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Can I Ignore a Getty Settlement Demand Letter? (No)

What You Should Do If Getty Has Sent a Settlement Demand Letter

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photography Matthijs Borghgraef. Moment/ Getty Images

First -- Do Not Ignore The Letter!

If you have received a Settlement Demand Letter from Getty Images, take their threats seriously -- but do not panic.

Getty has an entire department of people, who are not attorneys, that do nothing but hunt down their images using automated robots that can detect images that have been cropped, altered, or renamed. Getty then sends out scary letters demanding payment with the promise that by paying the demand amount now, you can avoid being sued later. The language in the letter is threatening and sounds "legal" and unless you are an attorney, will probably scare you into paying without question. At least that's what Getty hopes.

What is a Settlement Demand Letter?

A Settlement Demand Letter can be two things:

  • Settlement demands often contain an order to "cease and desist" (in Getty's case, to stop using an unlicensed image.) A cease and desist letter should be seen as a first legal step before someone asserts their copyrights in a more formal way (by settling outside of court or suing you.)
  • But the second and main purpose of the Getty Settlement Demand letter is the one you have to be most concerned with. It is an invitation to get you to enter into an agreement with Getty to pay a lump sum (which will always be far greater than the value of the image license) and in return Getty agrees not to sue you.

More Information: How Can Getty Demand So Much More Than The Image Is Worth?

Do Immediately "Cease and Desist"

As soon as you are made aware that you are violating copyright laws, remove the image(s) and notify Getty that the image(s) has been removed. Do not lie -- Getty will recheck to see if you are telling the truth.

Removing the image as soon as possible is critical -- although you may be able to claim ignorance up until Getty informed you of a copyright violation, after you were told, there is a paper trail show there was no question that you knew after being sent a demand letter which documents the image, when it was first discovered, its use, and location. Even if you plan to dispute ownership or user rights, remove it and immediately contact an attorney.

It is also important to note that ignorance is not a legal defense. If you own a website that has images (or content) that violates copyright law -- even if you did not know it because someone else did the work or posted the image, it does not matter. If you are the website owner, the law says you can be held accountable. However, if you end up in court, a judge is likely to consider the facts and reduce any damage awards you might have to pay based on whether or not you were knowingly violating copyright laws, and if and how quickly you removed images once you were officially notified.

Don't Forget File Copies

Simply removing an image from a website or blog will not be enough to satisfy Getty. You must also remove the image file from the server. For example, if you use the built in WordPress tool to automatically embed a photo into a blog post it uploads a copy to your site and stores it somewhere on your server.

To satisfy Getty's demand to cease and desist, you need to do two things:

  • Open the post or web page itself where the image appears and delete the image.
  • Then find where the actual image file is stored and delete that file as well.

As long as a file copy of their image is on your website, even if no one can see it on your website, you are violating copyright laws (at least, according to Getty.) In other words, if they can prove you still have it in your possession on a public server where Getty can locate it -- whether or not you are using the image in a display, Getty will complain you are still in violation of copyright law.

Removing The Image Does Not Let you Off The Hook

Removing all unlicensed images is a good first step to take -- it will help reduce the potential of incurring higher damages if you ever are sued by Getty. However, removing the image will not absolve you from any legal liability for past use -- it just means you will not have to worry about getting hit with a second demand letter from Getty asking for increased damage amounts.

Getty does not make clear that paying the amount demanded does not give you permission, rights, or a license to use the image again, or in the future. If Getty tells you something like "we don't care if you take it down or not, you still have to pay our demands," they are misleading their victims into thinking that paying the demand means you have purchased the rights to use the image. It does not -- the demand for settlement is purely punitive, asking for for restitution for violating a copyright law, and nothing more.

Tip: If you need a new image to replace the ones you remove, read my review of www.123rf.com, an alternative that is affordable, has good images, and royalty-free, perpetual licenses.

Be Professional and Apologetic

Apologize for the oversight and offer any reasonable explanation you can. Threatening back (unless via your own attorney) is not likely to work in your favor. Getty deals with angry people accused of violations every working day -- you are not going to intimidate them on your own. But they are likely to be documenting any rude, threatening, or unprofessional behavior on your part.

Call the number indicated in your letter and remain calm, but assertive and ask if they will negotiate to settle for a more reasonable amount. Getty is never going to let you off scot-free, but they are likely to negotiate.

Tip: Document the call, including when you called (date and time) and who you spoke with and what they said. If the person you are speaking with will not immediately give you their name ask for their supervisor. If you ever find yourself in need of an attorney to help you resolve your Getty woes, this will be valuable information to share with your attorney.

The main purpose of your call is to establish contact and show that you received and are responding to their allegations. Never acknowledge guilt; respond that you were not aware of the violation but since being made aware, you have removed the image(s). If you >em>were aware that you were illegally using images you should talk to a lawyer before responding to Getty.

If you are willing to have Getty hound you, just respond and say the images have been removed and leave it at that. If you plan to pay, start negotiating. If you plan to hire a lawyer to deal with the Getty mess do not even call them -- call the attorney first.

Tip: If you purchased a template that contained an unlicensed image, you might want to contact an attorney. Getty probably hears the cry of "innocent due to ignorance" from a lot of folks. As I stated previously, ignorance is not a legal defense. Getty will listen more closely to a innocent plea when they hear your response through an attorney who may also remind Getty of words such as, harassment, falsely accused, extortion, tort, and counter suit.

Know The Value Of The Image In Question

Take a look at the Getty website and see what the price was for a license to use the photo is. the photo. If they are asking $1,000 for a $45 image, point that out. Whether you are innocent or not, it may be worth it just to offer $45, see if Getty accepts and be done with the entire mess.

Read letters that went back and forth between a writer and Getty. It's scary to see how aggressive Getty becomes over a $45 image. But it will offer a decent guideline for how to write a letter. Getty Settlement Scam Attorneys

You may need to hire an attorney. If you only used one or two images, it is not really worth their time to sue you, but Getty will relentless call and write and pressure you until you pay up.

Getty is more likely to go after those accused of using a large number of images (large, usually meaning 10 or more), or if they believe you profited in some way, like remarketing their images. But they have the time, resources, and money to go after anyone, even for a single image, that simply ignores them. While I have not known Getty to sue for small amounts, if they started the practice of suing routinely, or randomly, they would be able to scare a lot more people into just paying their demands.

Last, purchase images from a reputable company that does not extort violators. For all images, purchased, or otherwise, list copyright information when required, and give proper attributes to the owner.

Tip: If you hired a web company to develop your site, ask if the images they used are licensed to you. Getty specifically requires that an image on your site be licensed to you - not to the developer. You should also ask when the license expires, or in a year, you may get a rather nasty letter from Getty. If you have this in writing, and Getty comes after you, you have clear legal action against the company that duped you. Problem is, many of the disreputable companies that steal images and lie are in India, and you will never get your money back.

Learn More: FAQs About Cease & Desist Orders and Settlement Demand Letters

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