Gouged by Getty OR, Don’t Know Where That Image Is From or Who Took It? DON’T USE IT!


Consider this article a favor of sorts, a cautionary tale for bloggers, writers, social media posters, etc., who like to use images to illustrate the pieces they write and promote online:

I am not only a writer, but also a photographer and a recorded singer/songwriter. As such, I know well the issues related to piracy of copyrighted materials, and the incredible vigilance it takes to prevent one’s work from being used and sold illegally (i.e., without proper credit, without proper payment, without proper permission, etc.). I have found my CDs selling in random Asian countries for $100+ each (who the hell would buy anyone’s CD at that price, and, if they did, where’s my cut?). My photographs have appeared on strangers’ blogs without credit or payment. My articles are frequently excerpted, republished, and copied without permission or compensation, and my books are sold on myriad pirate sites set up  by who-knows-who from who-knows-where.

The Internet has turned the commerce of any product available or searchable online into a sort of mayhem, and we artists could literally spend every waking moment of our lives chasing after the illegal usage and sale of our work. But we don’t, we can’t, or we’d never get anything else done. What we do do is protect our work as best we can with copyrights, trademarks, statements of ownership, watermarks, etc.; do our best to market the authentic sites selling our work, and chase after only what makes sense in terms of piracy, leaving the rest to fate.

Given this slightly insane state of affairs, most artists are very sensitive about using the work of other artists, making sure proper permissions, credit, and payment are transacted as required. Writers for The Huffington Post are instructed to use only permissible images—which, for me, means I typically use my own photographs or tap heavily into Wikimedia Commons. Other sites I’ve written for were not, perhaps, as vigilant as Huff Post, but most insisted that writers find and use photos and images that could be properly credited and/or linked to common usage sites (odds are good Huff Post has the safer set of restrictions!).

For my own blogs, I am very particular about using images I’ve either taken myself, or ones that can be tracked down to “free” sites, open-user sites, or are from someone who’s given me explicit permission. Sometimes I find photos online that I want to use, can’t find any information on them, and so do a thorough “Google image search” to attempt to track down the photographer’s name and/or usage rules that apply. But often, particularly given the rampant use of photos without permission or credit, you can search for pages and not find anything helpful…except for the fact that this image is linked to a bevy of blogs! In that case, I sometimes take a chance and, at the bottom of my blog, will credit the photo as: “Photo of blank: artist unknown,” or “found at Pinterest,” or I’ll link it back to the blog where I found it. And in the six years I’ve been writing online, I have never had a problem.

Until today.

Today I got a letter from Getty Images, alerting me that a random vintage photo I used in an article on this blog several months ago is actually a Getty-licensed image and, as such, I was not only not allowed to use it without permission, I would now have to pay a “settlement” for my infraction. Before I called, I tore though my blog to find the offending photo, immediately took it off the site; frantically did another Google search to see what I could find, and again, it was pages and page of just links to other blogs. But then…. there is was: the link to Getty. It did, in fact, exist, even if it took me pages to find it. In my rush to get that particular article up (it was a response to a rather heated debate going on amongst indie writers and I can only say I must not have been of fully-sound mind at the time!), my search clearly ended just short of finding the rather Google-buried Getty link. 

Getty, of all places. I knew I was fucked. Ignorance of the law, as they say, is no defense. 

I called the number—a nice enough guy answered, and he told me, in a somewhat condescending tone, that even if one doesn’t find a link to Getty or any other licensing company, using any image without first ascertaining the usage rules, the licensing permission, the photographer’s name, even if that image appears all over the Net without attribution or copyright information, doesn’t absolve one of copyright infringement.

I countered:

“So if you can find no information about an image—the photographer, the copyright, any usage restrictions, etc.—you simply can’t use it? Ever? Even if you link back to the place where you found it? Even if you did your absolute best search so you could do the proper thing , you still can’t use it?”

“That’s right,” he said. “The artist is not obligated to make that information easily available. It’s the user’s job to find and get permission.”

Or something like that.

I was astonished. I explained that I was an artist, a photographer; I explained that I’m vigilant about checking for these things, and, as a photographer, know well the frustration of people using work without permission.


I continued:

“All someone has to do is put any image  of mine into a Google image search and my name, my website, my information pops up, easily accessible, easily findable; no excuse to not give proper credit! But you’re saying your guy, a Getty photographer, isn’t easily found, is pages and pages into a search, because basically it’s not his, or your, job to make his images findable?”

Or something like that.

He pretty much responded:


And with that, I was sh*t outta luck: he dinged me $249.00 for using this heretofore unknown image on this little blog of mine, which, in a good month, probably only gets about 20 readers and certainly doesn’t make me any money. No amount of pleading (“I’m an indie artist, I’m scrambling to cover my marketing costs, my own images aren’t being properly purchased,” etc.) had any impact. He was a Getty guy and he was doin’ his job for his client.

Good for him. I wish I had a him.


I have NO idea how he found my very-low-on-Alexa blog; I don’t know if someone alerted them to my use of this particular picture (given how many other sites were using it, they must have had quite a payday today!), but I do know I’ve now gone through every image on every article I’ve ever written to check that all permissions were intact; removed any images I was even remotely uncertain about, and will NEVER again use any image I didn’t either shoot myself, find on Wikimedia Commons, pull off a free usage site, or specifically receive from a living, breathing, permission-giving person.

There goes my Christmas budget. Damn. 

UPDATE: After being told by other bloggers that Getty has an “embed” option, one touting , “it’s easy, legal, and free!!”, I got back in touch with my Getty “handler” and asked why he hadn’t alerted me to this, allowing me to just embed the photo-in-question rather than rake me for $249. His response?

“Your website is commercial in that it promotes you and your writings (some of which you expect to be paid for). The embed offering is not authorized for anything connected to commercial intent.” 

“Commercial.” My little blog here, talking about my self-published books and those of others, is “commercial.” For God’s sake… 

And he continued:

“The use we found was not embedded—which is why we selected the fee associated with the un-embedded use of that image within a blog post (on a website that promotes you and your writings). Had the image been embedded within a blog post that wasn’t directly promoting/selling/advertising in a commercial manner then it’s unlikely you would have heard from our compliance department.

“You can read more about this on our website at http://www.gettyimages.com/company/terms (scroll down to the section on Embedded Viewer).”

I took umbrage:

“Believe me, if that image was somewhere listed as “embeddable,” with the rules about embedding vs. inserting clearly indicated, I doubt I, or anyone else who used it, would have had any problem ascertaining how to use it properly. It was not.

“But, again, your assignation of my blog as being of ‘commercial use’ is patently absurd. I did not use your photo to sell a product; it was used to illustrate an article about writing, the act of writing. To hit me up for $249 as a result of that, for a photo that, if I’d embedded it would have been free, is very…uncharitable, I’ll leave it at that.    

“Basically, it seems wise for any writer/blogger/website owner to NOT use (even via embedding) any Getty image, since the interpretation of what is ‘commercial’ by your company is quite…expansive. I will be sure to advise colleagues accordingly. Which is a shame for the artists you represent, who might appreciate the use of their work in blogs and on websites of articulate writers and bloggers.” 


Big corporations just love us little guys.

I’ll let you decide how to proceed using Getty images, but be very, very sure they can’t ding you for being “commercial.” That’s an expensive little ding. 

Be careful out there. 

“Don’t Use” Photo by LDW (trust me!!)

LDW w glasses

Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

Words & Pictures: How Important IS Cover Art?

"Walking the Cambria Shore" original photo, Hysterical Love back cover
“Walking the Cambria Shore” original photo, Hysterical Love back cover

Someone asked me the other day what was the singlemost reason I chose to self-publish my books. Actually, I have two reasons, which, I suppose, makes this a “doublemost” situation.

First: while I would’ve loved (I mean, seriously loved) the help of an enthusiastic literary agent and the support and heft of a publisher with name value and cultural prestige, procuring those collaborators in our ever-changing industry has become an increasingly elusive event; it certainly was for me. I gave it my all over several years then decided I had no more all to give; since I truly believed what I was doing merited further advancement, and I’d gotten to the point where I just wanted to move forward, I leapt off the indie cliff.

Think I’m still in mid-fall!

Second: I wanted control over the work I put out. Frankly, if you’re not getting the perks of industry collaboration, there has to be some kind of trade-off; one of the most phenomenal trade-offs of “doing it yourself” is controlling exactly how your work comes to fruition. For the uninitiated, this is a big thing because, with traditional publishers, items like final edit, title, and book cover are typically taken out of the hands of the author. Certainly an unknown author. Which would be me. And since I was one of the brave souls striking out independently—for better or for worse—one of the “betterest” reasons was the ability to create and produce EXACTLY the books I wanted.

"Bene Bene" original photo, front cover, Hysterical Love
“Bene Bene” original photo, front cover, Hysterical Love

Now, if you’re like me, a creative perfectionist who’s driven many a musician, producer, co-writer, actor, director, sound mixer, editor, or wildly opinionated drummer crazy with detailed, nuanced, and very specific standards and opinions, you’ll understand that the perk of creative control for someone like me is a boon. I’ve always believed that, if you’ve put in the time to truly learn your craft, gain your experience, hone your expertise, and bring to life a beautifully imagined story and set of characters, you deserve the power to render the final edit, pick the title, and decide on your cover art. Certainly working with professionals in the arena of editing is essential, input on titles is always illuminating, and a cover designer is a must-have, but ultimately it all comes down to YOU.

She Tumbled Down_v
“Street Memorial,” She Tumbled Down

Which is lovely.

And a book cover, to my mind, is one of the most important elements of the final product. Why wouldn’t it be? Books truly are judged by their covers and too often the covers of self-published books are artistically lacking, poorly designed, and amateurishly rendered. Those covers then become litmus tests to the perusing and reading public, signaling to many that this writer may not have a firm grasp on professional market standards and, therefore, likely hasn’t delivered a professionally excellent book. I’m sure that’s not true in every case, but from all reports: most.

So given my bona fides as a photographer with a deep catalogue of images from which to choose—convenient, considering my preference for photographic cover art—my design process was both financially beneficial and extremely simple. Add in the fact that my cover designer is a brilliant graphic artist from Chicago, Grace Amandes, who just happens to be my sister, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d get exactly the covers I wanted. And I did.

AFTER THE SUCKER PUNCHwith its story of a woman who discovers on the night of her father’s funeral that he thought she was a failure, needed a female face in the background, one that reflected the mood and emotional tone of the piece. After pulling an image from my gallery—as well as finding a back cover image that illustrated another story point that takes place in Cambria, CA— I handed the images to Grace, who ultimately came back with a cover I loved: 


With HYSTERICAL LOVE, a more whimsical story about a thirty-something guy struggling to find the meaning of true love and his father’s long-lost soul mate, a through-line involving an ice cream truck became the inspiration. There was no doubt I’d be using a favorite photograph taken in my neighborhood and processed with a “selective color” concept (see original above). Grace found the exact right font and color for the title, and it has become a cover that people literally smile over. I do too!

HL front cover

For “She Tumbled Down,” a short story about a tragic hit-and-run, published only in e-book, I decided to design the cover myself, trusting that, since ebooks don’t require quite the specifications of a print cover, I could pull it off. Inspired by Grace’s work, I came up with another “selective color” version of an image also taken in my neighborhood (see original above). It makes the very poignant point.

She Tumbled Down

Working in both literary and photographic mediums, I’ve discovered my general thrust as an artist is, quite simply, storytelling. Whether visual, literal, or musical, the narrative I see and feel impels the work forward, and so it has been a natural marriage between words and images in bringing my books to happily imagined life…a result that makes all the challenges and occasional indignities of self-publishing all the more easy to forgive!

To view my photography galleries at Fine Art America click HERE.

LDW w glasses

Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.