You open your mailbox and find a letter threatening you’ll be sued for a $100,000 due to copyrights infringement.
“Impossible! That will never happen to me!” you say?
Well, do yourself a big favor and read this post.
Recent statistics show that over 85% of the photos used online are subject of copyright infringement.
Are you sure you’re not a thief?
Shortly after I decided to start this blog, I had a talk with a friend – Mirelle.
Mirelle is the proud owner of a well-known Israeli blog, focusing fashion, makeup & accessories: The Falafel Fashion blog.
Mirelle shared some horror stories she heard from her colleagues. All stories sounded pretty much the same:
“One day, out of the blue, I got a warning letter from Gettty Images, ordering me to compensate some unheard-of photographer with tens of thousands of dollars.” The letter also said that if no action will be taken promptly, that blogger will be sued in court of law for copyright infringement!
Sounds familiar? Rings a bell? The blogosphere has been buzzing with alike stories for a quite a while.
“I received a letter from Getty Images today telling me to cease & desist using 4 images immediately… I have to send them $4,000 after I delete the images for copyright infringement. If I don’t pay them within 14 days, they are threatening to pursue damages.”
(Joe McCall, Flipping Homes forum)
Yikes! Another post, titled “Getty Images is after me” tells a similar story:
“Several months ago somebody made me a website and used several images he claimed he got from a public domain site. Last month I got a letter from Getty Images demanding $1000 for the use of the picture”
SydneyJen (user at Site Point)
I have tens of similar stories in my “research” folder, and the internet is literally packed with tens of thousands (if not more) of these abysmal experiences. Try googling “Getty images letter”. You will find over 34,000 exact match results, and over 9.5 million (read aloud: nine-point five million) relevant results.
So, who are these poor, poor people who Getty is apparently after, and are you one of them?
- Blog owners
- Site owners
- Forum users
- Forum owners
- Web designers
- Web developers
- Graphic designers
- Newspaper companies
- Charity organizations
- Environmental organizations
- Church reverend
- and the list goes on…
Yes, you read it right. Getty Images actually filed a lawsuit against a church from Lichfield, United Kingdom for £6,000, according to The Guardian. They seem to stop nowhere.
If you are reading this post, you probably fit one or more of these categories. You must be somewhat troubled by now: Are you the next one in line?
In order to understand why are the bad guys at ‘Getty Images’ suing and bullying what seems to be everyone, everywhere; and to learn how to avoid being sued yourself, we should first answer two important questions:
- Who the hell are Getty Images anyway?
- What to they want from me or your?
WHO ARE GETTY IMAGES?
Here is (some of) what Wikipedia tells us about Getty Images Inc.:
“Getty Images, Inc. is a stock photo agency, … It is a supplier of stock images for business and consumers with an archive of 80 million still images… In February 2008 it was…acquired by Hellman & Friedman in a transaction valued at an estimated US$2.4 billion”
(From Wikipedia: Getty Images)
So, there you go. Getty Images license usage rights for over 80 million still images.
If that doesn’t make them sound really, really big, then being previously purchased for an estimated $2,400,000,000 should do the job.
Getty Images are one of the biggest stock photo agencies on planet earth, if not the biggest one. Yes, they are aggressive sometimes, but so are all huge corporations.
Hell, I LOVE Apple, but I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of those sued by them.
Still, there seem to be far more innocent bloggers being sued for (allegedly) no apparent reason by Getty Images, than by Apple, Google, Microsoft, IBM and any other business empire combined.
Being raised on ‘Robin Hood’ fairy-tails, I decided to give Getty’s representatives a call, and ask them what are they up to. I was forwarded to their master delegate for my region: ‘Image Bank Israel‘.
A Coin Has Two Faces
I wrote an email to ‘Image Bank Israel’ that evening, pretty much in the lines of:
“I’m a newbie blogger writing a blog post on how to legally find and use photos on my blog without getting sued by you”.
The next morning (!), I got a phone call from Ms. Aviva Weinman, CEO and owner of ‘Image Bank Israel’ herself.
We met a few days later at her office in Tel Aviv. As I entered, I saw smiling faces everywhere. I didn’t even have to sit down and wait, I was buzzed right in. “They don’t seem half as bad as people bad mouth them”– I thought.
The interview turned out to be a very friendly and open conversation. We discussed photography copyright infringement at start, but later we got talking about the moral state of the Israeli society in general, and more.
But do not worry: I’m only sharing the “photo rights stuff” with you! 🙂
First, Aviva points out that ‘Image Bank Israel’ are merely Getty’s delegates in the region. This means she has no responsibility for Getty’s actions overseas, hence she can’t explain Getty’s actions, but only Image Bank’s. Nevertheless, the information she provides from an insider perspective is invaluable.
I told Aviva that I’ve decided to write this post because there are so many people obviously doing it wrong, so many people confused, and mainly so many people are scared, perhaps terrified by the name of you-know-who (Getty of course!)
“There really is no reason for confusion”, says Aviva. “The law is simple and the rules are very straight forward. Either you took a picture – and then it belongs to you, or you didn’t take the picture – and then you must obtain rights in order to use it.”
“If you use a photo that wasn’t taken by you, and you don’t bother with licensing it”, clarifies Aviva – “you are performing copyright infringement”. And that is all there is to it.
Copyright infringement is an offense
“Copyright infringement is an offense”, states Aviva. “Just like stealing a car or robbing a supermarket”.
“People don’t see it this way”, she explains, “because it’s so easy and ‘innocent’ to right-click a photo you found on Google and hit the ‘save as…’ button. But that photo was taken by someone, perhaps making his living from licensing his photos”.
PicScout’s CEO claimed that 85% of photo usage online in 2010 was done without appropriate licensing, I tell her. She doesn’t seem surprised.
“That’s why Getty Images, and their delegates overseas, are taking action. Some people don’t even understand that they are stealing something that belongs to someone else. Others just don’t care.”
Porsches aren’t that cheap!
OK, but let’s face it, I say. Buying licenses from Getty, iStockPhotos, or others can cost quite a lot of money. For an amateur blogger or a newbie writer, the price can be overwhelming.
Aviva has a great comeback (and marvelous analogy): “That’s true. But buying a Porsche isn’t cheap also. Still people know they cannot just take one that is parked at the parking lot. Even if the door is open and the key is in the ignition switch, most people will know better than taking the car for a spin!”
To this interesting analogy, she adds: “Remember that even if you steal a car, and then return it a week later to the exact same spot, it still doesn’t correct your wrongful act. Gasoline was wasted, wear and tear occurred…That’s why sometimes we can not settle for a cease and decease act (when one removes and stops any usage of non licensed copyrighted material [MB])”.
Judgement: When to settle
Unlike the (justified or not) image of Getty (pun intended), at least at their Israeli delegate I hear some sound judgement as to deciding when to file a lawsuit vs. when to settle:
“We understand that not all are born equal. We don’t want to make anyone lose his home or leave his family with nothing. But people still need to take responsibility for their actions”.
“People need to understand that we only manage the rights of the photos for our photographers. We don’t own the photos themselves. So, if a photographer is reluctant to settle or no compromise can be reached, we sue for the whole worth.”
Sure, I say. But to be honest, some of the prices I’m hearing sound crazy! How does one reach such high figures??
“First, at least the Israeli law defines a ‘default’ penalty per picture that was used against terms. This is the same in most countries, and usually serves as the starting point. If we go to court, the photographer can sue for the entire value of the photo, determined by much money he could make of licensing it over a period of ten years.”
“And yes,”, she adds, “It can be a very high figure when dealing with professional photographers”.
“In case of severe infringement for commercial benefit, and after having our letters ignored again and again, we could sue. If someone makes as spend on lawyers, private investigators, requires the work of the Getty legal department and an entire team of people in Israel and around the world – they will pay the price.”
“But we try to settle as much as possible with smaller business owners/bloggers. Many times we end up with a simple act of cease and decease and an apology. Other times we settled for the blogger buying the license at market price. Hundreds of them become longtime returning customers afterwards.”
It’s worth pointing out that this is only the policy of ‘Image Bank Israel’, and doesn’t necessarily say anything about Getty Images behavior (which does seem to be more radical!). Nonetheless, play by the rules and they’ll have no claims either.
If you’re willing to settle, I ask Aviva, why are you demanding so much money in the initial warning letter, instead of offering alternative options?
“As sad as it may seem”, Aviva answers, “No one reads nice letters anymore. Only when we threaten, we get people to take action and talk to us”.
So, I say and pause. Hypothetically speaking, lets pretend I’m a blogger with a bunch of unlicensed photos on my blog. What should I do to avoid being sued due to my already committed offenses?
“At the very least,” she smiles, “you should license all of the photos appropriately, and pay the photographer his dues.”
Time Traveling for evidence
This raises a question, debated outside Image Bank Israel offices, by many bloggers and so-called experts:
Should you pay, or should you remove the unlicensed photos and call it a day?
Well, here come some bad news for you, folks: Maybe Albert Einstein proved time traveling to be impossible in the real world, but on the internet, time traveling has been around for years.
Time traveling can be done via time machines (well, duh…). Time machine websites let anyone go back in time and see past versions of your website, sometimes dating years and years back. That’s long before you removed the subject of infringement off your site!
And yes, you guessed it right. Getty Images and their automatic robots use such archives to find & prove infringements. (Wanna check out the most popular internet archive? Visit the Wayback Machine)
Now, you could contact the support teams of these websites, and kindly ask them to remove your website from their archives. Some of them even went public about their objection to Getty using their services (‘Wayback Machine’ for instance), and they will be happy to help you out.
But who knows what private archives are in use today, or will exist tomorrow? Could you ever be sure you have destroyed all evidence?
Back to Aviva’s office, she tells me: “We give heavy weight in handling the case to the behavior pattern we see. If someone acts like he has something to hide – if he starts hiding evidence, deleting pages and generally behaves like a thief that’s aware to the severity of his actions, then it is not an innocent mistake.”
“We understand that people can make innocent mistakes. Sometimes it’s the web designer’s fault, and he’s already out of the business by the time we reach the website owner. But sometimes it’s as clear as the sun that someone has been doing it knowingly for ages, and those people need to pay for their actions”.
So yes, you could try to destroy the evidences. It’s hard to estimate your chances of succeeding, and it might make the matter worse if you are caught. Take that into account, and perhaps consider avoiding copyrights infringement to begin with!
But there are so many photos and graphics in the free domain! I tell Aviva.
Sure, it’s Image Bank & Getty Images job to make as much ca$h possible for the photographers, but why shouldn’t I use photos from the public domain?
Aviva tells me a story. “One day, I open the weekend newspaper. One of the full-page ads caught my eye. It was by a professional photographer, offering his services for weddings, birthdays, etc. He had 4 samples of his photos at the bottom of the ad. I immediately recognized those photos – they came from my image bank! That photographer stole four photos of other photographers, and claimed on national newspaper that they are a sample of his own work”.
The lesson? If someone can publish an ad on national newspaper with stolen photos, someone can sure-as-hell upload stolen photos to his Flickr, Instagram or Facebook accounts, and even upload them to open “public domain” (AKA ‘free’) web galleries.
If you, or your designer, happen to download and use a photo from a public domain website, that was uploaded without the photographer’s knowledge – you are performing an infringement as if you stole the photo yourself.
So, that makes a compelling reason why you should use Getty, Image Bank, Dreamstime or any similar licensing agency (or even contact the photographer directly, if he doesn’t manage his rights through such agency). This way, you know for sure that you are doing everything right to a tee.
There are alternatives of course, but as stated above, they do come with some risk.
The main alternative is using photos licensed under ‘open licenses’, such as the Creative Commons (abbreviated as CC). Flickr has a library of over 210 million photos that can be used for free under the CC licenses.
My next post is going to be dedicated to show you how to find and legally use photos from Flickr on your blog. If you want to get an email notification when it’s out, why not subscribe to the mailing list?
tips and lessons
The most important lessons to learn from this blog post, in addition to the understanding of why you can’t just copy-paste any image you see online, are:
1. Make sure you attain rights before using the material
How can you obtain rights for photos you did not shoot yourself?
- If the photographer is employed by you, you get some rights – depending on your signed agreement. If you expect all rights and ownership of the photos to belong to you once you pay the photographer, you must put that in your written agreement. If you don’t sign a contract, it is generally considered that you have a one-time license to use the photos for the exact purpose described in the job order, and nothing more (this is not legal advice!).
- The same goes for website designs – they belong to the designer unless stated otherwise!
- If the photo is licensed under some “open” license, such as the Creative Commons (also referred to as CC), you may use it for free as long as you are keeping the usage to the exact license terms.
- If the license is managed be some agency, the process generally follows this path: A. You buy “credits”, averaging at $1.5 per credit point. B. You choose the required photo and choose appropriate license, image size, and allowed usage. This is usually handled by the purchase wizard at the agency website. The wizard will tell you how many credits are required to license your needs.
- Are you a student or part of an educational institution? Do you need the photo for private or educational use only? ‘Image Bank Israel’ and many other agencies will not only allow you to use photos for free, but will happily give you high-resolution versions of the photos upon request.
2. Protect yourself
Are you buying a design for your website or blog from some gallery or web designer? Is someone designing some brochures for you? Your order should include a contract forcing them to only use licensed works, and have them to take legal responsibility if they fail to do so.
This advice is common sense, but you should have a lawyer help you with a template agreement of such kind. When doing so, do make sure he specializes in copyright infringements and not transportation and car accidents!
One more point to remember: There is no such thing as a free lunch! Not all photos licensed under Creative Commons on Flickr actually belong to the user that uploaded them. Use common sense. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
3. License types
As already mentioned, ‘open licenses’ exist (like CC), allowing you to use a photo for no money down. Besides those, if you decide to pay for licensing you will generally find terms similar to the following:
- Royalty Free (RF) License
- Usually refers to a non-transferable, non-exclusive right to use a photo for specified needs.
- It is usually less restrictive in terms of allowed usage and limitations than more ‘complicated’ licenses, but it varies by the websites and agencies, so read their terms before purchasing.
- Many websites offer Basic RF and Extended RF licenses, so make sure you compare them before you buy.
- Don’t forget – RF license is non-exclusive, so there is a good chance someone else will be using the same photos.
- Normal limitations include: size, market, format (web, printed, etc), maximum allowed exposure, and more.
- At Getty Images, RF license price is based solely on the size of the purchased photo.
- Rights Managed (RM) License
- An exclusive right to use a photo.
- Usually is limited by time, region of the world (e.g. ‘China only’, ‘Latin America’ or even ‘Worldwide’), and usage (e.g. Editorial, software design, website design, printed materials, etc.).
- As it is an exclusive right to use the photo, it generally costs much more in comparison to RF or CC licensed photos.
- Editorial Rights
- This is a sub case of RM License, where the photo may only be used for editorial purposes (newspapers, news sites, blogs following current events, etc.) referencing information, news or noteworthy event.
- At almost all cases, the license is non-exclusive and for one-time use only.
- Preview License
- Intended for personal, educational and noncommercial use only. Some limitations may apply.
4. Finding Photos
As I mentioned, I’m in process of writing a blog post showing where to find photos for your blog and how to use them legally, including the process of purchase and download (both open licenses and RF websites).
Here is a small taste from the coming post, showing how to find photos under CC licenses on Flickr:
You can find photos under RF or RM licenses at:
- Getty Images (Obviously..). Curated by Getty editors.
- Corbis Images – Owned by Bill Gates. Over 100 million images. Never used them, but prices seem good, and they also accept local currency.
- Dreams Time – A cheap choice for stock photos.
- iStock Photo (Owned by Getty Images) – Same like Getty, but the photos are uploaded by the photographers themselves, and not by Getty. Cheapest RF photo I found there went for ~15 credits, which averages at $22.
- Shutter Stock (I Didn’t try it yet, but will during my next blog post writing).
I’m going to review all these websites and show you the exact purchase process on my next post. If you want to receive an email notification when it’s published, subscribe to my mailing list right now. You will receive blog posts only, and nothing else. You can un-subscribe at any time of course.
Until the next time,
37Signals has recently launched a new version of Basecamp, their 8 year-old market-leading project management tool.
The new version is much more than a facelift: Basecamp has gone through major changes. But did it get any better?
Two weeks ago, I took part in a webinar presenting 37signals’ new version of Basecamp (codename: Basecamp Next).
This is a review post of the new version of Basecamp, after a week of playing around with it, and being a user of the original system for over 7 months.
For readers who are unfamiliar with Basecamp, it is a project management application (or service, or platform… choose your flavor).
By now, it has been already used to manage over 8,000,000 (eight million!!) projects, by companies from all around the world, including some S&P 500 companies (some more impressive statistics are available on the right of the screen).
I made a great effort last year to push Basecamp into my current workplace. It’s been a success ever since.
The greatest advantage of the original Basecamp was simplicity.
Unlike other programs and services in the field, Basecamp does not require you to be an alumnus of The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft And Wizardry in order to figure out how to use it.
For example, it only took me 30-40 minutes to train most of the personnel at my workplace and get them started.
Now that the new Basecamp is out, it’s time to see what has changed, what got better (or worse) and determine which version should you use – The New version, or the Classic one?
Before I start, I just want to make it clear: I am not an affiliate of 37signals. I get no gains from this post besides providing it as a service to my readers.
The New Basecamp: The Good
I just love the product. It made my work life better, and I think that many other people can benefit from it in similar ways.
The most important thing to know about 37signals, is that their support is mind-blowing. Of course, this is true for both New and Classic Basecamp versions.
The support staff are quick, kind, and helpful. They make sure that problems get solved. They care to get better and take note of the customer’s experience. They will tell you the honest truth, even if that means admitting that one of their developers has dropped the ball.
When I train support staff at my workplace, 37signals are my go-to example of how customer support should be handled. I actually sat my boss down and shown him 37signals’ support statistics, in order to persuade him that our company’s support can and should do much better.
Basecamp is now significantly faster. 37signals founders, Jason Fried and DHH claim it’s so fast, that it’s almost indistinguishable from desktop applications. So, Is it?
In one word – no.
In two words – No, BUT.
I have been testing it using a standard 2.5 ADSL connection, at my home in the Middle East. When factoring out the network latency caused by internet packets circling the globe -YES, it is VERY fast.
And the best part of it? DHH (37signals founder himself) publicly shared in great details the exact practices taken in order to achieve this improvement, educating the entire web developers community on how to get it right.
I hope that more and more developers will take notice, as Basecamp might just become the benchmark for similar applications in the near future. And I salute to DHH for taking the time to share and teach.
If you’re interested, here are the posts that DHH wrote about it:
Users of the classic Basecamp learned to live with a slightly cluttered system.
We had to-dos, to-do comments, messages, message comments, to-do lists, to-do list comments, events, event comments, and god knows what other variations.
This caused much confusion to our personnel. People just couldn’t figure it out. One always had to guess where a wanted discussion can be found. They didn’t even call it a discussion, as the phrase has only been coined in the new Basecamp!
Now, the clutter has been removed. The list of terms used in Basecamp had shrank dramatically. Complexity has vastly decreased. Focus is the new king.
The new Basecamp still has to-dos, to-do lists, events and files. But now, the same language is spoken across the board: When you post a comment on a to-do, you start a discussion. Same for to-do lists, events, files, and probably anything else that might be added later.
Now, all entities use the same terms, and all discussions are placed together and easily found on one single page – centralizing the whole project into one view (see next section – design – for more on this).
With much clearer language, Basecamp became one step simpler and easier to use. And the people rejoiced, Hooray! (to honor David Heinemeier Hansson’s native language, I’ll also add: Hurra!)
I have two words for the new design. Clean. Focused.
All parts of the project are now visible on a single effective page.
No more tabs. Instead, items open and close on top of the main page – like piling up papers. Thus, you are always just one click away not only from your previous page, but also its context.
That’s it. Nothing to add.
The Basecamp support staff currently offer an online guided tours to educate people on the new Basecamp and teach how to use it, including a live Q&A session. In the tour, you can get a glimpse of how Basecamp is used internally at 37signals. Interesting and fun!
I love the social proof that they are generating by requiring that all questions are posted on Twitter. Definitely a smart move. I’ll probably write a post on what the heck is social proof in the near future, if you are intrigued :).
Keeping customers In The Loop
In classic Basecamp, keeping the customer in the loop was hard. You could make his company a part of the project, but then worry about everything you or other colleagues might write or upload. Also, at least our customers, never remembered their passwords!
Now, in any discussion you want an outsider to participate, you can loop him in by filling in his email when posting a comment on a discussion. He’ll get a copy of the discussion by mail, and be able to participate in it, without giving him access to anything else. Cool. Smart. Useful.
The great thing about the new Basecamp’s time tracking system is: There is none.
You see, time tracking in the classic Basecamp was simply not good enough. It felt unnatural, patchy, incomplete, almost like a bastard feature born out of the Basecamp marriage.
I believe that 37signals realized it, and decided to live without this feature, rather than maintaining a feature that was not good enough for their customers.
I admire this brave decision. It’s never easy to let go of existing functionality.
According to their blog, they are currently rethinking the whole subject, perhaps for a new and better implementation, or to choose a 3rd-party tool to be integrated with the new Basecamp.
The new Basecamp has tons of cool new features and gimmicks. To be honest, when I first heard some of them, I thought “Oh, come on – who needs that?”.
But, once I saw where and how it was implemented, I got it. The list of new stuff is quite long, so I will only discuss three of the features:
Gimmick No. 1: Endless scrolling
Until two weeks ago, I considered endless scrolling to be malpractice and a complete annoyance. Google paginates, and so do I!
In practice, it’s only used in the “history” page of Basecamp, which lets you scroll down smoothly and linearly through the history of all of the projects that you participate in.
Actually, it makes total sense.
Gimmick No. 2: Real time updates
Ooh, danger! I generally oppose to the idea of real-time updates, as it usually manifests into repetitive and endless interruptions. I expected the guys who wrote “Getting Real” and “Rework” to know that.
Evidently they did, which is why real-time updates in Basecamp have been implemented in a completely non intrusive manner, where:
- Updates are subtle.
- Only the stuff in current view is noticeably updated. If you’re focused on a to-do item, you’ll probably only notice real-time updates of your current item.
- There is no notification panel. I know that some people think that is a major disadvantage, but I think it’s brilliant. If you’re working on something, that item is being updated in real-time. For anything else – just check your email when you finish your task!
Gimmick No. 3: The new Calendar
Basecamp’s new calendar allows users to quickly manage events from all of their projects, in addition to unlimited number of private calendars (that they can choose to share with any user or group in the company). And you can drag and drop. I shall add no more.
The New Basecamp: The Bad
There is an old saying that “there is no good without evil”. Here is the major pitfall I encountered:
No Support for right-to-left languages
Hebrew or Arabic speaking companies that want to use Basecamp in their native language, simply cannot do so.
I really don’t get it. How hard is it to add “paragraph direction” buttons to the text editor? Even Apple, not exactly a company that cares about right-to-left language support, added this functionality to iOS and OS X years ago.
I personally don’t expect a translation or a separate right-to-left design, only the ability to align text to the right, and write it in correct direction.
Dear 37 signals, it’s as simple as adding a button generating the following code:
In the words of Jeremy Clarkson of Top Gear – “How hard can it be??”
The New Basecamp: The Ugly
the New Homepage
I really hope that the people at 37signals are testing conversions on their new sales page, and that I am only seeing one version of it.
I think that the sales page is horrible. Boring graphics, unreadable fonts, and generally out of focus.
To be honest, the only thing that persuaded me to even try the new Basecamp was how good the webinar was. The sales page actually repelled me from trying it out.
As a new customer, I would not understand any of the benefits in the current way in which they are presented.
To sum up this rather long review – The new Basecamp is by far a giant leap from Classic Basecamp, and may I add – an exciting leap. I love it. It’s fresh, fast, and concise.
That said, I’d still love to know what do you think about it? How do you feel about the new features and design? How do you see its pros and cons? Please, share your thoughts.
As a bonus to my readers, first one to comment will enjoy a fantastic boost to his karma 😉