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How should you respond to a Copyright demand letter?

In our last entry, we discussed a case where a Copyright infringement letter from Getty Images resulted in a photographer Carol Highsmith's lawsuit against the company. Although this is an extreme case, it illustrates the room for interpretation when it comes to Copyright Law.

So what should you do if you receive a Copyright demand letter from Getty Images or another photo resource company? For many the immediate response might be to pay the fee. For others, it might be to ignore it. The prudent response is somewhere in between.

The first thing to remember when you receive a demand letter is not to panic. You are less likely to make huge errors in judgment if you approach the situation with a level head. 

The first step is to understand what the letter is demanding. Usually the letters serve two purposes: 1) to demand that you stop using the image and 2) to pay the sender a fee to avoid a lawsuit.

It is easy to comply with the first demand, if you feel it is valid. Simply remove the image from your website or other material, communicating to Getty or other image company that it has been taken down. Be sure to delete the image not only from your online materials, but from your server.

When it comes to the fee, things become more complex. Getty Images is known for inflating prices on its website to correspond with demand letters, so research what other stock photo sites are charging for the same or similar images. The "fair market value" for the image is all the company is entitled to collect from you, assuming infringement has occurred.

If you feel your use of an image was a justified fair use, you have a right to communicate that to Getty or the other photo company. It is also important to ask to see proof that the company has rights to manage the licensing of the image. Getty and other photo companies have been known to participate in Copyright bullying, so if you feel you have the right to use the image, or they do not have the right to collect, seek help from an attorney.


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