Here I am, back in the Mesozoic Day with my Hermes 3000 portable and legal pad, flanked by a pack of Merits, a box of kitchen matches, and a beer of indeterminate brand. A budding procrastinator to be sure, but a future criminal?
Yes, indeed — at least according to the nice folks at Getty Images, the largest photo licensing service in the world. How did I wind up turning to a life of crime, you ask? Simply by dragging one of their pictures off the internet and onto my author blog, not knowing it was copyrighted. There was no indication of ownership on the picture, there were no people in it, and it really wasn’t essential to my blog post — I just thought it added a whimsical visual touch.
Apparently, Getty Images isn’t all that big on whimsy. They sent me a letter demanding a $1200 payment, due in thirty days. If I didn’t comply, the matter would be handed over to lawyers. I, of course, was appalled. I didn’t steal anything. It had to be a mistake. Or a scam. Seeking comfort and validation, I rushed into the loving arms of Google, where I found numerous sources who said to ignore Getty’s predatory trolling. Just to make sure, I called a friend who is a top Los Angeles litigator. He informed me that not only was Getty’s claim legal, but that his wife had had a similar experience with her website and he advised her to pay. Copyright law states that you are responsible for using an image even if you didn’t know it was copyrighted, and you have to pay for it retroactively.
Still unable to come to grips with being penalized for an innocent mistake, I tracked down the photographer who took the picture. He sympathized with my plight and called the fee outrageous, but said he was powerless to do anything and I’d have to take it up with Getty. So I called their lawyers, informing them of my innocence. “I never would have used the image if I knew it cost $1200.”
How many times do you think they’d heard that? And how often do you think it did any good? The best they could offer me was a reduced payment of $800. They presented it as a bargain, but caving to their demands still seemed like saying “uncle” for the schoolyard bully. I re-Googled the internet folks who seemed sure that Getty doesn’t bother suing for small amounts, they just threaten. Convincing myself I was safe, I casually mentioned my experience to friend who owns his own photo news service. He told me that licensing companies now have cases like mine down to a science — they sue people all the time for small and big amounts over the use of their images, and should I choose to ignore them, my $800 claim could easily become $10,000. He advised me to pay.
Tail between my legs, I called back the Getty lawyer, whereupon I was informed that they had raised the fee back to $1200. I told her that I didn’t want to deal with this anymore. (At that point, she knew she had me.) “What if I were to give you my credit card number and have you charge me right now?” I inquired softly.
The fee got cut back to $800 and I claimed victory — because the nightmare was over. Moral of the story: Authors — take your own blog photos or get them from royalty-free websites. You’ll save yourselves a lot of money and even more headaches.
Come to think of it, I have no idea who took the picture above. They could be suing me any day now….