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Received a Getty Images threat letter?  Don’t know what to do about it?

Are they accusing you of using images without permission on your website or blog?

Are Getty Images demanding large amounts of money? 

Is a debt collector like Altradius harassing you for the money? 

Don’t understand copyright infringement?

If you have been threatened and don’t want to pay the very large sums Getty Images claim there is help.

It will cost you nothing to contact us to find out more: telephone 0208 663 0044 – email “mail { at } cliffordmiller.com” and include a copy of Getty Images’ copyright threat letter.

Many years ago someone came seeking help with one of these Getty Images threat letters and we told them it would cost more to get advice than to pay up so they went away.  And that bothered us then and since.  So after later taking on a couple of cases successfully we decided to offer a service like this.

It takes a lot more time to provide the service than it is worth to the average lawyer but we know these Getty Images threat letters worry people a great deal we so offer this service generally at well below normal cost semi-“pro bono“.  It helps the “little people” who are threatened even if it is just one image.   It also saves people in business a great deal of their time and worry and lets them get on with their business and do what they do best – earn a living.

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

If you cannot phone or email right now you can still post a comment on this page at the end and let us know with some brief details of the problems you have experienced.  We will need your contact details to contact you so don’t forget an email address and/or a telephone number.  Or you can contact us via our website: Clifford Miller.

This post is an addendum to our main post on this topic found here:-

The Getty Images Rip-Off, You, Copyright & The Law – February 28, 2011

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

THIS POST WAS MADE IN 2012 AND HAS NOT BEEN UPDATED SINCE THEN – HOWEVER THE LAW IS NOT THE SAME IN EVERY COUNTRY AND IT DOES CHANGE SO DO NOT ASSUME THIS STATES WHAT THE LAW IS WHEN YOU READ IT.

If you thought it was OK to display an image  on your blog or website which you have never copied but include by including a weblink to the image on someone else’s website [embedding] then think again.  You could be made liable for damages for copyright infringement.

At least that is the case in Germany today according to the Dusseldorf Court of Appeal [8 October 2011, I-20 U 42/11].  Embedding content now appears to be copyright infringement by making the content available to the public on your website even though you have never taken and kept a copy of the image yourself and even though the image is never “physically” part of your website.  The Dusseldorf appeal court overruled the lower Court of First Instance.

The Defendant in the case had included links on his blog to two photographs which appeared on the Claimant’s website.  No prior permission had been sought or obtained.

This is a completely different case from that of simply including a link on your blog or website to content which only appears on the site to which you link.  Mere linking is not, in Germany, copyright infringement but obviously the person viewing cannot view the linked content on your site or blog but must follow the link to the original site to do so.

A recent English Supreme Court decision on copyright in Star Wars merchandise spells bad news for George Lucas and his Lucasfilm companies: Lucasfilm Ltd & Ors v Ainsworth & Anor [2011] UKSC 39 (27 July 2011)

British based Andrew Ainsworth was making and selling copies of the distinctive body armour costumes of the Imperial Stormtroopers used in the highly successful Star Wars films.  Between 1974 and 1976 Ainsworth was one of the original creators, responsible for the injection mouldings for the costumes when Mr Lucas had come to live in England while the first Star Wars film was made [at Elstree Studios, Elstree on the outskirts of London (there was also filming on location in Tunisia)].

Lucasfilm however own the intellectual property rights in the designs.

Mr Ainsworth later sold to some customers in the United States costumes that he made in England. In 2005 Lucasfilm sued Mr Ainsworth in the United States District Court, Central District of California, and in 2006 it obtained a default judgment for $20m, $10m of which represented triple damages under the Lanham Act. A “default judgement” is one where the defendant takes no part in the proceedings. The whole judgment remains unsatisfied. Ainsworth is unlikely to be visiting the USA in the near future no doubt.  It is also difficult if not impossible to enforce a US judgement in an English Court and vice versa.  So Lucasfilm also commenced proceedings in the Chancery Division of the English High Court.

The case was appealed to the English Supreme Court.  The only way Lucasfilm could squeeze a copyright infringement claim into an English Court was to claim the costumes were copies of an artistic work and the only artistic work in English copyright law they could try to rely on was a “sculpture”.

The Supreme Court rejected the contention that the original designs for the costumes were sculptures.

George Lucas’ concept of the Imperial Stormtroopers as threatening characters in “fascist white-armoured suits” was given visual expression in drawings and paintings by an artist, Mr Ralph McQuarrie, and three-dimensional form by Mr Nick Pemberton (a freelance scenic artist and prop-maker) and Mr Andrew Ainsworth (who is skilled in vacuum-moulding in plastic). Mr Pemberton made a clay model of the helmet, which was adapted several times until Mr Lucas was happy with it. Mr Ainsworth produced several prototype vacuum-moulded helmets. Once Mr Lucas had approved the final version Mr Ainsworth made 50 helmets for use in the film. These events all took place in England between 1974 and 1976.

The Supreme Court upheld Lucasfilm’s contention that they could sue in England for copyright infringement under US copyright law for sales in the USA. 

So it looks like Ainsworth can carry on making and selling the Stormtrooper body armour costumes as long as he does not sell into the USA or any country with copyright law which might prevent such sales.  As the US judgement was a default judgement, it is not established between these parties in a contested case that making and selling the costumes in the USA is infringement either.  [So if a US lawyer would like to comment here they are more than welcome].

That part of the judgement is of little use to Lucasfilm in any event and is a Pyrrhic victory.

Ainsworth sold goods to the value of US $8,000 but not more than US $30,000 which is hardly worth bothering with in comparison to the publicity generated for Lucasfilm’s lack of ability to prevent copying of the Star Wars Stormtrooper white body armour in the UK and some other countries.

So it looks like the floodgates might be opened up to cheap copies for some kinds of merchandise from blockbuster Hollywood films [as long as no patent or design protection laws apply instead of copyright].  Be warned though.  This does not mean registered trademarks can be used – like “Star Wars” to describe the copy products.  And be careful.  Just in case any other Star Wars merchandise did start out life as something which does qualify as a “sculpture”.

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