Are you getting the Getty letter?

For years, Getty has been the go-to agency for images. Within their digital vaults are millions of pictures, snapshots of everything that exists under the sun; the collected work of more than 150,000 individuals, stock photo agencies, and media organizations.

But more recently, the agency has become better known for sending out threatening letters containing demands for substantial sums of money to unassuming website owners. The money is compensation for the use of pictures, which Getty deems have been used in infringement of copyright.

Here at HLB System Solutions we believe that all artists should be paid for their work, but when a small, hardworking company faces bankruptcy for use of licensed images that have been used in good faith, it feels like Getty is bullying small businesses. The letters seem to be more about creating a new stream of revenue for the agency than fighting copyright infringements. So if you’ve got a Getty Letter, what can you do?

Well the first thing is to empower yourself with knowledge. So HLB System Solutions' put together some FAQs telling you everything you need to know.

So what is going on?

Basically, Getty is using sophisticated web crawlers to find out where its images are being used. They trawl the Internet, find images or even modified images and check them againsts list of licences stored in their database. Once located, a snapshot is made of the “unlicensed” image on the site, and payment is automatically demanded, in one of the infamous “Getty Letters”

Why are people getting angry?

Well, the automated letters are not only aggressive and threatening in tone, they also demand much greater sums than images are worth, often to the tune of several thousand dollars. And to make things worse, many people contacted to pay have no idea that the images they are using are under licence. Many were even downloaded in good faith from free stock photo sites.

In addition, Getty doesn’t really know on a per image basis, exactly what photos are licensed or not. Many companies use bulk download subscription programs to take pictures from stock sites.

Also, Getty itself owns several subsidiaries. One site that HLB System Solutions uses is, a company bought and then sold by Getty in recent years, confusing licensing transaction history even further. Despite the letters, often Getty can’t even prove they own the images for which they are demanding payments.

Are the Getty letters a scam?

Many people who’ve received the Getty Letter and are not only crying foul, but also crying scam. And when you’re a struggling business owner trying to make ends meet, the demands for thousands of dollars to be paid within 21 days for a single image on your site can certainly feel like extortion, especially when you were unaware of its copyright status and the threatening letters keep coming long after the offending picture has been taken down.

Technically, however, Getty is acting within the law. If copyright is infringed, knowingly or not, the holder should be paid. But it is the numbers of letters and huge figures being demanded (nearly a million dollars in some cases) that makes it seem less than ethical. Getty only needs a few frightened companies to pay up to make the agency a nice pile of cash.

As a HLB System Solutions client, why have I received a letter?

Many business websites are made by companies like HLB System Solutions. And when web design has been outsourced, and images purchased images on a client’s behalf, then these pictures are not registered to the site’s business web address, even though they are paid for, it is the site owner who gets Getty’s Letter.

How is HLB System Solutions going to help me?

As one of HLB System Solutions' clients, the feared Getty Letter is something that we will take care of for you. If you receive one, contact us immediately and certainly don’t think of paying any money. All images used on HLB System Solutions' websites are licensed through the various stock photo websites we use. We will liaise with Getty on your behalf and defend the use of any image we’ve provided.

Should I just ignore my Getty Letter?

This is a tempting path to take but we don’t recommend it. Treat the demand as seriously as you would any other legal notice, but don’t panic and don’t be intimidated. These letters are simply the end result of a process of software scanning the internet to detect images. In most cases nothing illegal has taken place.

Ignoring the letter just means Getty will send more of them and you could end up with a lawsuit, or a collection agency being brought in.

If you get a letter about a non-HLB System Solutions site, we advise you to take down any images and delete files that Getty claims copyright on, and then let Getty know you’ve done so. It is then a good idea to contact a lawyer to determine if further action is necessary. After all, Getty needs to prove ownership before you pay a cent and they tend to back down when the lawyers get involved.

Will I end up in court?

This is highly unlikely. With HLB System Solutions taking care of the process, your Getty Letter is likely to be the last you personally hear of the matter. But you can take heart in the fact that despite the millions of letters that must have been sent out, so far only seven actual copyright infringements have been filed by Getty in the last seven years.

If you’ve received a Getty Letter, don’t panic. Get in touch with us today and let HLB System Solutions take care of it. After all, that’s what we’re here for.