Getty gone Good Cop.

You’re shivering, but your palms sweat. You squirm on the unsympathetic chair, and squint into a spot lamp as a voice barks questions at you from the darkness beyond. That’s right, punk, you stole a photo from iStockphoto, and now they’re gonna make you sing like a canary. It’s a fair cop, and no mistake.

For some years now Getty (owners of iStockphoto) have been setting their attack lawyers on business owners and bloggers who have unwittingly (ok, let’s be honest; knowingly) stolen photos from the web to use in their own websites. Normally, a web designer or amateur site builder will trawl Google images for something appropriate to their requirements, mis-appropriate it and use it thinking “well that was easy, so maybe it’s not illegal.”

This is fine and dandy (barring the ethical question of stealing from photographers), until the perp happens to steal an image which should have been licensed through iStockphoto, because that’s when the klaxon alarm goes off at Getty HQ, and the lawyers start booking another expensive restaurant meal based on future incomes from hapless/clueless/amateur website builders.

laboratory plant cultures in petri dishes

The "culture" of photo theft has to be tackled.

There was the fairly spectacular case of the removals firm which ended up spending £24,000 on a photo that might have cost around £160 had they licensed it legally, and there’s been a long-running and rather overheated discussion on the Federation of Small Businesses forum which has largely concentrated on how unfair it is that anyone should defend copyright so vigorously against people who were, after all, only stealing what they wanted and couldn’t be bothered to pay for (that’s a brutal summary, but not unfair).

Getty Bad Cop has earned something of a reputation for being belligerent and heavy-handed, and even I would disagree with some of their methods, even though I support the aims of protecting copyright property as I support anyone’s right to protect their own property.

However, perhaps sensing that this approach isn’t getting them much good publicity or winning any new friends, Getty have rolled out a new weapon. Stockphotorights is the cuddly face of the mass image aggregator hell-bent on cornering and dominating the stock image industry. It’s Getty Good Cop.

I have to admit, I rather approve of the aim of stockphotorights which is deigned to educate even the most casual user of images about the dos and don’ts of using photos. I’ve been trying to help people understand copyright and licensing for years, but let’s face it, I’m not Getty and don’t have anything like their resources to reach the masses. Plus where some people will just think it’s Tim spouting off about copyright AGAIN, they might take notice of the message from Getty.

Naturally, the site is aimed purely at users of stock images and only really mentions Getty-related agencies, but the same applies to any image found on the internet, so well worth a read.

So let me get you a glass of water, a more comfortable chair; perhaps turn off the interrogation lamp and offer a call to a solicitor. I’ll ask the Guv to calm down, take it easy. Better yet, take a few minutes to read the wealth of info at stockphotorights and we can all go home early.

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  • Tony Coll June 2, 2010  

    Tim, I’m absolutely with you on copyright ownership. But I am currently being hassled by Getty because of a stock photo of an eye which was on my website for about one week last August, having been put there by my 16-year-old web guru.

    I can find nothing in the image, its file or coding, which would identify it as one of Getty’s. No watermark, nothing. But they say it is one of theirs, and they want £423.50 for the privilege. I am not paying.

    • Glass Eye June 2, 2010  

      Hi Tony, I’m sorry to hear you’ve now got this hassle.

      On a basic level, your web guru needs to learn to assume that absolutely everything on the internet is copyright to somebody, somewhere, and that lack of an identifying mark is not a green light to use it, however briefly. I can eat a Snicker bar in less than 10 minutes, but the legal hassle of being caught eating a stolen one isn’t related to how quickly I can eat it.

      I would also always say, if you don’t know who took a photo, don’t use it. If you do know, ask permission. I know you know all this, but I’m saying it for wider consumption.

      As for your situation now, I would urge you to take urgent action. My best advice would be to seek professional legal help at the earliest opportunity.

      From what I gather, the removals firm case I refer to went horribly wrong because the company owner sought amateur advice from the FSB forum. It cost him dear.

      This situation is easy to get into, and it’s a hassle to get out of. I wish you well.

  • Ken of London June 7, 2010  

    I would like to have some empathy towards Tony, I can hold the 16yr old while you take a swing or two?

    In all practicalness Getty have a case, however it is who is responsible for the invoice and its reparation, you could have a lawyer argue for you that you indeed agree with Getty and as soon as you where aware of the offending image had it removed as you had in no way agreed to its use, please now harass web guru not me.

    To bad if the guru is a relative!

    good luck

    • Glass Eye June 7, 2010  

      Ken, I have every sympathy for Tony’s situation, unfortunately image theft has gone out of control and led to a situation where the likes of Getty have had to take a very firm stance in order to get some control back. This is how every infringer, regardless of their motives, gets rolled up into the legal process.

      I’m sure removing a photo quickly will help, but Getty won’t offer a discount for that. And trying to push Getty towards the web guru won’t help, since they aren’t seen as the publisher or beneficiary of the stolen work.

      The way to deal with that particular issue is for the “publisher” (normally the website owner/business owner) to deal with Getty and pay the fees requested, then for them to pursue the web designer for damages for including stolen works in the website in the first place. Getty certainly won’t deal with whoever built the site unless they happen also to be the person benefitting from the site’s existence. If the guru happens to be an amateur or family member, well maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere too.

      I’m not sure I’ve explained that very well, but I’ll clarify any points you ask me to.

  • Ken of London June 11, 2010  

    A link to get some humour:,17591/

    After you article earlier last week seeing this made me chuckle

    • Glass Eye June 12, 2010  

      Thanks, Ken, that is a good site. Love the jazz photo – totally clean, staged, perfect and… utterly devoid of character. That’s Getty for you!