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Beware: The Getty Images “Legal Extortion” Letter


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If you are a business owner doing business online and frequently use images from the internet be sure to pay attention to any licensing restrictions. Getty Images, the company that also owns istockphoto.com, can create trouble for you if you have used an image from their site without license to do so – even if you have done so totally unawares. Getty Images, for some time, has been giving sleepless nights to several business owners by sending them “demand letters” or, as they have become notoriously known, “legal extortion letters”.

These letters bully you into immediately removing the image and paying a huge monetary penalty for using the image without permission or on an expired license. If you ignore the letter, you are threatened with legal action.

While doing business online, it is very common to search for images in Google and to just pick one from the search results without paying much heed to the copyright information or other legal aspects of the process. Sometimes businesses outsource creative work such as the construction of websites or writing blogs or downloading themes for their websites. These tasks often involve the use of images. The complication arises with regard to the images your business has used unethically, even if you were totally unaware of the fact that you were getting involved in copyright infringement.

How Getty Images Searches For ‘Stolen’ Images

Getty Images is using high tech tools to detect its photos that sites are using without permission. When a Getty image is found online, they compare it with their license database. If there is no cross match between the image and the site where it is found, they send a snap shot of the image found on your site, the name of the image (as they sell it) and demand a large sum of money for copyright infringement. One of the unfortunate recipients of Getty’s demand letter was asked either to produce a valid license for the image within two weeks or to remove the image along with the payment of $700 as compensation for copyright infringement. Another recipient reveals that Getty’s demand letter asked for $6,000 as a payment for license fees!

What To Do If You Get A Letter from Getty Images

If you receive a demand letter from Getty Images, contact an attorney to guide you through the proper course of action. The best way to avoid getting the letter from Getty Images is to avoid using any Getty image for your website. Do not do an image search through Google Images and just select an image to use. There are consequences to ‘stealing’ an image. If you outsource work or purchase a theme for your website, be careful of the source and verify the license of images being used. Save all records of image licenses so that even years from now you will have proof of your rights to use them.

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