Do I Have to Pay Getty Images Settlement Demand Letter?

Getty Images Demands - Harassment, Scam, or Legal?

Getty sends Settlement Demand Letters to businesses and website owners that they identify as using an image(s) that does not match a license registration in their database. This could mean your license expired or that the person who bought the license did not register it to you. It could also mean you never had a license in the first place either because you did not get a license or the person who created your website or template did not.

Do You Have To Pay The Demand?

No, and yes.

No, You Do Not Have To Pay. Technically you do not have to pay because a settlement demand letter is only an offer to resolve a legal dispute and not a legal order requiring you to pay. A settlement demand letter is sent as an invitation to enter into an agreement with the terms that if you pay the amount being demanded Getty will forfeit any legal rights to sue you.

Yes, You Do Have To Pay.. Although legally you do not have to accept (and pay) a settlement offer, you risk being turned over to a collection agency, or sued.

If you do not resolve the matter in some way, it will not go away. However, Getty and most other predator companies will negotiate the fee so if you are not going to contest it, at least try to get the amount reduced.

Ignorance Is Not A Defense

Although copyright licenses generally cannot be transferred from one person to another, guilt is transferable.

If you purchased a template that violates copyright laws, or hired a web designer that used unlicensed images -- even if you did not know about it, you can be held liable for the original offense committed by someone else.

Try telling Getty where you got the template and it was someone elses' mistake and your plea of innocent will fall on deaf ears.

If an image is on your website, you are the one Getty will come after. The law is pretty clear -- you can be held liable despite ignorance.

It makes less sense financial sense for Getty to go after one template designer, when they can get more money going after the 100 people who downloaded and used it.

Judges Do Have Some Discretion

If you buy stolen merchandise from someone else -- even if you did not know it was stolen, you could be found guilty of a crime. Copyright law works on a similar principal: ignorance of the violation is not a defense. However, a good judge will consider the circumstances of how you came into possession of the images and proving you were ignorant of a shady web designer may reduce your damages. It is important to understand that even when judges have the discretion to reduce the amount of damages you have to pay, they cannot absolve you of all damages if you are found guilty.

Getty May Not Be The Copyright Holders

Getty has been accused of sending out settlement demand letters even when they are not the copyright owners themselves.

If they sell a license to rights on their site, Getty asserts they are entitled to compensation if they catch you without a license. Whether or not the person who really owns the rights even sees any of the "settlement" amounts Getty collects is not known.

In the past, assessing punitive damages was something more commonly left to our legal system. Working outside the courts today allows companies to strong arm people into paying settlement fees disproportionate to the actual offense and collect big time for minor "injuries."

It is important to note that AP and Getty are not a lone wolves prowling in the dark corners of your website, in fact, an new industry has emerged because copyright infringement has become so commonplace: settlement companies that do nothing all day but seek out illegally used images, content, music, and videos, and send nasty settlement demand letters on behalf of their own clients (and, sometimes even pretending to be the company itself.) No warning cease and desist is sent, no customer relationship attempts are made, just "pay up or we sue you."

These barely legal copyright infringement "detectives" are retained by companies to "break legs" on their behalf much like a collection agency -- they get a percentage of any money they recover so they almost always set their "settlement" number as high as possible.

Straight-Up Talk, Or Deception?

Call Getty and ask them if you can just remove the image and you will probably be told they do not care whether or not you remove their image, they want their money because you already used it. That in itself is misleading because the letter demands you pay restitution (a fine) - but paying the amount being demanded is not necessarily a license to continue using the image and may not grant you permission to keep using the image. They will also lead you to believe that if you do not pay their offer to settle "in good faith" that you will be sued. This is not always the case.

If you received a Settlement Demand Offer from any company, you should probably consult an intellectual property rights or business attorney before you pay out money you many not need to. The company will do its best to scare, or even coerce you into paying and will not serve as an advocate -- in other words, they cannot give and will not give you fair legal advice. Sometimes, these companies -- even household name corporations, do not even have the rights to assert. Ask Getty for proof that they own the copyrights to an image, chances are, they are not the actual copyright holders -- someone else is.

If you really are liable to someone else for violating copyrights, an attorney can usually help you get the "damages" cleared or reduced to a reasonable amount. While you may also be able to do that part on your on, only your own attorney can give you an unbiased legal opinion as to how likely it is you will be sued and what the outcome would be if you were -- and if you even are liable.

FAQs About Settlement Demand Letters and Cease and Desist Orders

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