The Images Issue And Getty Images

Last week was interesting for many reasons, but one was somewhat troubling.

One of my clients called me up saying she’d received a letter from Getty Images saying she owed them $800 for using one of their images. Since there were only 4 images on her site and two of them were of her and her business, I thought it was kind of a crank.

What it turned out to be was an image that was embedded in the free WordPress theme that I’d put on her site because the colors matched up with her site nicely. Most of the time I use this theme that I can customize, but this one seemed to do the trick.

Anyway, turns out that the image in the header was a copyrighted image. Whether the creator got permission to use it or not I have no idea, but supposedly even if that person had the right to use it, no one else has the right to use it, even though all of us downloaded the themes with the impression that all was right with the world.

In any case I called the guy at Getty, who was relatively nice but clueless. I gave him a website that showed the theme I downloaded, which is one of many. He said I should go after the people I downloaded the theme from; that was six months ago so that’s not happening since I can’t remember. I told him that it’s not everyone else’s fault if they downloaded a free theme, something that probably happens at least tens of thousands of times a day, and he said copyright is copyright.

We said a few other things to each other, which I’m going to leave alone for now, but I told him my client wasn’t paying and I wasn’t paying and if everyone he was now going to try to contact, since this site listed that 570 people had downloaded the image, got lawyers and decided to fight back that the company would find out soon enough that it wasn’t worth going after so many innocent people. That plus if they thought that one image was worth over $450,000 (just from this one site) they were out of their minds.

It does point out the issue of trying to make sure that images you use can be used on your sites or blogs. I usually go to Flickr if I don’t have an image of my own, and yet last week I also was contacted by someone whose image I used on one of my blogs. I gave attribution as I was supposed to, but this guy said I was supposed to link back to their website. I said there wasn’t anything showing that on his page and he said they were limited in space by Flickr. I said I’d followed the terms as listed on Flickr, but I was going to just remove the article because I wasn’t in the mood to link back to their site. And trust me, my site was easily ranked higher than theirs, so irking me did them no good.

What’s your thoughts on all of this? Meanwhile, my Hot Blog Tips Hangout crew explored this very issue, as well as the topic of free vs. paid themes, and here’s the video if you’re interested in checking out a bit of it:


42 thoughts on “The Images Issue And Getty Images”

  1. Man that Getty Images is not to be trifled with.

    Several years ago when I was still working at my job we had a client who supplied us with images to use for his ad.

    One of the images had the Getty Images watermark on it. This is not a big deal at concepting stage.

    Well we got the approval on the ad and we always ask certain clients that were thrifty with money if they wanted to buy the image or if they want us to buy it, in which case we mark it up.

    He had no clue what I was talking about. He wanted us to just use the image with the watermark in it. I tried to explain many times over that this image was for sale, he just had a comp image and it was copyrighted, but he said he wasn’t paying $80 for one image.

    I suggested he find another image. His response was to do it or he’d find another agency that would. We ended up pulling the plug on it and essentially losing the client over it.

    We only found out years later from a woman who had just retired from the company, that he had mocked up the ad himself in Microsoft Word -using the image with the watermark- and submitted it to the local paper, which ran it no questions asked.

    They were sent a bill for $2,100 from Getty Images (not sure how the number was calculated). When they refused to pay and the dogs came out he backed down quick. I don’t think he realized how big Getty Images really is.

    In your case, this is one blogger instead of a corporation so I would hope they might leave it alone and simply go after the theme designer, who truly should have known better and should be the one on the hook for this.

    I’ve used a lot of themes/templates commercial and otherwise over the years. If we can’t trust the theme designers then that’s going to put another layer of responsibility onto bloggers to vet every theme and image buried deep in the bowels of the template just to cover our asses.

    If I need an image, I usually use or, although the selection can truly be limited.

    The copyright issue is tough. i don’t want creators to be taken advantage of, but sometimes lawyers go after the wrong people. Look at what just happened with The Oatmeal.

    Whatever you think, this is an issue everyone needs t be aware of…

    1. Wow John, that’s some tale. I always wonder how and where people find all of these images that they can use for free like that. My finding Flickr has helped a lot, since I’m not the biggest picture taker in the world, but I’m starting to take more with my phone. The thing is, one would expect they’d first send a cease and desist like every other company does because, as I said, going after the easily innocent end user isn’t fair at all. It’s like buying a lunch box and having Universal show up at your door telling you that you have to pay $800 for that picture of Yoda that’s on it. lol

  2. Wow, I did not know that they would actually go after the people who used their images without copyright permission. Especially when the number of people who use the images is high. I believe people should be properly credited for their work if they want it but your situation with the guy from Flickr just seems tiresome. I would have just removed the article as well and gotten rid of the whole problem instead of having to deal with people wanting more credit/link to their site than they originally asked for.

    1. I wasn’t going to remove the article because the image was just something I threw in to help enhance the article. These guys weren’t complaining about copyright because they couldn’t, but no way was I getting rid of the article; mine!

  3. A really interesting post. Makes you realize how important it is to play by the rules. There are tons of paid image libraries out there so it would be wise to cough up the few dollars it costs to avoid some mega corporation coming after you. As far as the WordPress theme creator goes – what were they thinking?

  4. Wow! Anyone who uses anything with a watermark I have no sympathy for though images are images and all over the web.

    The best thing you can do is simply take the thing down ASAP and replace with something else – $800 for a picture, just seems extreme.

    What irks me on a slightly different topic is that Ive heard of people extradited from the UK to the US using anti terrorist legislation for relatively minor things like illegal file sharing thanks to a treaty between Tony Blair and George Bush some years back.

    1. On the first point Peter, the people who created the theme were out of their minds doing it, but I don’t think it’s fair going after the users that had no idea about it.

      On the second, I guess the same deal has been made with other countries, but you’re hearing the one side of it because the European Union has the same deal with us, which I believe includes the UK. People can be extradited from here for the same reason. Copyright really is a big deal everywhere.

  5. On the other hand, as a content creator, what would you do if people just started using your stuff without attribution? Do you have a price that you’d put on it? Getty does — and they actually have an available price list based on what you’re doing with it and how widely you are distributing it.

    One of the things I learned working in online news is that you need to source everything — and remember that just because someone SAYS they have a right to distribute something, doesn’t mean they do.

    If a magazine buys an image from Getty, they have a right to publish it (it’s part of their contract). What happens if I then take a photo of that image and put it on Flickr under a Creative Commons license? You may tell Getty you have a right to use it because you sourced it from a Creative Commons file, but I never had the right to put it there anyway.

    If you took the image down, Getty probably wouldn’t pursue that claim against you (unless you made a bunch of money from it), and that’s really what you’re dealing with here. The WordPress developer claimed they had a right to distribute the image for free use (though check the read me file on the theme — they might stipulate in there that you have to change it), but they’re wrong. And like it or not, that’s your responsibility as a publisher to weed out.

    It’s a good lesson for everyone to learn. You have a right to publish your own content, not anybody else’s.

    1. Hi Josh. I am a content creator, and I do go after everyone I find using my stuff online; that’s why I have that copyright tag at the end of my posts. However, those folks are deliberately stealing my stuff and I always start with a cease and desist of sorts. In the case of my client, it’s like you own an Android phone and suddenly Apple sends you a bill for using it for a year because they’ve determined that whoever created your phone violated their patent. Would you feel obligated to pay, along with tens of other thousands, for something that you purchased thinking that all was fine?

      I did immediately remove the image though, and I pointed them in the direction of the creator, and hopefully that will be the end of that.

  6. Those situation can really drive one nuts. Too much for copyrights. However, the situation is somewhat similar to fencing, although you have no knowledge about the copyright in the first place.

  7. The “Gurus” always tell bloggers to get professional images. I avoid the whole thing by using Flickr Creative Commons and, rarely, my own goofy creations.

    I use a cool plugin called Compfight, too. It great simplifies searching for Flickr images.



    1. Never heard of that plugin Mitch; definitely need to check into it. And I’d agree that professional images do look good but someone’s got to be thinking “hey, do we have a right to use this”, especially if they’re a large company.

      1. Thanks Mitch. Just loaded that & tested it and although one still has to code it to look right in the post, it found images way easier than I ever could. I assume setting it on Creative Commons is the right one, or should it be set to commercial?

      2. Then I’m thinking that’s probably the setting most of us want to use since we’re all hoping to make money from our blogs in some fashion. Or am I reading into it too deeply?

  8. Well, if anybody receive that kind of message, the right and easiest course of action is just to remove content and apologize. And it this particular case, it is not bloggers fault, but the person or the company that have developed the template.

      1. I think most people will get into panic, I think the accent here should go, that something this can be “fishing” method and I know few cases when emails were send by conman, asking for money for image, article or script and many people fall for that and transfer money.

      2. Carl, you might be one of the few people that comments on this blog who could get away with using anything you wanted to on the web from here; not that you would. 🙂

  9. WOW!! I’ve run into the same issue with Getty. I used an image from the MSN homepage which was associated with a health story. I then wrote a brief blurb about the story, and linked readers back to the original article and image. In none of my communiucation with Getty will they address my explanation for the use. They just keep screaming about the money. Feels like a shakedown!!

    1. It can be scary Sondra. It is kind of a shakedown, and it seems they’ve actually been taken to court for doing the same thing they accuse us of.

  10. I know I develop all my own images for my theme work, making sure I use images that I have permission to use or have created myself so that I don’t have that problem. I’m not a big fan of the “free” themes because many of them can’t be easily modified.

    Hope that this issue goes away for you!

    1. Grady, I hope it goes away as well. I’ve been doing some research and across the board it seems no one has been sued or taken to court for anything less than $3,000 so far. I doubt they’d then decide to go after my client, especially since their company is based in Washington state and the best they could do here in New York is file a small claims case.

  11. I think it is insane, if you’ve downloaded a free theme which included some copyrighted content, the company, which has offered that free theme is only responsible for the injuring of copyrights. I won’t pay any bucks.

    1. That’s how a lot of us see it Heidi. One of these days it would be interesting to see if something legal and definitive shows up, but it seems Getty’s been doing this sort of thing for years now in an open money grab attempt.

  12. I was just reading an article by Lahle Wolfe about this very topic. The article said Getty is using automated robots to find unlicensed images and following up with a Settlement Demand letter in an attempt to get you to agree to pay in return for not being sued. Thanks for posting your article.

    1. No problem Katie. They irked me, I researched it & wrote about it. And you’re right, many people are just paying without making them prove anything or even arguing with them. Not the way to go.

  13. Hi Mitchel.

    Wow – Just comes to show you. I’ve seen quite a couple of dodgy coding that is used in some of the lesser known free themes. That’s why Even if you pay a minor fee for the theme you are about to use it is most likely going to save you a lot trouble next time around. Especially if you are not too keen on the technical aspects of coding and building websites.

    1. Coding is a different issue Anton, but definitely as important as everything else. At least you can’t get sued or asked for money because of bad coding.

  14. Getty Images aside, Flickr uses either ‘All Rights Reserved’ which means that use of the image is prohibited (unless you contact the owner of the image for permission which he/she might or might not give you). They also use the Creative Commons licensing and in that case, each needs to be checked before use as there are a lot of different permutations of them. This gives an outline of the separate ones that can be applied:

    as for attribution, they’re pretty fussy about it. This is a good page to read, but particularly the few sections from this point in the link:

    Personally I’ve never felt the need to use anyone else’s images – possibly ‘cos I have my own!! My current blog is for people to use the images from my posts (though nothing else), though non-commercially so wouldn’t work in this or many of your colleagues blogs, but I’ve clearly set out my rules of use in my own blog.

    As for the problem you’ve had with Getty – imo, that’s just way over the top!!

    1. Thanks Val; those links should help a lot of folks. I’ve read them all, and I made sure I knew it when I wrote the one guy back saying there wasn’t anything specific about linking back to his site, and the Flickr example showed I was doing it right. As for images, I don’t have many and I don’t know how to make them, so the best I have is taking some images here and there when I’m about town, but I use most of those when I write posts on my local blog, which you’ve seen.

      And yes, those people are way over the top, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

  15. Wow Mitch,

    I’ve heard of this happening to a few people and I do my best to locate “free images” or I make my own. Of course just like this particular instance with your client, we have to take the word of he person we’re getting the image from that it is a free image.

    We are doing our part as best we can and following all the rules but are the people we’re actually getting the images from doing theirs!

    I can understand though if you have your image copyrighted and don’t want it being used without consent or payment. I get that and to me it’s just like someone stealing your content without giving you credit. That’s one of the reasons I refuse to play on Pinterest. I’m not going to pin a picture because I think it’s cool and have that come back to bite me. It’s so not important.

    It’s just sometimes hard to be honest these days!

    1. Adrienne, it’s the reason I also didn’t get on Pinterest. Thing is, with themes, I don’t know that most people know that their headers are actually images and not graphics, which is what I’d thought. And if they didn’t create it, which we never know, then it’s possible that those images were obtained illegally. Now, I don’t think any of us are liable for that, but it seems that Getty does; the weasels.

  16. We JUST got a letter as well for $2000 owed. We downloaded a few images for FREE with NO caution, NO copyright, NO price attached. In fact, all the images are on the 1st page of Google Images….something needs to be done, this is NOT ok. They need to properly watermark or copyright their images so that people know they are NOT Free. Count us in for a class action suit for this scam if you need (:

    1. MT, no images off Google Images are free; you got caught in the biggest issue that most people don’t know. I’ve been there, but luckily once a friend of mine cautioned me against it & wrote a guest post here on it I knew better from that point on. That’s too bad, but if you’re in the U.S. then maybe in your state that’s a small claims court case, which could mean you might get off easy or not have to deal with it at all. You’ll have to check your local laws on that.

  17. Man, what’s up with people and their greed. That’s terrible, especially coming from a free theme. Don’t they have to notify you with copyright infringement notice before they go out and say you owe x amount of money? Pardon me, but that’s bs.

    1. I thought that as well Adam, since that’s how it works in the musical world. But getting a letter can be a scary thing for a lot of people. I hate that because I wouldn’t pay without making them work for it, especially if I knew I hadn’t stolen anything.

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