Getty Images Bullying

I thought I would post my experience after receiving a letter from Getty Images last year about a copyright image on a website. I am quite a confident and outspoken person, but if I had not been so sure they were wrong, even I might have given up and paid them just to stop the harassment. Apparently they have a pretty terrible reputation for it, and others are getting hit constantly. They have bots crawling the web looking for images they can use as ammunition, and fire of automatic letters.

I have no problem paying for artists work when we get a benefit from it at all. But in this case, and most others, the benefit is not on the scale they claim. Under Australian law they are unlikely to be able to claim more than the cost of the relevant license anyway (in this case about a quarter of their original claim).

The process went on for a month, basically as below:

  1. I got a letter telling me to pay over $1,100 for copyright infringement and showing the image in question.
  2. I searched my website for the image and although it wasn’t actually visible, or obvious, and was very difficult to find, I took the time to go through every link on the page they quoted, and discovered that PART of the offending image was embedded in a powerpoint presentation from a third party.
    I emailed and said that it was not in our material, but a third parties document, that I thought that party DID have a license to use the image (a larger multi national probably would), and that even if they didn’t I had removed the link and under s115(3) there would be no payment due anyway (that covers inadvertent use).
  3. They replied with basically “too bad, pay up”
  4. I replied - briefly “no unauthorised use has occurred”
  5. They started the phone calls about now. Basically calling me to say they were a lawyer calling about collection. When they called, I just referred them to the emails and said I wasn’t going to talk to them
  6. They reduced their charge to $600 as long as it was paid within 2 weeks. Also included a little spiel of “Getty Images do not bring frivolous and meritless claims to companies with respect to unauthorized use of represented images.”. Which is a blatant lie. By this time, I had spent some time on the web searching out the issue and discovered that a LOT of other people were getting this letter and the ensuing harassment. They had been doing it in the US for quite a while, but were getting a lot of problems there because a lot of lawyers had stepped in to routinely fight them so Getty were now focusing on other countries more.
  7. I replied with no again, and offered them $25 if they showed me proof they had the license for the image at the time the presentation was made (about 5 years prior). I’m pretty sure they didn’t, because Getty had bought up a heap of sites the previous year that it probably came with. I also asked them to provide me with the amount the artist would receive of any settlement (since they were claiming to do it on behalf of them).
  8. They said they didn’t have to show me anything and I had to show proof I had the right to use it (I’m not sure if this is true). And the phone calls kept coming. At least twice a week. I started to get a bit “sharp” with the callers (pretty sure they were reading from as script in a call center though, so a bit pointless).
  9. I replied with saying they do have to prove their claim is valid in an Australian court by providing proof of ownership and that I would only speak to a non-lawyer about it in a very tight time band.
  10. They reduced the claim to $400 but kept up the jargon and the phone calls.
  11. I replied again and asked them to stop bullying and harassing me.
  12. They gave up and told me to take the document down (I did this the day I received the first letter a month prior).
  13. The phone calls continued for another week - they obviously don’t check case histories before calling.

I think it was me using the term harassment that stopped them, but I’m not sure. I saw advice on a website that suggested they have to be very careful legally if you tell them to stop harassment and they don’t. Many people just pay up in the end as it is very time consuming. I had no real work pressures (and no money!) at the time, so could spend the time on the web to see what was happening elsewhere and how to respond.

It is actually a debt collection agency doing it: Dun and Bradstreet in Australia. Hence the techniques used.

If you get one, google around and find the best responses for your situation to get them off your back. There will be more in Australia now (like the whirlpool forums). One I started with was:

And good luck!


Wow. that sounds to me like a scheme cooked up by a lawyer for Getty to make money:

  1. image search on ever image you own rights to [regardless of when you acquired the rights etc]

  2. send a letter of demand to every person or business you can identify who may have an image or part image in a site or document

  3. sell the “debt” accumulated this way to a collection agency after an arbitrary period when some will have paid without fuss.

That way, Getty makes a percentage of the money out of bogus claims, and never has to do any of the leg work to get “their” money.

Yes, agree. And the harassment of the debt collectors is pretty horrible. They just keep on insisting you have to pay them. Even if you really shouldn’t. One of the stories I read online which helped reign them in in the US was that they sent one of these letters to a firm of copyright lawers! Who jumped in and sued them back.

I just thought I’d get this on here in case anyone else gets the treament and comes looking.


Getty are not the only ones to do this, I suspect it is quite common amongst photo libraries.
Last year I received an email from an astronomy club in the US who had been receiving threatening letters asking for $2000 for the use of one of my astronomical images (I usually get ten or twenty UKpounds for such uses!). I had previously granted them free use of the image for their online magazine, as it was a non-profit group. I wrote a letter for them stating that again, which they forwarded to the debt collectors, but they ignored it and continued to hassass the club. I have the image with a UK based photo library, and they have agents worldwide, but clearly they are trawling the web looking for copies of images that they hold.

Hello Michelle,

Thanks for raising this - that is a shocking approach to copyright enforcement issues!

The policy team at CHOICE has been worried about aggressive practices for a little while, but we hadn’t heard about this specific practice. Like you, we want to see artists paid fairly for their work but we want to make sure the copyright laws treat consumers fairly and that owners don’t impose excessive costs for reasonable use.

We’ve done some work on the related practice of speculative invoicing - where companies send out ‘pay up or else’ letters to people for suspected instances of copyright infringement. For anyone interested, here’s our guide on what do to if you receive a speculative invoice:

I’d love to hear any ideas people have about other useful guides or advice for people navigating copyright issues.

Erin - Head of Campaigns & Policy @ CHOICE.


Debt collecting agencies here and overseas have paid good money buying up debts from someone else, without worrying whether they are real or not. They work by bluff and intimidation, as they did with the Dallas Buyers Club case, so its unlikely they would ever win any court action started over here.

We do not have punitive damages, they can only charge us for actual costs incurred by our infringement, if it exists, and its the punitive damages that is what these companies want from you. Stand firm, point out that under the Australian Consumer Code they are not allowed to harass anyone for payment of a debt, particularly if its been incurred by someone else, and they cannot contact you outside of (Australian) business hours. Ask for all their details, who you are dealing with, their position within the company, its business address, ABN, and phone and fax numbers as well as email address, and tell them that you will be going to the appropriate Australian government department that handles this sort of dispute. ask for the complaint to be put in writing, as in snail mail, and point out that they already have your personal details so don’t need them again (particularly if this is a phantom invoice, you don’t want to help them!).

If they have any financial license over here, like a debt collection agency, this is needed for hitting them where it hurts and they have to behave themselves as a condition of that license and you are proving that you are going to be more trouble than its worth to them. Most companies will back-down when faced with a firm, polite, refusal to roll over and pay a fraudulent claim.

If all else fails, tell them you will be contacting the ACCC and/or the Financial Services Office and asking them to intervene, and explain briefly what the department does; I’ve never had anyone take me up on that one! D & B and Baycorp generally back down when you mention the Consumer Code because they have national offices over here.


this latest article about Getty may be of interest.


Well that seems like justice of a sort!