Scrolling down a page on the internet, you find a photograph of a beautiful resort in Bora Bora, which incidentally happens to be your next vacation destination. Since you are leaving in two weeks for the overdue trip, you post the photograph on your Facebook page with a caption that reads “Where I will be in 14 days.”
Innocent enough? Below the image there are two words: “Getty Images”. Who is “Getty Images” and what does it matter? It matters. Getty Images is one of the biggest stock photo agencies in the world. They license users who can, for the time period of the agreement, use the licensed photograph(s) on their social, news or business websites upon the payment of an agreed-upon fee. What, though, if the image does not have any indication of ownership? It must be free to use, right? In all instances, the simple answer is no.
Use of an image found on the Internet is likely to expose you to a claim of copyright infringement. Indeed, Getty Images aggressively polices the images they are authorized to license by sending out letters demanding that the unauthorized user of the image immediately stop using the image and remove it from their site. Included in this demand to cease use of the image is a demand for what could amount to an exorbitant sum of money for damages that Getty Images claims that the recipient of the letter owes.
So does the soon-to-be vacationer have to worry about getting one of these stark cease and desist letters? The pattern of enforcement by Getty Images appears to be directed to those who may profit financially from the use of the photograph on a news or business website. Thus, if the person in this hypothetical operates a travel agency and utilizes the image on the agency’s website, then the answer would be “Yes”, provided the agency, or user, has no licensing agreement with Getty Images. However, Getty Images specifically licenses use of images for social networking sites. Thus, it appears that any unauthorized user is a target for one of these letters.
Would that travel agency, or unauthorized user, have to pay damages to Getty Images for the unauthorized use of the photograph? Under copyright laws, the unauthorized use of a photograph is copyright infringement. Thus, an unauthorized user could be liable for damages, especially if Getty Images can show how long the photograph was used and if that use generated a profit for the unauthorized user. Many companies or individuals, who have intentionally or unintentionally, used images within the control of Getty Images without a license, have found that mere removal of the photograph is not enough to resolve the matter. This also applies to actual licensees who continued to use a licensed photograph after their license agreement with Getty expired.
If you received such a letter, the best thing to do is immediately contact an Intellectual Property attorney who handles copyright infringement matters. Attorney Anna M. Vradenburgh counsels and represents clients facing trademark, copyright, patent and other intellectual property issues. To discuss your particular matter with Ms. Vradenburgh, please contact her at the Eclipse Group, located at 6345 Balboa Blvd, Suite 325, Encino, California 91316, by calling (818) 488-8146 or going to her website. She can provide expert advice to you about your case and represent you in a copyright action, or other intellectual property actions that you may be facing.