Anyone who has ever worked with the Internet—whether through promotion of personal websites, professional business blogs, or pretty much anything else—has probably encountered the aggressive tactics of Getty Images’ pursuit of trademark infringement on their licensed pics. Maybe it was an accident on the part of your small business blogger or an oversight when you Google-image-searched for a picture of apple-bobbing to promote your church’s fall festival, but if you’ve ever published a photo owned by Getty Images without permission, you’ve probably been penalized. But now, according to this article in Ars Technica, Getty might be going soft. Or at least softer in its copyright enforcement tactics, with most every San Antonio trademark lawyer saying something like, “It’s about time.”
Heretofore, Getty Images has been combing the Web for “illegal reproductions of its images using special software” and sending “threatening letters to anyone who appears to be infringing.” Which sounds okay, in theory. But Getty’s tactics have earned them the reputation of being a little heavy-handed, like when they “demanded payments ‘far in excess of what any court would ever likely award even after a trial’” from some Internet users, or when they aggressively pursue individuals whose reproductions of licensed material don’t garner them any profit and are not intended to. To a San Antonio trademark lawyer with experience building an internet presence like Douglas Shumway, Getty’s tactics probably do seem a little harsh.
Apparently the massive imaging licensing company figured out that their reputation wasn’t serving them all that well, and are now trying to turn over a new leaf in the way that they pursue trademark infringements. General counsel for Getty Images John Lapham actually told the press that Getty’s “enforcement policies are being ramped down.” Which is good news for unsuspecting personal bloggers who just wanted a pretty pic to match their text content online, mostly. Under their new program, they won’t assign penalties and fees to every reproduction of licensed work, but they will “track user data and offer metered payments to the licensing company’s photographs” for photos that are “free to embed,” a solution that a San Antonio trademark lawyer like Shumway might call a good compromise, even though some people aren’t entirely happy with it.
But it’s a well-timed change of tactic for Getty Images, who “has often been compared to seedier operations like Prenda Law, which sent threatening letters to people it accused of illegally downloading porn, or Righthaven, which tried to license articles from a Las Vegas paper and sued people who hosted portions of these articles online.” When they serve up business and individuals with these threatening cease-and-desist and you-owe-us-thousands letters, Getty Images seems little better than an internet bully, a San Antonio trademark lawyer would say.
Still, the strategic change to Getty’s enforcement tactics “doesn’t mean Getty will embrace infringers as children of its benevolent licensing scheme.” Spokespersons for the company have reiterated that their plan is to go after “images truly pirated to commercial purposes, and those engaged in distributing or encouraging additional piracy,” which sounds enough like a change of heart to soften the image licensing company’s reputation online, at least for now.