Using TinEye to Avoid the Getty Images Letter

The Getty Letter is infamous among web designers, and I’ve dealt with it firsthand and learned an expensive lesson. Here’s a browser plug-in that can help you avoid the letter in the future.

By Nathan Ingram   |  October 21, 2011

Let me first say clearly that I am not a fan of Getty Images. I was a customer for years and spent in the thousands of dollars for licensed managed artwork for various print projects for clients. Then I got a letter.

Getting a letter from Getty…

Several years ago I received a letter from Getty Images claiming that I had used three of their copyrighted images on my site without a license. And, as a result of this unauthorized usage, I was to remove the specified images immediately and pay $1200 per image in damages or face legal action. There’s plenty of information out there about how Getty manages to find their art on your site, and comments by others like me who feel like they received unfair treatment, and even how some believe that Getty intentionally allowed their images to be indexed by Google so that people would innocently use them and thus become culpable. But that’s not the purpose of this post.

What happened in my case…

It seems that a programmer I had employed from overseas had indeed used Getty photography that he claimed he found on Google images innocently. Yes, I admit, it was my fault that I didn’t insist of having a receipt for the licensing of images – a very expensive mistake I have never made again. But Getty’s tactic of making an exorbitant demand without any notice of cease and desist is very shady to say the least. I would have removed the images had I known there was an issue, and they would have kept a customer. By the way, if you’re stuck in a Getty mess, I recommend this guy.

How to avoid the letter…

Well, first, you do like I did and stop using Getty products altogether. Never again will I purchase anything from or (which they own). Never again. And now I always make sure I have a printed receipt in a file for all stock photography I use on a client site.

But what if you find the perfect image in a Google Images search but you can’t find it on a stock art site? Can you be sure it’s not licensed?

That’s where TinEye comes in…

TinEye is a marvelous web site with a reverse search engine. According to their web site, “You can submit an image to TinEye to find out where it came from, how it is being used, if modified versions of the image exist, or to find higher resolution versions.” This is very handy indeed.

Submit an image and you’ll see in the first few results whether it’s available on a stock art site so you can then investigate the licensing.

You can access TinEye’s functionality on their web site at or download plugins for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Opera. These plugins allow you to do a reverse image search with a simple right-click on an image onscreen. If the image is licensed, you’ll get a result like this one toward the top (image blurred so I don’t get ANOTHER letter!):

Once you’ve verified an image isn’t found on a stock photography site, TinEye is also helpful to locate the highest resolution version of that file so you have a better image to work with.  All in all, this is a must-have plugin for anyone serious about web design.

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  1. Thanks Nathan! This post came at the right and perfect time for two clients of mine. Both gave me images for their header however could not recall where they got them from – Now I can use this tool to help them and future clients.

  2. Outstanding!

    I’m trying to figure out if there’s a good way to keep the purchased stock image licenses in text format on my site somewhere. Was thinking of creating a text document.

    • Great advice I am going to show this article to my clients. Understandably ordinary folks do not understand copy-write legal issues and it is up to the developer to make them aware of consequences. I also will not use istock ever again. Thanks for another excellent article!

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