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Getty sued for $1 billion for selling publicly donated photos

Thu 28 Jul 2016

Getty Library of Congress

Online stock media library Getty Images is facing a $1 billion lawsuit from an American photographer for illegally selling copyright for thousands of photos.

The Seattle-based company, which owns and licenses a collection of over 80 million images, has been sued by documentary photographer Carol Highsmith for ‘gross misuse’, after it sold more than 18,000 of her photos despite having already donated them for public use.

Highsmith’s photos which were sold via Getty Images had been available for free via the Library of Congress. Getty has now been accused of selling unauthorised licenses of the images, not crediting the author, and for also sending threatening warnings and fines to those who had used the pictures without paying for the falsely imposed copyright.

‘The defendants have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people,’ reads the claim. ‘[Getty] is not only unlawfully charging licensing fees…but is falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.’

Highsmith discovered the issue having herself received a letter in December 2015 after using the images in website material for her own non-profit organisation This is America! Foundation. The communication, sent by the License Compliance Services, associated with Getty, charged her with copyright infringement and demanded a $120 payment (approx. £90).

Highsmith argues that Getty has continued its ‘brazen and extortionate’ practice of threatening users of her photos, despite her raised complaint. She claims that the stock library is liable for statutory damages of up to $468,875,000, but is seeking $1 billion after previous copyright infringement judgements against Getty allow her to triple the amount.

In a statement, Getty Images’ vice president for communications commented that this was ‘the first time Getty Images was made aware of the matter.’ She continued that the company is ‘looking into these allegations with the aim of addressing these concerns as soon as possible.’


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