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Is it copyright infringement if I used a copyrighted image in a "student" ad and then displayed that ad on my online portfolio?

Los Angeles, CA |

I recently received a letter from Getty Images -- a stock image provider that supplies photos for advertising and other uses -- which stated that they discovered the "unauthorized" use of one of their images on my portfolio website, and are demanding payment. However, the image in question is part of a student ad (a print ad that I created while a student at a recognized advertising school), which is now on display on my portfolio website to promote my abilities to potential employers. From my online research, I believe this falls under the "Fair Use" provision of US copyright law, but I would love some additional help/advice from an attorney in this field. Thank you in advance for your help in this matter.

Attorney Answers 3


  1. Your "fair use" claim was weakened when you moved from using the image in a school project to using it to promote your abilities to potential employers. Yes, it's the same piece of sample advertising, but the notion of "fair use" focuses on "use." If you change the use of the image, then you change the potential applicability of the fair use doctrine.

    You should contact a lawyer experienced with copyright issues to help you figure out what you should do. It may be that you have no liability at all, and it may be that your liability is far less than what is demanded. Only a lawyer can help you understand this and prepare an appropriate strategy.

    I know that I and many other lawyers at AVVO would be willing to try to help you. One thing is for sure: ignoring the letter is probably your worst strategy.


  2. You need to read and review the license you obtained when you purchased the image from Getty Images. That will define the terms of use.

    If you did not purchase the image and obtain a license for its use or the use is other than licensed you have an infringement issue.

    I agree you need to consult with an attorney that specializes in copyright issues so that you can respond to the letter you received appropriately. This is not, IMO, a DIY project.

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  3. I agree with my colleague that it's the nature of the use that's what you'd look at in analyzing if your portfolio is a "fair use" of the image or not. Since the most important fair use factor is the allegedly infringer's impact on the market of the work, I agree that your promotional use, _after_ your academic use, skews against you and in favor of Getty.

    The lawyer to consult is Oscar Michelen, who literally wrote the book on Getty Images claims. He knows more about their business and the issues involved than anyone, and you can find him here on Avvo.

    Avvo doesn't pay us for these responses, and I'm not your lawyer just because I answer this question or respond to any follow-up comments. If you want to hire me, please contact me. Otherwise, please don't expect a further response. We need an actual written agreement to form an attorney-client relationship. I'm only licensed in CA and you shouldn't rely on this answer, since each state has different laws, each situation is fact specific, and it's impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue.