Getty Images Looking for a Payday

Attention Webmasters:  If you have used Getty Images for stock photography, you may soon get a letter from them demanding payment for unlicensed use of their images.  Their records aren’t all that good and they seem to be on a fishing campaign to see how many people will be scared into paying their $1,000.00 fine.  Your only recourse; find your receipt or pay!

I’m no advocate for unlicensed use of images, let’s get that clear. I do have a big problem with the way Getty is handling this.  Getty’s behavior in this case is unethical at best. To them it seems the ends justify the means, just like those who steal from them.  They are relying on their image discovery bot called PicScout to find their images on the web and then cross-reference that with their records of purchase.  If they find no match, they are sending the registrar of the domain a letter demanding $1,000.00.  Where does that leave the small business that had their site coded by a third party?  Responsible for the fine.  If you can’t produce your proof of purchase, you have to pay or risk a lawsuit which could result in owing Getty “damages” of up to $150,000 per image!

On top of the unethical mass-mailing, Getty is using their PicScout unethically.  The PicScout bot is disregarding robots.txt instructions, masking it’s identity, bypassing website security measures, and ignoring terms-of-service.  They are without-a-doubt unauthorized visitors to your website.  You can find more information about PicScout’s crawling behavior at IncrediBILL’s blog here.  It’s a little dated, but the overall message is relevant.

What can you do about this?  I recommend blocking the PicScout robot from your site – if you can find it.  If you have the ability to edit your .htaccess file you can follow the tips here: .htaccess bot trap.  Adding that line of code will block robots that don’t obey the robots.txt file.  Since PicScout doesn’t adhere to your rules, they will get blocked.  Careful though – if you mess up your .htaccess file, you can take down your whole site.  For now that’s the only solution I’m aware of.  I’m looking for something like this that would work with IIS and if I find one, I’ll post it here.

The second thing I recommend is to block the Internet Archiver from your website.  Even if you go through all the trouble and expense of repurchasing your images and blocking the PicScout bad robot, you can still get busted for what the Internet Archive shows on your site.  Blocking the IA robot will completely remove current and past versions of your site.  I have talked about the Internet Archiver before and the ramifications of allowing it to index your site.  Check out my post on blocking the internet archiver robot.

To sum up: Don’t steal, pay for your images.  Someone is trying to feed their family by shooting them and selling them on sites like Getty.  If you have a third-party company design and develop your site, make sure they provide you with receipts and licenses for every image they use.