The Getty Images Rip-Off, You, Copyright & The Law

April 8, 2014

[STOP PRESS – Lawyers too expensive? Then see:-

Getty Images Threat Letter – UK Survival Service  Updated 9 April 2014]

Getty Images, the international online supplier of photographic images has been routinely threatening numerous morally blameless and innocent owners of legitimate UK businesses with copyright infringement and damages for using on their websites images Getty claim rights to.

Have you received a Getty Images copyright infringement letter demanding large amounts of money and accusing you of using images without permission on your website or blog?  Is a debt collector like Altradius harassing you for the money? 

Don’t pay up.  There is help.

Read about the issues in this article and if you decide you want our help it will cost you nothing to contact us: telephone 0208 663 0044 – email “mail { at } cliffordmiller.com” and include a copy of Getty Images copyright threat letter.

We could save you a great deal of money even if you think there is no way to avoid it.

We have saved clients a great deal of money.  Even if you think there is no way to avoid it we could help you.

We have successfully dealt with Getty Images for clients and know how to deal with their threats.  To date none of our clients have been sued by Getty Images.   

We have a modest inexpensive fixed fee which is affordable by small businesses and private individuals.  You know what it will cost from the outset and it is a fraction of what Getty Images want from you.

Some businesses have received initial demands for thousands of dollars, pounds sterling [and almost any other currency you care to think of]. These Getty Images letters have earned the nickname with some as the Getty Images “extortion letter”. The business owners almost invariably are unaware of any potential problem until the Getty letter arrives. Also often an independent website designer was responsible for selecting and including the alleged offending images in the business websites.

Getty Images’ business practices and their threats are discussed extensively on web fora worldwide.  Try this Google search Getty Images Forum.

It is stressful and frightening to receive these demands. Getty also seem to engage in “hit-and-run” claims.  They pop up, issue a demand, get ignored or challenged, disappear for a few years and then pop up again with their lawyers making threats and demanding more. Getty typically start by claiming approximately £2000 per image. Most business owners consider these sums are extortionate.   The problem was reported in UK’s The Guardian newspaper: “Is a Picture Really Worth £1000?Wendy M Grossman – The Guardian, Thursday 27 November 2008

The fees charged by Getty appear unsustainable and uneconomic. The Guardian was told by photographer Tony Sleep (halftone.co.uk):-

In the UK they’d struggle to make these amounts stick,” he says. “UK law is only concerned with restoring the situation had licensing been correctly obtained. The courts don’t like to be used as a means of extortion.

Are Photographer Copyright Owners Losing Out Also

Some photographers who signed exclusive deals with Getty have received not a penny.  Flickr users are offered just 20% of what Getty might charge.  Getty may not sell a single image [but still tie up the photographer in an exclusive deal].  Similar genres and types of images can be purchased outright “royalty free” for between £3 to £5 from other sources such as istockphoto.com, which is now ironically owned by Getty Images.

Is There Anything You Can Do?

The problem for any business is that it is far cheaper and less risky to pay up than to risk a legal claim in the Courts.  So is this the end of the story?


We have assisted a number of clients who have had this problem.

What is the law?

Innocence is no defence to infringement in copyright law.  There is an innocence defence but only to damages claims  and it is normally unlikely to apply. The copyright owner cannot claim damages if you can show you did not know and had no reason to believe that copyright existed.  The problem is that most modern photographs will be copyright works so you will be always likely to have reason to believe copyright exists [even if in the case concerned it did not, but then there could be no damages].

To be able to sue in their own name Getty Images must be either the copyright owner or have an exclusive licence from the copyright owner.  This is not the case particularly for  non exclusive “rights managed” images, where Getty Images only have the rights to manage and do not own copyright and may not have an exclusive licence.  This is potentially curable if appropriate agreement can be entered into with the photographer/copyright owner.  If it has not been or cannot be, then Getty Images can take no legal action in such cases.

So what is the position over the damages claims Getty Images make?

Without our help you might not know how to avoid paying.  You may decide to pay something, but how much should you pay and can you recover compensation yourself?  And how can you avoid paying anything?

A copyright owner or exclusive copyright licensee is entitled to claim damages to put them in the position they would have been in had there been no infringement ie as if a licence had been paid for.  The amount of the licence fee is the commercial rate.  If the images concerned have never been licensed or only rarely licensed there is no commercial rate.  A Court would have to consider all relevant evidence to assess what a commercial licence fee would be.

There are methods by which it can be possible to avoid legal proceedings.  Even in very difficult cases where large numbers of images have been used and eye-watering amounts of money might be claimed, you may be able to have a reasonable licence fee established despite lack of agreement by Getty Images or continuing threats from them.

Compensation from Website Designer

If the website designer is still in business and can be found it might be possible to claim a contribution or indemnity from them.  In many cases the designer can no longer be found.  Clearly when choosing a website designer it is worth covering key issues in a brief agreement and getting details  of insurers and confirmation of insurance cover for copyright infringement claims and other public liabilities.

Technical Legal Issues

Some technical legal issues are mentioned here but not in detail. For most contemporary photographs it is unlikely they will affect the ability to sue for infringement of copyright in modern photographs from contemporary photographers. The UK law before 1989 is also different to that since 1988 [and similarly for 1957 and 1956 and 1912 and 1911].  Where and when a photograph is taken and by whom can affect the position as well as where and when the picture was first published.  The photograph must be an original copyright work, which most if not all photographs will be.  If the photographer who took the picture is not a UK national the nationality must be of a country the nationals of which qualify for UK copyright protection for their copyright works.

Need Help?

To find out about our very modest and reasonable fixed fee telephone 0208 663 0044 or email “mail { at } cliffordmiller.com” and include a copy of Getty Images’ copyright threat letter.  You know what it will cost from the outset.

You can also just post a comment on this page at the end and let us know with some brief details of the problems you have experienced.  If you post a comment just asking for our help the comment is not published.  Don’t forget we will need your contact details to contact you so don’t forget an email address and telephone number.

Our fees are modest because we have the know-how to deal with these cases efficiently from acting previously for paying commercial clients with substantial sums involved.  You can benefit from that know how and expertise.

Clifford Miller’s legal practice website can be found here:-

Clifford Miller

He is a commercial lawyer with specialist expertise in:-

  • Intellectual Property
  • European & Competition/Anti-Trust Law
  • Computer Law & IT Law

9 Responses to “The Getty Images Rip-Off, You, Copyright & The Law”

  1. […] The Getty Images Rip-Off, You, Copyright & The Law – February 28, 2011 […]

  2. Jon the Photographer Says:

    I assume your a lawyer who does photography for a hobby. Im a photographer who does law for a hobby.

    You say 1000 or 2000 pounds is too expensive for a photograph, yet photographs are bought and sold free willingly every day at those prices.

    If people steal an image then it should not be a surpirse when they find they are charged at the higher end of the scale. Even if I charged my cheapest legitimate customer price it would still be in the hundreds. Top professional photographers do not and cannot make a living selling photos for five pounds. You say 2000 pounds for a photograph is a rip off but dont mention the court costs in the high court would be in the order of 20,000 pounds. Even in the small claims court it is very easy to run up 2000 pounds in court costs. The lawyers and courts make much more from stolen photographs than the photographer ever does!

    I, like most photographers, find that at any one time there are more of my images in use illegally than there are those who have paid for a licence. Shopkeepers often complain about 5% shoplifting, imageine how unhappy they would be if the shoplifters took 95% of their stock and left 5%. Thats the situation faced by many photographers so you should not be at all surprised when they are distinctly unhappy with image thieves.

    I do not work with Getty as I do not agreed with the exploitative 20% or less that the photographer gets paid. I sell directly and also enforce copyright directly. I do and have taken cases to court. I have put charging orders on houses and I have sent bailiffs in. The solution is very simple indeed, just dont steal any photographs! That will be much cheaper for the image user and as a photographer I much prefer to be selling pictures to happy customers that standing in court hearing yet another ” I dont know Nuffin” sob story.

    • Well Jon,
      You seem to claim your pictures are worth £1000 to £2000 each. For that kind of money a photographer can be commissioned to take a series of pictures. And high quality professional images can be purchased for online use unlimited in time royalty free for a few pounds or dollars each.
      So are you following the Getty Images model? That seems to be to charge sums greatly in excess of the market rate?
      So you have pursued people and tried [or maybe even succeeded?] in having them thrown out of their homes who from what you say cannot afford lawyers to defend your claims and may not understand copyright or the legal process. It is hardly surprising you appear to get the results you claim to.
      So do you seek to recover the market rate? Or do you go for far more?

  3. Toby K Says:

    Most people don’t steal photo’s. The web is made up of free and copy right photo’s. Just put a copy right logo next to it or use flash when you make your website. The flash option would allow nobody to grab your photo. Getty images …. allow anyone to grab their photo. They are ( or at least it seems) a big enough company where they can use Flash and make it a little more obvious that when certain photo’s are used they have a copy right to them. …..


    [ED: a few edits made]

  4. Ricardo Magalhães Says:

    someone here got to pay some compensation to this company?

  5. buddhapi Says:

    This issue goes way beyond the reaches of Getty, I have been following and researching copyright issues for over 2 years and it is very apparent that some of these companies are using this as a business model. for example .

    “Since teaming up with PicScout, Hawaiian Art Network has experienced strong revenue recovery. Recovered revenue now accounts for about 50% of Hawaiian Art Network’s income, and artists and photographers are more confident in the security of their intellectual property than ever before.”

    In my opinion this is their business model, there has also been speculation of some sites are seeding the internets free wallpaper sites, then sending in lawyers and demand letters.

    In an attempt to bring this issue to the forefront I ask all of you readers to visit our forums dedicated to solely this issue and consider helping us spread the word.

  6. whoisyourlawyer Says:

    There’s no doubt that Getty is making a ton of money off of this, and it’s really sleazy. If they wanted to stop copyright infringement of their photos, they could simply require in their licensing agreements that the images be hotlink protected and locked for copying. The only people who would then be copying the photos were people who wanted them badly enough to take out an actual camera, zoom in on the photo on someone’s website, and take a new picture of it.

    But, wait, is that copyright infringement? 🙂

  7. Skip Says:

    I just want to echo what ‘Jon the Photographer’ says. I am another photographer who now finds himself having to do law for a hobby. I am currently making more money chasing down infringements than selling prints. I would rather not be doing so but if that’s what it takes …

    I have to say the legal stuff is really easy. Anyone can do it. there is so much free stuff on the internet now. And columns like this one are really useful, knowing the sort of advice the thieves are getting so I can pre-empt their excuses. Cheers!

    • Well Skip,

      Do you condone Getty Images’ business model where they seem to charge far more than pictures are worth on the open market backed up by phone calls and letters from debt collectors for debts which people do not appear to be liable for and threats of legal action to claim sums of money which hardly appear justified?

      How much do you charge for your pictures? Are you charging many times more than the market rate? Do you make sure when you licence your pictures for internet use that they are clearly marked as your copyright so people who do not understand copyright are not misled?

      Let us know.

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