs/ for an explanation of RM vs. RF imagery).

If your company does not have a valid license / authorization for the use of the imagery and does not wish to purchase a valid license for the future use of the imagery or for other Getty Images’ imagery, please remove the imagery referenced at the end of this correspondence and remit the settlement payment of C$262.00.

Please be aware that removal of the imagery alone will not resolve this issue; we require payment of a license fee for past usage even after you have removed the image.

Did I mention that I don’t earn a living with writing? As a matter of fact, I consistently spend more on the craft of writing (writing conferences, books, website fees etc.) than I do on earning an income.

Photo by 18120796 via Pixabay

They then added:

You may have been unaware that this imagery was subject to copyright. However, copyright infringement can occur regardless of knowledge or intent. Being unaware of license requirements does not change liability.

Getty Images is deeply committed to protecting the interests, intellectual property rights and livelihood of its contributors. We believe that prompt cooperation will benefit all concerned parties. Getty Images looks forward to amicably resolving this matter and appreciates your cooperation. If you believe you have mistakenly received this correspondence, please contact us by email at copyrightcompliance@gettyimages.com, or call 1–800–972–4170 and we will assist you.

You may find further information in the FAQs attached to this correspondence and at http://stories.gettyimages.com/copyright-faqs/

Ouch. This hurt on a personal level as I really believe in protecting writers’ and artists’ rights!

They then concluded the letter with details on how I could go about paying the $262.00 fee.

I thought that if I removed the photo and ignored the email they would leave me alone. But I received a letter in the post shortly thereafter. I could not just hide and hope it would go away.

I had to respond. After doing some research (thank God for the Internet) I learned that others had experienced similar situations and so I crafted an email in response.

Dear Getty Images,

I have received the notice of unauthorized use of Getty images imagery reference number xxxx. To the best of my knowledge, I have paid for my photos, used my own photography, royalty free images from the public domain and sites such as Pixabay.com.

As a sign of good faith, once I was made aware of this presumed infringement, I have not only removed the alleged photo, but I have removed the entire blog post from my website and server.

Regardless of this, if the photo had been unauthorized, the fair market value for the image would be between $1-$13 as seen below:

Think Stock photo: “Crispy strips of bacon on a grey wooden background” (available on Thinkstock for $1– 5 downloads for $49)

Deposit Photos: “Cooked Greasy Bacon” (available on Deposit Photo for $1–30 images for $29)

iStockphoto: “Fried Bacon” (available on iStock for $13)

iStockphoto: “Crispy strips of bacon on a grey wooden background” (available on iStock for $13)

Shutterstock photo: “Fried bacon on a dish” (available on Shutterstock for $2.90)

Shutterstock: “Bacon on White Plate” (available on Shutterstock for $2.90)

In light of the fair market value, I would be willing to offer $15.00 for the image. In the past, I had purchased 30 iStock credits for a total of $61.25 that I would like to use towards this if possible.

Regards,

Kimberley Payne

I hoped this would be the end of it and I would be free to go on my way.

I received this email in response:

You were previously notified of your company’s unauthorized use of Rights Managed (RM) imagery represented by Getty Images, which is displayed at the end of this message. To date, the matter has not been resolved. Copies of our prior correspondence are viewable at the following links for your reference: xxxx

As you have already been notified, unauthorized use of our imagery constitutes copyright infringement under Canadian Copyright Act and the United States Copyright Act of 1976. Please be aware that copyright infringement can occur regardless of knowledge of intent. Being unaware of license requirements does not change liability.

Removal of the imagery alone will not satisfy this issue; we require a settlement payment of C$262.00 for past usage of the imagery at issue, even after you have removed the image(s).

Unless you contact us within 14 days, we may refer this matter to legal counsel to pursue other options.

For questions, or to resolve this matter, please contact copyrightcompliance@gettyimages.com or call 1–800–972–4170. Please also contact me immediately if you believe you have received this correspondence in error.

If you’re anything like me, you worry about these things. I didn’t have $262.00 to just give away. I wasn’t a large business or commercial entity; just a writer trying to share my message.

To add insult to injury I received another email a few days later:

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

RE: xxx — Kimberley Payne

Dear Kimberley Payne,

Thank you for your recent email.

Getty Images respectfully declines your offer to settle this matter at $15.00.

The settlement amount offered in our letter of December 01, 2017 was based on the actual cost of the license that should have been purchased in order to display the image on the website. For your reference, the Getty Images price calculator can be found here: xxx

And for this use, a digital media and commercial blog use would have been required prior to placing the image on a live website. At the very least the one month license for this usage would have cost $262.00, as shown below:

You have identified images that are available for license on a ‘royalty-free’ basis. Leaving aside the quality of the image for a moment, a royalty-free license is non-exclusive (meaning there is no limit to the number of people that can license that image). Additionally, many royalty-free files found on sites such as the ones that you have identified are non-exclusive to those sites, meaning that many stock photo sites have the same commodity content.

The image that was actually infringed on is licensed on a ‘rights managed’ basis. In addition to being of a higher technical quality, a Getty Images’ rights managed image is made available exclusively through Getty Images and its distributors and the license fee is based on size, type of use, and placement. Unlike royalty-free images, rights managed images are available for license on an exclusive basis, at a premium that reflects the high quality and limited availability.

The current situation is exactly what the court described. We license millions of images each year at fair market prices. There is no need to speculate as to what the cost of a license for a rights managed image would be. We offer an online price calculator that provides transparent pricing. The offer of settlement in this case is based on established rates for like license terms of images of like quality. In fact, it goes further and it is based on the exact license terms you would have required for the exact image. Your reference to the pricing of royalty-free imagery is not valid in this matter.

If you feel the settlement offer is disproportionate from your usage, I would encourage you to fully disclose usage of the imagery in question, including length of use, other websites, and mediums that may have not yet been identified or made known to my team. Getty Images understands the image was in use for longer than one month.

Please note that any check payments in any other amount will be returned to you. The terms of this settlement offer shall be kept confidential, except as may be required by law. Getty Images expressly reserves all rights and remedies available under copyright law. Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Best regards,

What?! Did they have a team of lawyers working on this?

Photo by rawpixel via Pixabay

I needed help. I turned to the one place — the only place — that I knew I could get the needed help. As a Christian, that for me is God.

I called out to my prayer team to pray.

This was sent to the group of prayer warriors:

Dear Prayer Team,

Kimberley received a request for payment from a graphics company, for images she used on her website a long time ago, before learning to only use her own or copyright-free images. She has contacted them and is waiting for a reply. Please pray for a good resolution to this issue that won’t cost her a huge amount of money.

Praying in trust,

I then sent out one final email:

Thank you for your recent email.

The settlement amount offered in your letter of December 1, 2017 was based on a fee for a commercial blog. However, I’m not a business or commercial entity. My website is individually owned and my blog is a personal blog not operating for profits. The fee was based on “use in an editorial-style article on a corporate website or blog.” According to Getty Image‘s own website, individuals may embed images for non-commercial purpose on websites, blogs and in social media posts. The image in question was on a blog post.

In light of this, I would like to offer $15.00 for the image.

Best regards,

I could only pray that they would accept this and leave me be.

In the meantime, I decided to be extra vigilant and deleted not only the photos but all the posts on my blog that I wrote pre-2010.

I use Pixabay or Unsplash as my main source of photos.

As co-creator of Koinonia Publication here on Medium with Janis Cox, we are adamant that each writer credits their photos. We’ve written posts to share this and other tips we’ve learned:

I am pleased to report that Getty Images never responded to my last email.

I pray that no one else will ever have to endure the stress, anxiety, and time involved in responding to an allegation of using a stolen photo!

Be wise and learn from my example.



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Kimberley Payne

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Koinonia

Stories by Christian writers to encourage, entertain, and empower you in your faith, food, fitness, family, friendship, and fun.