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Are you safe from Getty Images? (Part one)

18/09/2012

Creative Commons man with magnifying glass by okko pyykko_Flickr

Picture imperfect

Have you checked your picture sources lately?

Do you know where every image you’ve used has come from?

Are you sure you’re allowed to use the pictures you have?

Should you have paid someone for them?

If you subcontract that part of your work, who checks the images?

Why are we asking you these questions? To get you thinking of course.

Because if you’ve designed a website (yours or someone else's) using Getty Images’ pictures, and they haven’t been paid for or properly licensed, you could be in trouble.

Expensive trouble at that.

Unhappy snaps

Getty Images, and indeed all digital media providers, are very protective of their copyright. And rightly so – selling and licensing content is how they make money. They take any threat to that very seriously.

In our experience, however, Getty is more tenacious than others in pursuing what it's owed. It actively uses tracking software and a team of researchers to trawl the internet looking for not-been-paid-for pictures.

When it finds one, the first thing the site owner (could be a business, could be a private individual) knows about it is a strongly worded letter demanding payment. The amount Getty claims varies and depends on the picture(s) but it's common for bills to run into many thousands of pounds.

The important thing here is that, as the site's owner or designer, it’s your responsibility to check these things – and it’s your neck on the line if you don't.

If you're a designer, your client won’t want to pay for these costs and, really, why should they? If you designed and built their website, they’ll expect you to fix any problems with it – be they legal or otherwise.

Worst-case scenario? Your client sues for negligence. You'll have to pay for the images, compensate your client and stump up for a solicitor to defend you/sort everything out with Getty.

Actually, that’s probably the most-likely scenario.

What you can do

The best thing, obviously, is to stay out of trouble in the first place. But how do you do that?

One of the ‘underwriting’ questions we ask designers is (slightly paraphrased): ‘If you use third party content do you get a licence from the image owners?’

It’s important we ask this because if you do, then you’ve done all you need to do. And that means you’re a good risk.

If you don’t then it could only be a matter of time before you’re at the sharp end of a copyright infringement claim. And nobody wants that.

So here are our tips for keeping safe:

  • Sounds obvious but don’t use any old image you find on the internet. Go through the proper channels and use reputable stock photography websites such as iStockphoto and, yes, Getty Images. Free resources such as Flickr are also useful (just make sure you select Creative Commons licensed content for commercial use).
  • Don’t assume you won’t get found out. Check the origin of every image you’ve used so far and make sure it’s paid for if needs be. Some licences run out so check the terms of every picture carefully and set reminders in whatever calendar you use.
  • Watch out if you use subcontractors and check their work carefully. Just because you haven’t sourced a picture yourself doesn’t mean you’re not responsible for it. As far as your client is concerned, their contract for a shiny new website is with you – they don’t care if you farmed out some of the work to someone else.
  • Make sure your terms and conditions set out who’s responsible for what when it comes to licensing and only work with professional, fully insured people.
  • Which reminds us. Buy a professional indemnity insurance policy. Copyright infringement claims are common (try Googling ‘Getty Images copyright claim') but easily covered. Spending a couple of hundred pounds on a decent policy is a much better option than forking out thousands on solicitors and settling up yourself.

Next week, we’ll look at what happened to one of our clients when they had a letter from Getty. We'll also look at what you should do if you get one too.

Stay tuned.

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