Clarifying Copyright – What It Means for Imagery

July 15, 2009 | By Getty Images | News

Johnny Hernandez/Getty Images
Johnny Hernandez/Getty Images

We know that the legalities associated with licensing images can be scary. It’s not an easy subject for anyone to completely comprehend. To help make it just a little easier for everyone to understand, we’ve turned to the guidance of our internal copyright and intellectual property experts (aka lawyers).

Below you’ll find some copyright and licensing tips they so kindly put together in regular, non-legal language. With these key tips in mind, it should make using professional images for your business a little less intimidating.

Whenever you use an image, it’s important to be smart about it. A copyright exists the moment an image is created by the photographer, and images are subject to copyright laws. If you want to use an image that you did not create, securing permission or a license is necessary. Don’t equate the Internet as “Public Domain” – just because it’s out there, it does not mean that it’s free for anyone to use.

By law, as the end-user of the image, you are ultimately legally responsible for insuring that you have obtained the appropriate rights to use the imagery. Because of this, you need to do your homework if anyone is designing communications for you or for your company. Be sure they are licensing imagery appropriately. Ask for copies of license paperwork.

Also, be sure you are using content from a trusted source. It’s good to remember that there are a number of providers that offer a broad range of imagery at affordable prices – licensing an image is easy and it’s worth the peace of mind.

If you DO receive a letter from us, here are six tips, please feel free to share these with your friends and designers:

  • DON’T PANIC – If you’re caught without having a license – we’re willing to work with you to figure things out.
  • If you don’t have a license, please DON’T go to the website and try to buy a license until you’ve settled. It will be canceled.
  • Don’t assume your third-party designer or image provider will contact you after the expiration of a license. You are responsible for your use of imagery, including compliance with all license terms. Getty Images does send renewal notices to the purchaser of the imagery. If you had a third party designer create your communications, they may receive this notice – not you. It is important to request and keep copies of your Sales Orders with Getty Images for any images licensed through our website.
  • Don’t share images that you licensed for your company’s use with friends. There are strict usage guidelines surrounding image licenses.
  • Again, don’t equate the Internet as “Public Domain” – Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean that it’s free for you to use. Likewise, keep in mind that “royalty-free” does not mean free. Royalty-free simply means that once a license fee is paid, no royalties are owed for subsequent, permitted usage.
  • Don’t ignore our notification of a potential unauthorized use claim against your company. We may have made an error, or there may be circumstances we are not aware of that could affect the final payment/decision/outcome.

  • We do have a dedicated Twitter account that helps with these specific kinds of issues. If you have a question, please find us @gettycopyright and we will try to help.

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    • Mark Zanzig

      Hurrah! This is one of the best articles on photo copyright I ever came across. As it uses simple and easy-to-understand language, every photographer should have this link in his reportoire when dealing with infringers. Thanks for this.

    • Peggy Willett

      A handy guide to copyright and imagery licensing, as well as links to other industry and government resources on the issues, can be found on the Community Involvement page of Getty Images, here:

    • Pablinho

      Even though i agree with your claims, your bullish letters demanding thousands of dollars for a 72×72 thumbnail have no base in a legal court. Be it the UK, Us or Canada… otherwise there would be thousands of cases taken to court… which doesnt seem to be the case.

    • admin

      We not only pursue many cases, but we settle most and help folks understand the need to license our imagery. While we could and are confident in our position, our goal is not to take people to court with our claims; settlement of a matter costs much less for everyone.

    • Marisol Dobberfuhl

      I have to say that technology is getting better and better each day.