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Getty Images Hit with Copyright Infringement Lawsuit

Written by Fozia Cheychi on 04 August 2016

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Highsmith is claiming that Getty has infringed her copyright in respect of 18,775 photos that Getty has displayed on its website. The photos in question are an archive that documents people and places throughout the US and were donated by Highsmith to the Library of Congress in 1988.

Highsmiths work has been included in many important books about US cities, states, religion and historical renovations. The collection titled ‘Carol M. Highsmith Collection that she has donated to the Library of Congress is featured in the top six collections. Her work has also been published in many US publications including New York Times, Smithsonian, Architecture and The Washington Post Magazine.

The lawsuit states that Highsmith’s donation afforded the public “the right to reproduce and display all the photographs at issue in this lawsuit, for free’. Highsmith claims that Getty Images was purporting to sell licences in relation to thousands of her photographs on commercial websites and as such is seeking up to $1billion in damages for copyright infringement. Highsmith’s lawyers Carstens & Cahoon state that this huge figure is based on the outcome of a previous (Morel v Getty) which gives courts the discretion to treble the maximum $4,68,875,000 statutory damages sought.

Maryland based Highsmith states that the matter came to her attention when she received a demand for payment for use of one of the images on her own website.
In the first instance Highsmith’s This is America Foundation received a threatening letter from a company named Licence Compliance Service (“LCS”). This letter was sent on behalf of an affiliate of Getty’s- Alamy and it warned that Highsmith’s use of her own photograph was a breach of the company’s licensing terms for the content and advised that the matter could be settled for $120.00. It was at this point that Highsmnith was alerted to the fact that Getty and Alamy were offering her photographs on their websites She noted that Getty was misrepresenting them by stating that the users must buy a copyright license from the company to use them.

Further the lawsuit states “At no time did Ms Highsmith intend to abandon her rights ion her photographs, including any rights of attribution or rights to control the terms of use for her photographs, nor was it ever her intent to enable third parties to purport to sell licences for her photographs or send threatening letters to people who use her photographs”.

Getty images have denied asserting copyright over the contentious images. The Seattle-based library released the following statement: “We believe it is based on a number of misconceptions, which we hope to rectify with the plaintiff as soon as possible. If that is not possible, we will defend ourselves vigorously”. The content in question has been part of the public domain for many years. It is standard practice for image libraries to distribute and provide access to public domain content, and it is important to note that distributing and providing access to public domain content is different to asserting copyright ownership of it”.

 

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