Consumer Warning to Blog and Website Owners: If you are using images from Getty Images without a license, or running on an expired license, you could find yourself among the thousands of unlucky recipients of one of their settlement demand letters.
This is not a hoax, but it is a scam. Getty Images does send out (outrageous) settlement demand letters; if they are from Getty, they are for real, even if they are what many refer to as "legalized extortion letters."
Are Getty Images Business Practices Legalized Extortion?
Since at least the mid 2000s, Getty Images has been a bullying innocent copyright infringers; engaging in barely legal extortion tactics when it comes to asserting intellectual rights to images and material sold or licensed through their website.
Despite large public outcry and a lot of bad press, it's 2011 and the Getty campaign to pursue children, small-time blog owners, and the average Joe has only intensified. If you think you are safe because you paid for a license, think again. Licenses expire and when they do, rest assured Getty knows the date and may visit your website to collect.
How does Getty Find Copyright Infringers?
Getty uses automated robots that crawl the Internet looking for its images. Getty's tools are so sophisticated that if you use even a part of their images in a logo, banner, or button, they can recognize an unlicensed image. Their crawlers can locate images that have been altered, inverted, flipped or turned upside down, regardless of what you rename the image file.
When a Getty image is found, it is compared to their license database. If there is no match between the image and the site where it is found, they send a snap shot of the image(s) found on your site, the name of the image (as they sell it) and demand a huge sum of money for copyright infringement.
How can someone be "innocent" of copyright infringement if they are using an unlicensed image?
Simple. If you purchased a template online that has an unlicensed image in the design - even if you did not know about it, Getty will come after you -- not the template designer who initiated the infringement.
If you hire a web designer who does not obtain the right licenses, or that purchases a 1-year license and you let it expire - even if you did not know about it, Getty will come after you.
Another example of "innocent infringement" may occur when you take a copy of your own website from one provider and create it on another host provider. You may have rights to use stock images found on the original host provider, but not when the site is moved.