We have recently been contacted by clients who have received demands for money from the debt collection arm of Dun & Bradstreet in relation to the use of unauthorised images.  These images are owned by stock image company, Getty Images. With a database of over 80 million images Getty images are prolific. But watch out – Getty ferociously protects its copyright and if you have mistakenly used one of their images you too may find yourself with a demand for money. 


Can I use that cat image?

Just because an image is publically available on the internet, does not mean it is free.  In fact, unless there is a clear statement to the contrary, you should always assume that material found on the internet is copyright protected and therefore requires the owner’s permission in order to be used.  This is further complicated by the fact that the image may have been displaced several times and the site on which you have found it may not even have the rights to it.

Many believe they can avoid a claim for copyright infringement by merely attributing the work to the source on which they found it with a “shoutout” or link back. Unfortunately, while this may avoid a claim for plagiarism, this is not the case for copyright. The creator of the work has the right to dictate where and when they want their work published and for whatever reason, they may not want their image on your website.

Another common misconception is that if you change someone else’s work enough, you have created something original thereby avoiding copyright infringement. This will not always be the case – there will still be an infringement if you have reproduced an “important” or “distinct” part of the original.

If you’ve found a particular image you would like to use and you are not sure about the rights attached to it contact the owner and ask for permission.

And the safest way to source imagery for your website is…

In order to avoid doubt about the legality of an image, we suggest using images from a stock image company. The good news is that some stock image companies, such as www.morguefile.com, provide public domain images that can be used entirely free of charge (although check whether they require attribution or not).

Many stock image companies require you to pay for use of the image.  If you are deterred from using Getty Images because of their debt collecting practices, then Shutterstock is one of the few stock image companies that remains independent of the Getty giant (Getty now owns many of the smaller stock image companies). Prices start from around $5 an image and vary as to the types of rights associated with the image.

I’m using a third party to create content for my website…

If you have engaged a third party such a graphic designer, photographer or videographer to produce content for you, make sure they are aware of copyright requirements. You may wish to make it clear that the onus is on them to provide you with content that complies with copyright laws. For larger projects it is prudent to have them sign a warranty and indemnity (warranting that they will not infringe copyright law and indemnifying you against any loss is they do). 

Help! Dun & Bradstreet are after me!

Things you should know if you have been contacted with a demand for money in regards to the use of unauthorised material on your website:

  • A request for money does not give rise to a legal debt. In order for there to be a legal debt, Getty must prove ownership of the image in a court of law.
  • To date, Getty have not taken legal action against any Australian individuals or businesses for the unauthorised use of their images.
  • You may wish to respond to Dun & Bradstreet in writing.  We suggest your letter requests the following:
  1. proof of when they obtained the licensing rights for the image.
  2. Details as to how they came to the amount claimed.
  • Seek legal advice before agreeing to pay any amount requested.