Have you ever used a picture from the web on your blog or website? Did you take the time to verify that you had the proper copyright to use that image?
If not, you could soon be the unhappy recipient of a settlement demand letter (AKA "extortion letter") that asks for a large sum of money to pay for "damages."
In recent years, companies like Getty Images, iStockphoto, Masterfile, Corbis, Jupiter Images, and others have become aggressive in pursuing people who infringe on an image's copyright. It doesn't matter whether you use an unlicensed image accidentally or intentionally – the consequences are the same.
You can also run afoul of copyright if a web designer improperly uses an image on your site without your knowledge. You will still be held liable even if you didn't post the image.
Most extortion letters will demand that you pay an amount somewhere between $800 and $1,500 in "damages" to the company that owns the copyright. This amount is for a single infraction. Occasionally, the amount may be as high as $2,000 or $3,000 per infraction. Just imagine if you accidentally violated copyright on three or four images. You might receive a letter demanding $7,000 or more!
Tens of thousands of settlement letters are sent out every year, and that number is growing. This is no longer strictly about protecting photographers – it's a business model. In fact, it's called "infringement monetization." Conservative estimates reveal that Getty is banking tens of millions per year from this strategy alone. None of the settlements that are collected are paid out to photographers. They go straight to Getty's bottom line.
Did You Get a Settlement Demand Letter for an Image on Your Blog?
So what should you do if you happen to receive a settlement demand from Getty Images or another photo reseller?
First, take a deep breath. There's no need to panic.
Second, immediately remove the image or images from your site.
Most importantly, do not respond out of fear. This is how Getty et al want you to respond. Rather, do some research to find out if there may be another option for you.
One website, ExtortionLetterInfo.com, provides free information to people who've received settlement demand letters. It's an excellent place to start.
Obviously, whether you've already received a settlement demand letter or not, it's critical that you audit all your websites and make sure you have the proper licenses on each and every image you've used.
 About the Author: Ryan Healy  is a direct response marketer and BoostCTR writer. Since 2002, he has helped scores of clients sell more products and boost their bottom lines. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, business growth, and product creation.
All images in this blog post via Flickr Creative Commons . Click the images to find their sources.