What to Do When Stock Image Sites Turn Evil

Many designers rely on stock image sites like Getty Images, iStockPhoto.com (owned by Getty), and others for artwork and photos for their clients. At The Ultimate Book Coach, our designers often use these photos for book covers, and our authors use the same photos for branding their books’ websites, social media sites, and printed materials. But recent events have caused giant stock photo sites to start cracking down on people who purchased images and charging them thousands of dollars in fees.

What happened?

If you’re using photos from Getty Images on anything, and I mean anything, without having purchased their extended use license, you may get a notice from them demanding thousands of dollars. Some of these fines may be legitimate, but the scare tactics this company is using to get customers who paid to pay more are ridiculous.

Oscar Michelen, an attorney handling many Getty customer cases, explains the entire issue in detail here.

In short, Getty Images and iStockPhoto have had some questionable business practices over the past few years, and now they seem to be desperate for money so they’re cracking down on customers who use their images on their websites (although according to iStock’s licensing a basic license covers website use). The problem is, without a receipt you can’t prove to them you purchased the images elsewhere, and Getty and iStock photos aren’t necessarily exclusive.

What should you do?

To be safe, attorney Oscar Michelen is recommending the removal of all Getty and iStock photos from your website immediately. I did this and am slowly replacing them with Flickr Creative Commons images with proper credit. If you properly credit your images on your website, even if they’re Getty or iStock, you should be OK. However, I’m not recommending supporting any company with the questionable business practices Getty is showing, so I’ve stopped purchasing images from iStockPhoto, which as noted above is owned by Getty.

Then choose another stock image site to purchase your photos from. Click here for a list of the other nine of my favorite stock photo sites.

Should you be concerned about your book cover?

We’ve used iStockPhoto almost exclusively for book covers since 2003. According to their terms in the graphic below, you should be fine using the photos in this manner. The issue becomes when you take the photo in your book cover and use it for additional branding on your website, in other printed materials, etc. Double, then triple-check the licensing agreement you purchased the image under before using the pictures in any other manner. Then make sure you attribute proper credit everywhere you use the image, including on your book’s copyright page if the image is part of your book cover.

This post isn’t meant to scare anyone, but give you a head’s up. If you have already experienced the Getty extortion issue, I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below. If you think you may run into trouble, I recommend you remove all images from your website, and even if you got the images as a “comp” image from another stock photo site (and didn’t pay for a license), don’t think you’re immune from this issue just because your images didn’t come from Getty. It’s my opinion that if Getty is successful at making millions of dollars off tracking down every “illegal” (even though some are legal) image on the web, other stock photo companies may follow suit.

Always, always, always make sure you have the proper license to use images however you choose to use them, whether it’s on the web to enhance a blog post or on your book cover. And if you work with a graphic designer, make sure they understand image copyright law as well. This Getty issue is just one more reminder that there are copyrights to images, even if you can save pictures from any site on the web. The ability to save a picture doesn’t give you the right to use it, and it will probably end up costing you dearly later.

Photo courtesy Shutterstock, LedyX

Leave a Comment

  • Amanda Socci
    December 6, 2012

    I certainly appreciate the heads-up on Gett licensing and copyright issues, but perhaps I fall in the small, tiny minority of bloggers who don’t rely on stock images.  For me personally, trying to find stock images to represent anidea in a blog post is a LOT of work!  I would rather use my own images of my own photos or other cutesy, corny images I design myself.  True, the stuff I produce is not as professional as stock images from Getty or others, but I am proud that they represent who I am – unique and all.

  • Rita
    December 6, 2012

    I checked to see which companies I was getting my photos from and discovered that stock.xchng is also owned by Getty.  I think my camera is going to get more use.