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Received a Copyright Infringement Letter of Demand? What You Shouldn’t Do

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Received a Copyright Infringement Letter of Demand? What You Shouldn’t Do

Posting an image online as part of your blog, social media post or even your website can lead to you receiving a letter of demand alleging copyright infringement.

Using an image without proper permission amounts to copyright infringement. Getty Images own millions of images online. A large proportion of demands are sent by Getty’s debt collectors, Dunn & Bradstreet. Numbering 12 or more pages, these letters contain all sorts of threats and dire warnings.

7 traps to avoid if you get a copyright infringement letter of demand:

1. Don’t panic!

To borrow a line from hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy.

2. No knee-jerk reply (see rule number 1).

Our natural inclination is to justify ourselves. This week I had a client who is a lawyer. She received a letter of demand and sent a knee-jerk response, which included admissions which put her in a worse position than if she had just said nothing.

3. Do not make any admissions.

If you say, “I am sorry I infringed your copyright”, you have admitted to infringing the copyright, and will not be able to later avoid responsibility for such infringement.

4. Don’t whine.

Many people have a tendency to say that they did not know that using the image would amount to infringement. This is really irrelevant to the legal position. They don’t care whether or not you knew. If you used the image without the appropriate license, you have infringed. Whining about it will not help (and it may result in you saying something they can hold against you later).

5. Do not give them your contact details.

If they do not already have your contact details, do not give those to them. Some scammers pretend to be from Dunn & Bradstreet. If the letter claims to be from Dunn & Bradstreet, look up their contact details online (do not use the details on the letter, as that could be part of a scam), and phone them and ask them to check the reference number on the letter to see whether the letter is genuine.

6. Do not ignore the letter.

Copyright infringement is a serious matter. If you do not respond, they are entitled to sue you for copyright infringement and can recover legal costs from you. Also, they will hound you with multiple emails, calls and letters. This will not ‘just go away’ if you pretend to be an ostrich.

7. Don’t think that simply taking the image down will make the problem go away.

You are still liable for the use you have already made of the image in the past (even if you are no longer using it).

What you should do:

  • Take your time.

Their ‘deadline’ is just a time limit they made up. Do not let the ‘deadline’ pressure you. Tell them you need more time.

  • Do you have a license?

Send them a copy of your paid license agreement (if you have one). That could stop the demands. Do be careful, if your license is from a ‘free image’ website, then your use is likely to be unauthorised (‘free’ image websites generally have as part of their terms that the copyright owner might come after you for copyright infringement). For further details regarding this read my previous Smallville article, The high cost of free images.

  • Did someone else source the image for you?

If the image was sourced by someone else, for example, a designer of your website, the designer might be liable to pay you for any costs if the image turns out to be an infringement. You still need to deal with the infringement allegation but can ask the designer to pay you back for the costs.  However, if one of your employees sourced the image for you, then you are fully responsible, as they would have been acting on your behalf. You cannot claim back from them.

  • Be prepared to pay.

Unfortunately, if the images are similar, and you do not have a license to prove that you have paid to use the image, you will most likely have to pay to get out of trouble. My best advice is to try and negotiate them as low as possible. Use the experience as a good life lesson.

Make sure that in the future, you only use images that you know you have a paid written licence for. Then, go and have a glass of wine. You deserve it!

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