Photo agencies such as Getty Images and Corbis Images are known to be persistent copyright enforcers. They rarely grant complete clemency to organizations once they begin pursuit of claims. The following nine tips are offered by attorneys who deal with these types of copyright cases; they give advice on what to do once your business receives a Corbis Images copyright or Getty Images demand letter.
1. Copyright Infringement is a Serious Matter.
First things first, copyright infringement is a serious matter. Mere use of a picture downloaded from the internet, even from a “free site,” is enough to create liability for a business using the copyrighted work without permission. Copyrighted works that typically get businesses into trouble for copyright infringement include images and text “acquired” from the various websites on the internet.
2. Investigate or Check into The Allegation
Where did the images come from? Does your company have a valid license? Could it be that the license was purchased under a different name? Perhaps the designer purchased a license for your company? Maybe the license was acquired under the name of an employee my mistake? Look into it. Find out what happened. Even if there is not a license, finding out what happened is a good idea. Knowing is half the battle.
3. You Shouldn’t Ignore a Letter Notifying you of your Infringement
Ignoring a notification and/or cease and desist letter is a bad idea. Ignoring a copyright demand letter causes the valid copyright holder to expend additional resources to protect their copyright. Expending additional resources causes the valid copyright holder’s monetary damages against your business to increase. Ultimately this will increase the amount your business will have to pay in a copyright infringement law suit. Also, under federal law, a copyright owner can be entitled to $150,000 per willful infringement. Willful infringement means that you knew about the copyright infringement and did nothing about it. Simply put, ignoring a letter from a photo agency such as Getty Images is not a good idea.
4. Copyright Infringement Demand Letters are Normally Pretty Reasonable.
The terms of the photo agencies’ cease and desist letters are normally pretty reasonable. For example, Getty Images’ general policy is only to be put back in the position they would have been but for the copyright infringement. This means they are only looking for the licensing fees that should have been paid for the time period the infringing photographs were on your website and any additional cost of pursuing the matter. Unless litigation is initiated, they are typically not looking to collect statutory damages if they are able to settle with the infringing business. This alone is a good reason to get the matter settled early.
5. Litigation may lead to Statutory Damages.
Under federal law, a copyright owner can be entitled to damages between $750 and $30,000 per infringement. If it is shown that the infringement is willful, the law allows as much as $150,000 per infringement. Each image identified on your website can be considered a separate act of infringement. Recent jury awards have ranged from $675,000 to in excess of $1 million dollars in damages for copyright infringement. Recently, one jury in Western Washington awarded over $1million dollars in damages for the unauthorized use of as few as five photographs. The general theme here is the matter gets worse the longer an infringer puts off dealing with it.
Timothy B. McCormack is a Seattle-based attorney with substantial copyright and copyright litigation experience, involving Corbis Images and representing Getty Images and well-known photographers. Mr. McCormack represents Getty Images and has defended cases involving copyright claims from Corbis Images.