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Cautionary Tale: Beware of Shortcuts When Using Stock Photos

NicheLabs has heard from frantic clients who have received The Letter.  Sent by Getty Images, a leading provider of digital media, this letter identifies and penalizes unauthorized users of Getty Images’ photographs.  We believe our clients and industry contacts can benefit from a deeper understanding of the consequences for using, but not paying for, stock photos.  

You Will Get Caught and You Will Pay

Companies are motivated to use stock photography because of the vast selection of high-quality images and the reduced cost versus hiring a dedicated photographer.  However, if they don’t compensate owners for using images or when they use images beyond the agreed-upon terms, companies will be penalized. 

Regardless of company size, public or private ownership, or the amount of traffic your website receives, Getty will find all instances of copyright infringement.  To learn more about the issue and read FAQs, please visit Getty Images’ License Compliance page.

Image-licensing companies are easily able to locate infringement offenders.  PicScout, owned by Getty Images, enables image owners to both protect and promote their images using fingerprinting technology, which is designed to recognize and locate online occurrences of where the images are used.

While penalties range depending upon the copyright image and the length of time used, among other factors, an Internet search on the topic yields cases where fees totaled $700, while others exceeded $6,000.  In addition, the FBI recently made its anti-piracy seal available for download and use on images in an effort to prevent related crimes. 

Compared to the fines you will incur, upfront savings of pirating photos will compromise your reputation and negatively impact your bottom line. 

Solutions for the Small Budgets

Budget-friendly alternatives exist for companies that cannot pay ongoing royalty fees for images.   Getty Images offers royalty-free and royalty-managed licensed images.  When considering which route to choose, consider a few of the key differences below. 




multiple uses and applications allowed

limited to use-by-use basis

never exclusive and all users have access

some control over where images appear

ideal for small budgets

ideal for unique applications


While Getty Images was the first company to license imagery online and offers royalty-free stock imagery, other companies also provide access to royalty-free stock images, including Bigstock, with an online database containing more than 13 million royalty-free images, and iStockphoto, with tens of thousands of contributing artists.

You can easily avoid incurring penalties by reading, understanding and adhering to all terms of providers’ licensing agreements prior to using stock imagery.  Please contact us at or call 866.413.7952 if you have questions or concerns specific to your company’s or industry’s use of stock photos.