WARNING! Image copyright scam?

Last week we received a very surprising communication from a company called Getty Images. They wrote to inform us that some of the images we were using on our site were copyright to them.

This came as a shock to us as the images had been provided by a third party in good faith. We immediately removed the offending images and replaced them with images that we could confirm were not copyright.

However, the shock of realising we were using copyright images was massively outweighed by the demand for retrospective licence payments totalling over £9000! We immediately tried to contact Getty but only got an answer phone. We then searched the web for information and found (to our surprise) that there were hundreds of others in the same situation.

It seems that Getty (and others) are using the services of a company called PicScout to try and match images held on their database with images used on websites. Allegedly PicScout do not charge their clients for this service they merely take a slice (as much as 50%) of any monies recovered. This has now been going on for some two years or more.

Having looked at many forums and web sites regarding this, it seems that these companies are engaging in what can only be described as harassment and extortion! The initial demand seems very forthright and official with warnings of legal proceedings, quotes from the copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 and warnings of further financial penalties – they even offer a 10% discount if you pay now! Subsequent letters apparently become even more demanding and more official. However it seems that in all cases the threats of legal proceedings are never carried out. Apparently this is because if they did proceed to the UK courts they could not win and this obviously very lucrative business of frightening people into payment would come to an end.

It is not, nor has it ever been our intention to knowingly use other people’s copyright materials for our work – however over the years we have, on occasion used stock images provided to us by third parties, sometimes from image compilation disks or sometimes simply harvested from royalty free websites. In all cases we have done this in good faith and if we were ever confronted (which has never happened until now) with a copyright issue would immediately remove the work in question prior to fully investigating its source. Normally a “cease & desist” notice would be enough for us act.

What should you do if you receive one of these demands?

  • Well, firstly DO NOT PAY ANYTHING! It seems the entire business model for this is based around frightened, uninformed people just PAYING THE BILL!
  • Secondly, remove the offending images from your website as soon as you are notified. If you can’t do this, then notify us and we will do it for you.
  • Because of the nature of the demand you will most likely want to take legal advice, which is a wise idea because we, in no way, would pretend to be able to offer legally accurate information to you.
  • I would also recommend that you do your own research to see just how many people are also facing the same threats. This will both reassure you and demonstrate just how widespread the problem is.

I would suggest that you read the following excellent article posted on the Federation of Small Businesses discussion forums as it helps to distil all the current findings.

Summary – Copyright Claims – Corbis and Getty – http://www.fsb.org.uk/discuss/forum_posts.asp?TID=1106

More info will follow as we get it.

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