By Michele Swetesich-Leon

OMG! A client forwarded me this email they received asking me “Is this for real?” Here’s the email without the actual client information and, of course, without the image.

From: <>
Date: August 12, 2014 10:59:21 AM MST
Subject: Notice of Unauthorized Use – Getty Images – Ref: 372225xxx

Getty Images
605 Fifth Avenue South, Suite 400
Seattle, WA 98104
United States

8/12/2014 8:20:16 PM
Case Number: 372225xxx


It has come to our attention the following image(s) represented by Getty Images are being used or have been used online to promote your company.
Catalog Image No.490055-001


Screen Capture

License Type: RM

We can’t locate a valid license issued to your company for this use but if you do have one – perhaps purchased by a third party, please let us know and we’ll connect that license with your company’s use.

Your options to solve this matter are:
• If you would like to license the image in question, contact us at +1 206-925-6363 or via email;
• If you would like to replace the image in question with a similar image please contact us or visit our website to find multiple options for as little as $25. You can also redeem our promotional code UUU520 for 20% off your purchase.

It is important to understand that a paid license is required for any image used for commercial or promotional purposes. Getty Images reserves the right to pursue this case further; if a license is not purchased in the next 14 days.

We hope you understand that photographers entrust their images to Getty Images for commercial licensing, which enables them to earn fees to run their businesses, to pursue their art and to continue to invest in creating more great content. All of us at Getty Images are committed to protecting their interests, intellectual property and livelihoods.

If you believe you have mistakenly received this letter, please contact us by email at

We look forward to working this out with you.


License Compliance Team
Getty Images

*This letter is without prejudice to Getty Images’ rights and remedies, all of which are expressly reserved. (Sorry that’s a bit of ‘legalese’ we are required to include, so if you don’t respond, we reserve the right to pursue this matter further. We hope you’ll be in touch soon and let us know how you will proceed instead).

Yes, this is for real! There are crawler’s scouring the internet for images being used without proper licensing.  You may think it’s safe to just download and use any image you find on the internet, but it’s not. Before downloading an image do your due diligence when it comes to copyrights and licensing. A good tool for this is ( When in doubt credit the image source, though know you may still be guilty of copyright infringement. Your safest bet is to purchase a stock image which grants you license to use it.

There are numerous stock image companies online. A few of the more common ones are Shutterstock, iStock, Bigstock and 123rf. Costs vary depending on who you buy from and the image size. Most stock image sites offer what’s called Royalty Free (RF) images. When an image is labeled RF it doesn’t mean the image is free to use without a license. What it does mean is you have non-exclusive, unlimited use of an image once you pay to use it. RF images are a great value, though if every Tom, Dick and Harry is using the same image it dilutes the potency of your marketing.

There are also images that are RM or Rights Managed images. With this type of image you are granted exclusive, time-limited, and geographic-specific use of an image. When might you use an RM image? If you’re running a high profile campaign having exclusive rights to an image means that your competitors can’t run a copycat campaign with that exact same image. Yes, RM images can be quite pricey, but then again you are paying for exclusivity.

Bottom line, you must know the intended use of an image in order to determine the appropriate license. You should also consider the pros and cons of each license and the ultimate importance associated with using the image. In other words how important is the image to the marketing message.

Royalty Free image tweet

In the case of the email I shared at the opening of this article, I’m pleased to say that my company had nothing to do with the image violation. It happens that the responsible party was their blog writer. Because they took immediate action to contact Getty regarding the situation they managed to avoid a $900 use fee. Yes, $900 smackers for approximately 3 months of use. OUCH!

So, do yourself a favor, don’t download and use just any image off the internet. Invest the 5-20 bucks for a stock RF image or if you absolutely need exclusive use of an image, and you have the budget, invest in an RM image. Should you ever receive a Notice of Unauthorized Use don’t ignore it, contact the sender immediately.

Have you ever had someone use an image of yours without authorization?

How did you handle it?

Share your story in the comments section below.