As other counsel have said, wehn you post a website it is open to the world, like a big sign in front of your house, visible from the street.
For you the questions should be whether you should pay these folks or put up a fuss. Much depends on what you were told by the folks who sold you your domain name about the alleged free images. There are also other defenses against Getty. But do not feel picked on. They go after anyone they can find.
Talk with a lawyer. I actually have had some clients picked on by this crew. Your success in resisting will depend on your fortitude.
Information here is general, does not create a lawyer-client relationship and is not a substitute for consulting with an experienced attorney on the specifics of your situation.
Assuming your "free" website is public, Getty has every right to investigate those who Getty believes is infringing upon their rights. Getty is not required to give you a chance to take the "images" (your term) off the site, and just because the domain registrar allegedly provided you with the starter site does not mean that you are not also liable. You may have an indemnification claim against the domain registrar, but does not absolve you of the responsibility to not infringe someone else's rights in the first place.
Unless protected by a login, a website is public. As such, any individual, company, or corporation can view it, and can use bots to index it or to determine whether their intellectual property is being used without permission. There is no breaking in into your business and stealing information.
J Charles Ferrari Eng & Nishimura 213.622.2255 The statement above is general in nature and does not constitute legal advice, as not all the facts are known. You should retain an attorney to review all the facts specific to your case in order to receive advise specific to your case. The statement above does not create an attorney/client relationship.
Q: "... Getty's is still demanding payment after I informed them my domain register was the one who provided me with the starter site."
R: But YOU published the website to the world displaying an [allegedly] infringing photograph. After age ten you cannot escape liability by crying that "Bobby made me do it." Bobby may be wrong as well, of course, but that don't make you right.
Q: "Getty has no right to scan my site with bots."
R: Yes, it does. Millions of automated programs scan billions of webpages each and every day [and some of those then index the data -- e.g.. Google -- and some even scrape the data]. What is the legal rationale that sets your webpage off limits? If you want to instruct bots to bypass your site then code it with a robots exclusion protocol [robots.txt].
Q: "I seems they are targeting people who buy domains and setup a free start up site victimizing customers of these sites."
R: "Victimizing" customers of those sites? So YOU'RE the victim? After publishing to the world on your website a photograph that you did not take and did no inquiry into whether you could lawfully publish you conclude you're the victim? Really? And so the real owner of the copyright in the photograph [who actually paid the photographer and so, unlike you, is actually contributing to the creation of our culture] is the bad guy? As Alice would say "Curiouser and curiouser!"
The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. I am not your attorney. You should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action related to your inquiry.
I recently advised a client regarding a similar matter, and pass along my general findings, in the hope that you may benefit. I note that the prudent course for anyone in this situation would be to immediately take down the image(s) complained of, unless they have good reason to believe that the letter was received in error.
HOWEVER, THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE, DOES NOT IMPLY ANY ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP, AND IS PROVIDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.
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While admittedly not a legal defense to an infringement claim, Getty Images has obtained a terrible reputation for its business practices. For example, it DOES NOT send "cease and desist" letters. It pays external bot/crawler services to find instances of (often quite inadvertent) uses of (what Getty claims are) its images, and instead sends what amount to very detailed, pro forma bills/invoices to the site owners as a fait accompli. Amounts invoiced are typically in the range of ~$800-999 per single image found, which is a very large multiple (100x-1000x or more) of the price similar stock image licenses typically garner ex ante. Best estimates are that Getty has sent out tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of these letters. Many site owners are frightened into coughing up the cash. Previously, those who refused were sometimes reported to credit bureaus, a practice which has since been stopped after some state Attorneys General complained and intimated action.
Of the many thousands of these demand letters sent, I only found a half dozen actual copyright infringement lawsuits filed with Getty as plaintiff over the past decade:
(1) A couple settled (terms confidential).
(2) A couple were dismissed pre-judgment for other reasons.
(3) One of the two cases I found that actually went the distance resulted in a judgment in the $5000-6000 range, albeit for multiple infringing images. Another commentator noted that even this award was too high, because it improperly used an ex post measure of damages in place of the more appropriate ex ante measure (defendant's counsel apparently failed to object, however).
(4) The other such case resulted (midway through the proceedings) in defendant's unexcused failure to appear, BUT THE JUDGE REFUSED TO ENTER A DEFAULT JUDGMENT IN GETTY'S FAVOR, citing flaws/ improprieties in its case, in particular a failure to demonstrate that it held an EXCLUSIVE license to the images infringed, as it claimed in its filings. (An EXCLUSIVE copyright licensee has standing to sue for infringement; a non-exclusive licensee does not.) Getty's motion to reconsider was also denied.
The odds of actually being sued therefore seem pretty low, and Getty's (sparse) track record in prosecuting these actions has been spotty at best. Potential defenses include that: (i) Getty may lack ownership or exclusive license to the image(s), hence may lack standing even to bring suit; (ii) the images may not have been registered with the U.S. Copyright Office, in which case Getty will be unable to rely on statutory damages (actual damages are very difficult to prove in these cases) or to recover its attorney fees; (iii) even if the image(s) WERE timely registered, they may have been registered "in bulk," in which case any number of images covered by a single registration will only justify A SINGLE claim for statutory damages; (iv) to the extent that a defendant's website development was outsourced to a third party, that third party MAY actually have obtained a valid license to use the images complained of, though this is obviously a very fact-specific inquiry -- other commentators have noted that Getty's licensing practices may in many instances preclude Getty from even KNOWING with certainty whether images complained of are subject to a valid license.
THIS POST DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE, DOES NOT IMPLY ANY ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP, AND IS PROVIDED FOR GENERAL INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.