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So You Got a Copyright Infringement Letter… Now What?

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Have you received a notice that you’re guilty of copyright infringement? Don’t panic. Here’s what to do instead. 

Dear Business Owner,

We regret to inform you that we are unable to find a license for an image displayed on your website. 

We request immediate removal of this image. You are also required to provide payment of a settlement for past usage of the imagery at issue. 

Should you fail to make the payment by the specified deadline we will have to take further legal action. 

Sound familiar?

If you’re reading this, you’ve likely received a letter or email that looks pretty similar to the one referenced above.

Copyright infringement claims are becoming an increasingly common disturbance for website owners. The internet is chock full of images that you can upload, share and disperse at a moment’s notice. Add in the general lack of knowledge for copyright law and it’s easy to see why so many people infringe upon others’ material. 


Now, if you’ve received a notice from a company it’s pretty clear that they mean business. These letters include so much aggressive language and mystifying legal jargon that it can make your head spin.

Your first step? Don’t panic. Here’s what you can do to deal with the problem at hand and avoid legal repercussions. 

A copyright infringement notice is a letter or email sent to website owners by a company or third-party attorney. 

In this case, the notice claims you used a copyright-protected image on a website without permission. The notice will request that you remove the image or suffer the consequences — likely a fee or fine related to “damages” you have caused.

Now:

The problem with these letters is that hardly anyone has enough legal knowledge to dispute them.

Getty Images, for instance, has made a killing off of threatening legal action to unsuspecting website owners. In fact, they have an entire department committed to sending out letters that demand exorbitant fees and threaten lawsuits. 

While you may be guilty of using unlicensed photos, you aren’t required to pay all the fees. Companies like Getty Images prey on average Joe’s by tricking them into believing they need to pay fines that are way outside the scope of actual damages. 

So, most people end up paying these sums because they don’t know their rights… or how to fight back.

Can They Sue You?

The short answer is: yes.

A company like Getty Images has the power to file a lawsuit if you don’t comply with their demands. However, that short answer doesn’t tell the full story.

Let’s say Getty Images sends you an email requesting $500 in damages. If you don’t respond, they may send additional emails stating they are raising the fine and getting an attorney or collections agency involved.

But consider this before pulling out your credit card:

Legal action is expensive.

Technically, Getty Images does have the power to take you to court if you don’t pay the settlement. But the people sending these notices usually have no incentive to do so.

That’s because litigation is not only expensive, it’s a huge use of time and resources too. Filing a case can cost upwards of thousands of dollars, a far cry from the actual value of your infringement. More often than not, it won’t even be worth it for them to take you to court. 

Sadly, most people remain unaware of the actual price of their damages and pay the requested sum without even giving it a second thought. 

Fighting Back

In most cases, courts require the infringer to pay damages based on the fair market value of the item. 

In the case of copyrighted images, the value is usually much less than the hundreds (or thousands) of dollars requested. 

So, as long as you haven’t used the image for personal profit, the fair market value could just be the licensing fee for the image.

Now:

The fair market value of the image isn’t the licensing fee set by one individual company. It’s the value set by the entire marketplace.

What does that mean?

Let’s say Getty Images sends you a letter requesting $500. A quick search on their site will reveal that they charge only $5 for the license to the copyrighted image.

You’ll also need to investigate other sites are charging for the image. Look on at least 10 other sites to find the going rate for the image. Then, take the average price to discover the actual fair market value. 

If you continue to be harrassed, you can send a letter back with a counteroffer to pay the fair market value. They may reject this offer, but you can continue to negotiate and even inquire about how they came up with their fee.

The more you make them work for your money, the better. In these instances, companies will usually end up leaving you alone rather than facing costly litigation.

Please note, this only works in the case that you didn’t profit from the image. Any and all profits derived from the copyrighted image will have to be paid back. So if you’ve been making money off their work, it’s best to consult an attorney before moving on.

The Best Course of Action

Sometimes, the best course of action is taking no action at all. 

In fact, in some areas even paying the smallest of fines is an acknowledgment of liability. Don’t fall victim to harassment or bullying by ponying up your cash.

In most cases, your best course of action is to simply ignore the email. It’s likely that you won’t face legal repercussions as long as you remove the image from your site. 

Of course, you can also protect yourself from facing this problem in the first place. Make sure to use only public domain images or those with Creative Commons licenses — with proper attribution.

Just pay the small fees to purchase stock images in the future. It’s a small price to pay to avoid the hassle of copyright infringement.

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