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Carol Highsmith self-portrait in a broken mirror that she photographed during the Willard Hotel restoration, Washington, DC (c. 1980–90) (image via Wikimedia Commons)

In December, documentary photographer Carol Highsmith received a letter from Getty Images accusing her of copyright infringement for featuring one of her own photographs on her own website. It demanded payment of $120. This was how Highsmith came to learn that stock photo agencies Getty and Alamy had been sending similar threat letters and charging fees to users of her images, which she had donated to the Library of Congress for use by the general public at no charge. 

Now, Highsmith has filed a $1 billion copyright infringement suit against both Alamy and Getty for “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs. “The defendants [Getty Images] have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people,” the complaint reads. “[They] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees … but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.” According to the lawsuit, Getty and Alamy, on their websites, have been selling licenses for thousands of Highsmith’s photographs, many without her name attached to them and stamped with “false watermarks.”

Photo by Carol Highsmith on the Getty site, with a false watermark (image via Highsmith v. Getty et al. complaint by the author)

Since 1988, Highsmith has been donating tens of thousands of photographs of people and places in the United States to the Library of Congress, making them free for public use. The institution calls the donation “one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the Library.” The Carol M. Highsmith Collection is featured in the library’s Prints & Photographs Division, alongside the likes of Dorothea Lange’s Dust Bowl and Depression photographs.

In fact, it was partly Lange’s work with the Farm Security Administration that inspired the now-70-year-old Highsmith to begin her own project of documenting all 50 states through her nonprofit This is America! FoundationChances are, you’ve seen the results before. The United States Postal Service featured Highsmith’s photographs of the Jefferson Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial on stamps, and her work has appeared in Smithsonian Magazine, Time, the New York Times, and the Washington Post Magazine. 

Carol Highsmith, “Houston, Texas Skyline” (2014), part of the Lyda Hill Texas Collection at the Library of Congress (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Since each violation of copyright in this case allows the plaintiff to seek damages up to $25,000, the statutory damages for Getty’s 18,755 violations amount to $468,875,000. But because the company was found to have violated the same copyright law within the past three years — in 2013, Daniel Morel was awarded $1.2 million in a suit against Getty, after the agency pulled his photos from Twitter and distributed them without permission to several major publications — Highsmith can elect to seek three times that amount: hence the $1 billion suit.

“The economic damage that Ms. Highsmith has suffered includes, without limitation, any and all revenue received by the Defendants based on purported licenses sold for the Highsmith Photos. These funds represent money that Ms. Highsmith could have received had she attempted to monetize her photos through the Defendants,” the complaint states.

“The injury to Ms. Highsmith’s reputation has been … severe,” it continues. “There is at least one example of a recipient of a threatening letter for use of a Highsmith Photo researching the issue and determining that Ms. Highsmith had made her photos freely available and free to use through the Library website. … Therefore, anyone who sees the Highsmith Photos and knows or learns of her gift to the Library could easily believe her to be a hypocrite.”

Update, 8/1, 2:40pm: Getty Images has issued a statement that says the company is reviewing Highsmith’s complaint. It also states:

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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Carey Dunne

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering arts and culture. Her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Baffler, The Village Voice, and elsewhere.

356 replies on “Photographer Files $1 Billion Suit Against Getty for Licensing Her Public Domain Images [UPDATED]”

  1. Disgusting. I hope she wins, and Getty and Alamy pay not only financially, but with their reputations. This is shameful.

          1. She can sue for damages to her reputation in civil court. If she wins there then likely criminal charges, the government doesn’t have the money to investigate this kind of crime unfortunately. As for Getty if they have sniffer software to find images being used unlicensed they can certainly use it ascertain if it is in the library of congress’ collection. Ignorance is not Bliss.

          2. In a way, they can’t (ascertain whether something is in the Library of Congress) because they are entirely motivated by greed. Or rather, the department that deals with scanning the web and collecting the money is motivated by greed. Copyright is mostly determined by who has the most and biggest lawyers and has very little to do with protecting artists’ interests, as this story shows.

          3. Understood. But there is a common interest in discouraging fraud, which is why we have laws about it, which I think ought to be applied to those at Getty responsible for it.

  2. A not-so-minor flaw in her claim: she placed the images in the public domain, so she doesn’t own a copyright in them & the first requirement for an infringement action is proof of ownership. She can get an injunction to stop Getty from claiming ownership, but she can’t file an infringement action.

    1. The author of the original work still (legally) retains authorship and (most likely) the copyright. There isn’t really such a thing as “public domain”, so the specifics of how she gave the gift to the LOC becomes key.

      Most of the available legal options only confer limited copyright to the licensee, none remove authorship AFAIK.

      For example, if she gave the LOC an exclusive, but non-transferrable, license to use and distribute the photographs freely directly to the public… then a third party selling non-exclusive licenses to said images would be pretty clear infringement and she’d be in her right to pursue without any problems.

        1. But, there is no such legal entity as “the public domain” and no legally tested way of putting work into it. There is a lot of uncertainty as to whether it is even legally possible to sign away copyrights in the US. If she had a lawyer involved when giving the LOC her photographs, chances are it was done in the form of a regular license.

          As far as I know, no author has tried to retroactively test the validity of “public domain” in order to sue a third party.

          I guess we’ll find out.

          1. There is definitely a legal entity known as the “public domain.” It contains all works that cannot be protected by copyright or in which the copyright term has ended. But you make a good point about the possibility of authors actually relinquishing copyright and placing their works in the PD before the term ends. While there is some controversy about whether that is possible the 9th circuit has suggested it is:

            “It is well settled that rights gained under the Copyright Act may be abandoned. But abandonment of a right must be manifested by some overt act indicating an intention to abandon that right.” Micro Star v. Formgen Inc., 154 F.3d 1107, 1114 (9th Cir. 1998)

            Interestingly, I just learned that she is not actually suing for infringement, but for falsifying the copyright notice. Here is the complaint: https://www.facebook.com/brianlfrye/posts/10155024247609256?comment_id=10155024345154256&notif_t=feed_comment&notif_id=1469674262230744

            I still don’t think its a winning strategy, because I don’t see how you can sue someone for falsifying the copyright notice on a work in which you don’t actually own the copyright, without running into a serious Dastar problem.

          2. My pleasure, thanks for your excellent comments! This is a really interesting case. Maybe (hopefully?) it will prompt the courts to clarify how to go about dedicating works to the PD.

          3. A lot of my Creative Commons-loving friends would certainly rejoice if it became easier to put things out there for free, and if less uncertainty was left for such licenses as CC0

          4. Brian and Kim, thanks for a thoughtful and illuminating exchange. And rancor free. Now I gotta read your links….

          5. What’s different in this case though is the author didn’t directly put the works in the public domain. She donated them to the Library of Congress, which de facto does place them in the public domain, but she didn’t do so directly herself, which could be interpreted as not an overt act regarding abandonment of copyright. But I agree that there’s a lot of gray area in this case – there always is. I suspect the results of this case will hinge more on the reputation aspects and not copyright. Likely this is just a first step in a lengthy battle.

          6. Thank you! Here is something for the lawyers – though she explicitly transfers all copyright to “the public”, she is giving the physical photos to an institution, the Library of Congress, and giving them discretion over who can access the photos. Plus, the donation has the standard CC reservation that reproductions be identified with her name.

            “The public” is not a legal person, it is a general principle. That, with the duties the LoC is charged with, suggest that she actually intended to transfer copyright. But even there, she dictates conditions which suggest that her intention was more of a Creative Commons release than an outright transfer of ownership.

            I would argue that, anyway. The conveyance contract appears to predate but anticipate the Creative Commons convention. The alternative is very messy. The conveyance to the LoC includes terms that are manifestly not being observed by the LoC, and suggests that they have violated the terms of the gift. If that were the case, then the contract is void and entire copyright would revert. That is a much messier situation than interpreting her gift as an assignment of partial rights.

          7. Probably her best (only?) argument. But it strikes me as cleaner & more consistent with the express intent of the gift instrument to interpret it as voluntarily relinquishing copyright & thereby placing the works in the public domain. While I guess you could argue that isn’t possible, the 9th circuit has said it is & I suspect other courts would agree. I think a key weakness for arguing that the LoC isn’t adhering to the terms of the gift agreement is that the dedication of all rights is directly inconsistent with the reservation of attribution rights. So I guess the question is which would control? Typically, particular contractual provisions are subordinate to general intent…

          8. The term “public domain” does not occur anywhere in the Copyright Act (17 USCS Sects. 101 – 810). It is therefore a non-legal term for a fuzzy concept which nevertheless includes specific legal situations.

            An item which is not copyrighted is “public domain”. However, since 1976, copyright exists when an item is created, so any item which qualifies for copyright is, in fact, copyrighted.

            Therefore, when speaking of an artist “placing something in the public domain”,we are talking about assigning rights. This is done by contract (a Creative Commons license being the most common form), and rarely includes ALL copyright. In this case, if she did donate all copyright to the LoC, they would be the copyright holder. The copyright itself will continue to exist until the amount of time specified under copyright law has passed.

            (Edit: I’m reading this a bit out of order. I wrote this before reading the actual gift wording. See above).

          9. She doesn’t have to own the copyright in order to bring the complaint, though. They claimed to be the copyright holder *to* her, and demanded to be financially compensated for the use of the photos that they have no ownership interest in.

          10. Yeah, that’s actually just another problem for her action, because it looks like the statute she is relying on doesn’t apply on its face. 17 usc 1202a provides: “(a) False copyright management information.–No person shall knowingly and with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement–
            (1) provide copyright management information that is false, or
            (2) distribute or import for distribution copyright management information that is false.”

            In other words, she has show intent to infringe. Which is impossible if the works are in the PD. Also, the caselaw suggests that courts will only find standing for copyright owners whose works have had copyright info stripped. She might have a contract or tort action, but I don’t think she even states a claim under the Copyright Act.

          11. “In other words, she has show intent to infringe.” True enough.

            “Which is impossible if the works are in the PD.” Not even the tiniest bit correct. Under what possible conditions could you argue that Getty accidentally made a false claim of ownership of the photos?

            Getty sent a cease & desist letter.
            Getty claimed to be the copyright owners.
            Getty demanded payment for use of photos that they do not own.

            The letter itself is proof of the DMCA violation, because it IS the violation.

          12. If a work is PD, it is not protected by copyright, so copyright infringement is impossible. Making a false claim of copyright ownership in a PD work could be fraud, but cannot be copyright infringement. Cf. Dastar.

          13. I think you’re missing the point. She’s suing for the misrepresentation of copyright, which is most definitely illegal under the DMCA. The Getty letter itself is both the violation and the proof of that violation – they claimed that she owes them royalties for use of their copyrighted material. It’s still a DMCA violation and technically copyright infringement.

          14. Read the statute. By its terms, it doesn’t apply unless there is a copyright to infringe:

            (a)False Copyright Management Information.—No person shall knowingly and with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement—
            (1) provide copyright management information that is false, or
            (2) distribute or import for distribution copyright management information that is false.
            (b)Removal or Alteration of Copyright Management Information.—No person shall, without the authority of the copyright owner or the law—
            (1) intentionally remove or alter any copyright management information,
            (2) distribute or import for distribution copyright management information knowing that the copyright management information has been removed or altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law, or
            (3) distribute, import for distribution, or publicly perform works, copies of works, or phonorecords, knowing that copyright management information has been removed or altered without authority of the copyright owner or the law,
            knowing, or, with respect to civil remedies under section 1203, having reasonable grounds to know, that it will induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal an infringement of any right under this title.

          15. Oh, sweet christ.

            “(a)False Copyright Management Information.—No person shall knowingly and with the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement—
            (1) provide copyright management information that is false, or (2) distribute or import for distribution copyright management information that is false.”

            If I tell you that you owe me money for using my photo when it’s not actually my photo, then I am providing false copyright information. It’s not that difficult.

          16. All of the elements of the statute must be satisfied to make out a claim. It is impossible “to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement” of a work that is in the public domain, because it is not protected by copyright & therefore cannot be infringed. So this plaintiff cannot make out a claim without showing that the works are not in the public domain. That is why the complaint desperately tries to argue that she retains some copyright interest in the works, despite the explicit dedication to the public domain in the gift instrument.

            In other words, Getty’s actions may be fraudulent, but they are not infringing & do not fall afoul of section 1202, because the works in question are not protected by copyright.

          17. The photos are not under copyright, but that’s irrelevant to the claim in question.

            This isn’t hard to understand. It is a violation under DMCA to claim that you own the copyright if you do not. It doesn’t matter who *does* own the copyright, or even if there *is* a copyright – the violation is in claiming that YOU are the owner if you are not.

            And if you read the actual complaint (which I have), no, she isn’t basing her claim on any interests that she may or may not have in the ownership of the photos. The claim is based on Getty’s actions. Their demand letter makes a claim that (a) the photos ARE under copyright, and (b) that they own that copyright. Oh, and (c) that they are owed money for the use of those photos.

            Even outside of the DMCA, Getty’s actions would be illegal under most fraud statutes (and possibly could fit under most extortion statutes as well, since they threaten legal action if their financial demands aren’t met). What they’ve done is no different than the scam phone calls pretending to be the IRS or a Nigerian prince email. They’re attempting to collect money that they are not owed.

            And it’s actually irrelevant to the legal case that it’s being brought by the original photographer – the DMCA action would be just as valid if you’d used one of the photos and then received a letter from Getty. (And trust me, Getty sends these letters out like so much confetti.) The fact that she took the photos just meant that she recognized that Getty doesn’t own the copyright.

          18. So, your position is that the language of the statute does not matter. That is typically not a winning argument. Section 1202 explicitly requires a showing of “the intent to induce, enable, facilitate, or conceal infringement.” That showing cannot be made if the works are in the public domain, because there is nothing to infringe.

            That is why the section of the complaint laying out the 1202 claims states the following:

            “131. The Highsmith Photos are original works of authorship subject to the full protection of the United States copyright laws.
            132. Ms. Highsmith is the sole and exclusive owner of all rights, title, and interest in and to the copyrights in the Highsmith Photos, subject to licenses Ms. Highsmith has given to others, including without limitation the non-exclusive, free license Ms. Highsmith has given to the public to reproduce and display the Highsmith Photos.”

            There is an obvious tension between these statements and the language of the gift instrument, but Highsmith’s lawyers presumably realize that they cannot bring a 1202 action if the photos are in fact in the public domain.

            Moreover, you seem to have misread the complaint. Ms. Highsmith received a single letter from Getty, but her action claims damages on its false copyright claims to “18,755 Highsmith photos.” Even on your incorrect reading of Section 1202, she would only be entitled to bring an action on the basis of the one photo was was the subject of the demand letter sent to her, not on the basis of any of the other photos, which she does not own and has no interest in if they are in the public domain.

            Mind you, I am not in any way defending Getty’s conduct, which I find reprehensible and fraudulent. I am merely pointing out that it cannot be the subject of a 1202 action if the photos in question are in the public domain. The only real question here is whether or not the gift instrument placed the photos in the public domain. I think it did & that there are solid public policy reasons for reading it in that fashion, because the alternative reading would make it difficult or impossible for an author to intentionally place a work of authorship in the public domain.

          19. Yep yep yep. Of course, there is a lot of interesting territory down the fraud path and I’m disappointed she isn’t exploring it immediately. This is probably a broad pattern of behavior with Getty and it should be easy to find other examples and artists. That has class action potential. And mail and/or wire fraud potential. Those require intent, but not to infringe; only to bilk the recipient out of money. Getty would probably go a long way out of their way to avoid a discovery process. Does anyone really think that would turn up clean?

      1. Interesting point, but she’s bringing an action under the Copyright Act & I’m not aware of any provision for private AGs or qui tam actions under that Act, nor does she purport to be bringing the action in the public interest. She’s just requesting damages for herself.

          1. That is not consistent with the gift instrument she originally issued, in which she explicitly states that she gives the public all rights, including copyrights. She places certain restrictions on the use, such as the LOC being the distributor and requiring due credit to her and the library when using the photos, but she does seem to relinquish her copyrights.

          2. Yes, she relinquished her copyright, but *not* to Getty, or to anyone that has since transferred them to Getty. When Getty represented to her that she owed them money for use of their copyrighted material, they falsified the copyright notice, because they don’t own the copyright.

    2. Yes she can. Getty broke copyright law by profiting from her work that she has made public domain. Any profits must go to the creator because no contract for licensing exists. Copyright exists to protect the creator from other’s profiting from and eliminating the ability of the creator to make a living. Getty use is fraud pure and simple.

      1. Almost none of what you wrote is true. Please read up on how copyright law actually works before you make authoritative claims. 1. Profiting from another’s work is not inherently illegal. 2. Copyright law doesn’t specify where “profits” must go. 3. Copyright exists to promote the useful arts, not to “protect the creator”. The means is not the ends.

  3. As the fine crew of Jurassic Five said “Nowadays when you’re samplin’ s**t you gotta clear it…”

  4. Horrible, I hope she is awarded 2 billion just because of the disgusting willful pride that Getty thought they could get away with this .

          1. Nope, 1st I was for Huckabee then Cruz.. I don’t see that there is anybody but The LORD Jesus Christ and His soon appearing for His Church that can remedy anything on this sin cursed planet. ( Acts 20:21; 1st John 5:13; Romans 6:17,23; Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 1:16; Acts 16:31; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1st Corinthians 1:21; Philippians 1:6)KJB. His appearing mentioned in 1st Thessalonians 4:16,17; 1st Corinthians 15:51,52; Titus 2:13)KJB. And to that I say –> “..even so, COME, LORD Jesus …” ( Revelation 22:20)KJB

          2. Right, which is why when you were told that one thing wasn’t legally possible, you upped the bid. Just like what Trump said he’d do with his wall when Mexico refused to pay for it.

          3. I was kidding, which you should have been able to pick up on. Trump probably was not kidding and possibly believes his own rhetoric. Cruz and Huckabee are two I could trust. I am disappointed and do not understand why Huckabee endorsed Trump though. Not much of any choice now for President. I will praying for whatever God wants to happen. I do not know what that is but (Daniel 4:17)KJB, may gives a little clue.

  5. I hope this woman wins her lawsuit. As a photographer myself, I can’t imagine having a corporation steal my photos and then make money from them.

  6. Having run an advertising agency and paid large amounts of money for Getty images – I am now beginning to wonder how many of those images could have / should have been free. What Getty and Alamy have done is, at best, dishonest. I hope Carol Highsmith wins the whole amount.

    1. Or worse as in the Daniel Morel case, you might have been paying the wrong people. At least with work that should have been free you know the rightful owners won’t be tracking you down demanding a payment to them or demanding your work be removed from circulation.

      They’re not just ripping their customers off with behaviour like this, they’re risking doing serious damage to their customers’ businesses too.

      1. Then you’re just stealing from every single person who purchased the rights to use pictures she meant to be a gift to the public. Explain to me how that’s better? Either way, they are ripping someone off.

        1. I meant worse for the person licensing from Getty. As they would not just have been ripped off by Getty, but could also be liable to pay for the images again without any guarantee that they’d get their money back from Getty or that the real owners wouldn’t ask for more.

          What Getty’s done is scummy either way. My point was about how badly their customers who licensed images from them in good faith could be hit.

    2. I know plenty of people that are frustrated by their work being stolen by the general internet.. but to find one of the largest photo rights websites is stealing peoples’ work and using it for their own gain is horrific. Time to find a way to buy directly from photographers!

      1. Some photographs DO license their work directly Tom, but the stock agencies who assist in the effort are not well known.

      2. Tom, direct purchasing of images and the like used to be the only way that ad agencies obtained such images. Places like Getty Images didn’t exist.
        You have been paying for images that could have been obtained directly from the artist or their agent for far less. Most freelance artists are unable to sell anything, and advertisers have hired artists as talented as Norman Rockwell and Walt Disney before they were truly famous and wealthy. Rockwell actually made a good living as a “commercial artist” before his paintings were recognized as high art.
        Freelance photographers used to make their living the same way. I would guess that you can find some agents who will arrange for some freelancers to come by with portfolios of photos for your agency to purchase for far less than Getty charges, and little risk of them passing off public domain photos as their own.
        Good luck.

        1. The problem is scope and convenience. In the time (days? weeks?) it’d take someone to find ten photographers, arrange appointments, and spend hours looking over their photos one at a time, they could find thousands of targetted, relevant-to-their-needs photos by tens of thousands of photographers on one of the stock image sites, using their search engines and tags. (Granted, most image site search/tag systems are polluted by artists trying to game the system, but it’s still better than searching through all the pics one at a time.)

          Image sites like Getty do add quite a lot of value to the process, and are worth keeping around, if we can get them to quit with the egregious theft demonstrated here. :/

          1. Kinda like saying the Cosa Nostra added value while selling stolen goods from others.
            Your thinking is twisted.

          2. Since you clearly didn’t read my whole comment, the last bit was, “if we can get them to quit with the egregious theft demonstrated here.”

            I’m not saying they haven’t massively screwed up, because they have. Duh. But the function they serve is a valuable one, and if they can clean up their act and only license pics they have contracts on, they (and other sites like them) are definitely worth having around.

          3. Exactly. There are plenty of talented photographers out there (and unfortunately, a lot of people who think owning an expensive camera makes them a photographer) – cutting through the clutter to get noticed is ridiculously difficult if you don’t have an agent or go through a photo service. Hell, even then it’s difficult.

            The thing that gets me is that it’s not like Getty (or other agencies) aren’t profitable even if they stick to pictures they actually ‘own’. If they see a collection they think would be even more profitable, there’s nothing in the world stopping them from making contact with the photographer and arranging to represent him/her. Of course, that would require them to actually work at it….

          4. This is not an acceptable response to the comment above. Read more carefully, and breathe slowly before you react.

          5. But the photographer can tag their photos, and take advantage of what Getty is doing as well. Granted, it’s time-consuming, but…
            aren’t we also to blame for making it more difficult to find images?
            What Getty did was outright theft…
            and we the photographer can tag our images to make them easier to find, by subject matter. Because of the sheer number of photos out there…it is de riguer to do

          6. I’m not sure you mean by “take advantage of what Getty is doing as well.” If you mean that photographers can take advantage of the theft, I’m not sure how. If you mean that it’d be nice if all photographers tagged their pics properly, making them easier to find on the stock pic sites, I wholeheartedly agree. I’m not an artist, but I am a customer. If I’m looking for a pic of a young man, frex., being shown a bunch of photos of women, children, flowers, and household appliances just slows down my search and makes me testy. :/ Artists who put irrelevant tags on their pics — just to get more views, I guess…? — are polluting the system and need a good smack.

            Someone above commented that people/businesses who need pics can meet with artists individually, and yeah, I suppose. But frankly, I think that approach is a waste of time for everyone, unless you’re looking for a specific, contracted-ahead commission. If I want stock art, I want to be able to look through a huge batch of (relevant) pics in an hour or three, find one I can use for my project, and move on. And I imagine it’s better for the artists to be able to put their pics up on a site that handles the display, licensing, and distribution of each pic in various resolutions, and sends them a check periodically, allowing the artist to spend more time making art and less time visiting clients and doing paperwork. The stock art sites are a great solution for both artists and customers, if we can get them to stop being thieving douchebags. :P

          7. Tagging their photos, is what I meant.
            It still might not help entirely…because there are a lot of photos out there. And it’s true…the stock agencies were supposed to be there for the photographer…not rip them off.

          8. Ah, that makes sense. :) And yes, I agree. As someone who’s bought stock art, and will buy more, I don’t GET why a photographer would upload a picture of a Christmas tree with no people in it, and tag it with “men” and “women” and “children.” Seriously? What, do they think that if I’m searching for a picture of a little girl, that I’ll see their awesomesauce photo of a Christmas tree and think, “Wow, what a great pic! I’ll completely redesign my project so I can use it!” In actuality, it makes me think bad words in the photographer’s direction before I move on.

            It’s true that there are bazillions of photos out there. But if a stock site has a robust search system, you can learn to make good use of the tags and find useful art without (usually) wasting too much time. Having an unpolluted tag system would help a lot, but the basic system itself works well, and I really can’t think of a better way to do it.

          9. Self-tagging photos is problematic, because artists aren’t the best judge of the photos’ content. What is likely to work better is image recognition software that is accurate enough to find photos to a rather complex query based on the images themselves.

            This would also avoid the problem of artists adding non-relevant tags to “get more hits” and thus polluting the tag space.

          10. Pretty much this. Getty appears to be ripping off photogs right and left, and that’s pure evil. Claims that middlemen like this are inherently evil ‘becauz intarwebs!!!!’ are just stupid, though; seriously, if I’m looking for quality photos, am I going to spend hours browsing individual websites? Uh-uh. Flickr/SmugMug/etc. are better, but still have a huge amount of junk to dig through just to find good stuff. There is an important role for groups that take the time and effort to curate and collate – and as a (hobbyist) photog myself, if I ever get good enough to want to try and sell my photos, having someone to take all the busywork off me is worth paying a reasonable percentage.

        2. Norman Rockwell was a F R A U D. Anyone who has done any research on him knows that he literally did nothing more than superimpose photographs for his paintings, and then ‘illustrate’ his art. He had the world fooled for the longest time.

          1. Research the phrase “camera obscura” before you claim that anyone who paints from a picture is a fraud.

          2. Congratulations. You’ve won “the dumbest comment on the internet” award for this week.

          3. ballisticpanic is right. Camera obscure style painting has been a frequent and valuable part of complex figurative painting since the technique was rediscovered during the Renaissance. Since the development of photography, artists have largely given up the technique in favor of enlarged photos, but working from life through fixing techniques is not a cheat.

        3. Hunting for the best priced for art covered by copyright is one thing. Charging for free art without owning any right to do so is quite another.

      3. And most of those general internet users do so out of ignorance. (Not that this makes it RIGHT, but it’s somewhat understandable.) You know Getty and Alamy KNOW better.

      4. There are image/art purchasing sites that pay the artists directly-Fine Art America sells usage rights that are photographer based. In other words, the photographer sets up everything including pricing. FAA does not take a separate fee.

    3. But you couldn’t have used [most] of these ‘public domain’ images* for specific uses such as Advertising. Do you understand that as an image buyer and user?

      Check out http://www.stocksy.com — photographers get 50% and not a paltry amount like through Getty, and they’re all vetted for license-ability. No batches of images they or someone else steals.

      *edited to clarify: those images with humans and privately owned property/art/landmarks/names/products as the subjects of the photo. i.e. probably most of the collection we’re referring to. Advertising use is not Editorial use or personal use, and requires legal releases (permission) from subjects and content owners (the owner of the Biltmore hotel, for example) before you can use their likeness in an Ad. Whether the image is in Public Domain, or whether the photographer or Getty allows it, is irrelevant — you have to have permission from the individuals in the photos…and from the private property owners…etc. TO. USE. IT. IN. ADVERTISING.

      Not paparazzi. That’s Editorial/news. Not personal blog use. That’s personal. Not a private print on your wall. AD.VERT.ISING. USE.

      Read the rest of this thread below and watch out for people posting opinions instead of actual factual information. :/

      /unsubscribed/

      1. Of course you can use public domain images for advertising. You can use them for any purpose. What you can’t do is claim to own the copyright in those images and sell them fraudulently.

        1. Eh, yes and no on that one. If you are using an image or an object, place, etc. it may be ok for commercial use/advertising but an image depicting a person is going to require a release from said person. Like, I can’t go find a public domain image of Paula Deen and then put it on my advertisement for butter and then just say “oh it’s cool, it’s in the public domain”

          1. Since copyright is now automatic at the moment a work is fixed in a tangible form (as opposed to copyright on filing, as it once was) and that the term is life of the author plus 70 years (and Paula Deen is less than 70) it would be hard to find a public domain image of Paula Deen.

          2. I wasn’t really implying that there are public domain images of Paula Deen, my point was just that images containing a person/people even if in the public domain could require some additional clearances to be used for advertising.

          3. It amazes me that so many people claim to know about a specific, legal use of photography, and show up to just give their opinion. And they can’t be bothered to Google it if they don’t believe us?

            People: Advertising use requires model and property releases for many, many kinds of images! In the US. That is not an opinion, that is law, and even the photographer cannot give away the subjects rights in that instance, whether by putting in public domain or not. Nor can Getty.

            quick googley:

            #8-10 at http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/10-misconceptions-about-the-public-domain.html

            https://pixabay.com/en/blog/posts/public-domain-images-what-is-allowed-and-what-is-4/

            Getty’s wiki, with plenty of American examples of property needing releases for advertising use: http://wiki.gettyimages.com/category/landmarks/

            https://asmp.org/articles/business-and-legal-faq.html#.V5wRWzkrJR4
            “The basic, general rule is that you need a release from people to use photographs showing a recognizable likeness of them for purposes of trade or advertising.”

            etc. etc.

          4. There certainly can be public domain images of Paula Deen or a one-month-old. Public domain can be declared by the creator of a work well before a copyright expires. This is exactly what Highsmith did.

          5. Paula Deen would be the subject, not the author. And authors can and do dedicate work to the public domain before it would enter it by default.

            Such a photo could be used for editorial purposes, such as news or commentary, but not in an ad.

          6. An image can be “placed in the public domain” by its author, as the subject of this story has done. You don’t need to wait 70 years or even 70 minutes.

        2. Exactly right. Getty would be within its rights to put the photos up as part of a site where you could pay for images. However, if you get a copy from somewhere else, they sure don’t have the right to send you a bill.

          1. No they couldn’t even do that, because they have no right to charge for it, they do not own the image. They cannot charge for a license they cannot give, only the author can give the license. And they have specifically been sending letter to people saying they owe Getty for using the images. They are in the wrong in every aspect of this case.

          2. This is exactly the only thing Getty did wrong. But how could Getty know where you got it? As a practical matter when they find a picture on the internet that matches one in their collection, they pretty much have to assume that it might be a copy of theirs. In the future perhaps they will flag pictures in their collections that are in the public domain so as to not press a claim for them, but as a practical matter doing so was against their own interests up until now.

            Consider this alternate scenario: Joe, a photographer gives a photo to Getty as the licensing authority for one of his photographs. Getty gets a cut every time the photograph is licensed and Joe gets a cut. Everyone is happy. Getty scans the internet for unlicensed copies of the photo and finds one on Sharon’s site and issues a letter. Sharon gets it and responds I didn’t get the photo from you, I got it from Joe, who is a friend of mine. Getty says oops, sorry, carry on. Is anyone in the wrong in this scenario? Should anyone get sued?

            Public Domain photographs are legally allowed to be re-published and re-licensed. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way but it is. In the case of public domain items the above scenario still applies, but the original author is no longer in the picture, so Getty gets to keep the whole fee, and the part of Sharon is now played by the original author. Other than that is is exactly the same, nobody did anything wrong.

          3. She would have been better off to release them under a Creative Commons or similar license. These allow you to stipulate that derivative works must be freely shared as with the original. Public domain is a free-for-all. However, Getty had to know that people didn’t get the image off their site. If they watermarked the images, any taken from their site without paying would be obvious. Also, given that they already got busted for this kind of thing, they should have cleaned up their collection accordingly.

          4. Legally, you have it backward. Getty cannot bill anyone unless they know the the image was likely from their stock. They can make an inquiry, but to demand payment is fraud.

            A Cadillac dealer cannot go up to anyone who has a Cadillac and bill them on the assumption that it was driven off their lot. The dealer knows that there are other sources for the same car, so this would not be legal.

            The same principle applies here.

          5. How likely does it need to be? They have a good faith belief that the image was copied from them and the letter they send states that and provides a method to dispute the assertion. That sounds like exactly what you described.

          6. Actually they don’t have that good faith belief. Getty acquired these images from the public domain; they have to accept that others will, too. And as others have stated in this discussion, the burden of proof is on Getty, not this photographer.

          7. How is it possible to say that they have a good faith belief when they know the images are available elsewhere for free? And even if they have such a belief, so might the Cadillac dealer in my example. But it is not a reasonable or even likely belief.

            How likely does it need to be? More likely that they got it from Getty than from the Library of Congress. Getty did not meet this minimal standard.

          8. How do you know that it was not more likely? And more importantly, how would Getty know? Obviously any work that still has the watermark comes from Getty, but removing the watermark is easy and commonly done.

            I am not a lawyer, I don’t know the legal ramifications of sending a bill to someone who *might* owe you money, but I am pretty sure that you are allowed to do so. The letter is pretty clear, doesn’t make any false statements and provides a procedure for stating you don’t owe them. Perhaps it could be more clear about pictures it has that are in the public domain, but if would defeat the purpose if it provides too many outs. Obviously someone who did steal it is going to say they didn’t get it from Getty if presented with that option, while someone who didn’t will already know about it.

            I am not saying its a great strategy or even that they should do it, just saying that it is legal and moral. The outrage here is because the pictures were not really in the public domain (which Getty didn’t know through no fault of their own) and that they billed the photographer, a one in a million chance.

            I am all for changing the laws, perhaps you should not be allowed to charge for works that are in the public domain. But if you go down that road I suspect you will not see many classic works published in the future.

          9. How would I or the Getty know? Are you serious?

            Your argument defies common logic. Can claim a mailbox or car or piece of lawn furniture from someone’s home because it looks like one stolen from you? By your logic, the answer is that you can go up to them and demand to see receipts or in lieu of that demand payment. If the object was a gift, or something purchased at a yard sale, they might pay you even though the object is not something you ever owned.

            That is the situation here.

            If they think there is infringement, THE BURDEN IS ON GETTY TO PROVE IT. IT IS NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE USER TO PROVE THEY DID NOT. The user may have simply copied the photo from another user and not realize that they are in the public domain. It is possible (if not likely) that a number of people might pay Getty, not knowing that their source did not ultimately get the photo from Getty.

            Getty knows that there are other sources so their actions can only be inferred to be an attempt to defraud through intimidation.

            When Getty owns the image, the proof is easy because they are the only source. But here, the proof is much more difficult.

            My best guess is that what happened is that someone working at Getty, did not realize that these photos were accessible elsewhere and treated them like photos that the company owned outright.

            But why Getty does not fess up is baffling.

          10. If the letter does accuse the photographer of copyright infringement re her own work, as alleged, then that IS a false statement.

        1. You seem to not have a very firm grasp on licensing for commercial use. As Megan said above, any recognizable human in those photos cannot be used for Advertising without a model release. Just because it’s a Public Domain image, that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to use it however you want. (e.g. an Aids/HIV billboard promoting your company’s drug/mission/message/product)

          Same is true for any of those images with recognizable properties, locations, landmarks, etc. The owners of those properties control the permission required to use the image of that property for Advertising purposes. A release is required.

          None of the above can be granted by the photographer that donates images to Public Domain, and it doesn’t matter what they sign or contract — they cannot speak for the individuals and properties in the images.

          Would some of the generic shots and landscapes be useable? Sure. But I would be the majority fall under license/use restrictions that we’ve described here.

          Try to get a “firm grasp” on those before you try to talk down to people on the internet :P

          1. I have a good understanding of PD as concerns music and multimedia (due to work) but I’m a little woolier regarding photography. However, certain consistencies between the media do exist, and EPUK’s copyright FAQ apparently backs up my own personal opinion that model releases are actually largely irrelevant:

            so sez http://www.epuk.org/resources/faq

            “Why might I need a model release?

            Model releases have little or no relevance to copyright. There is no copyright in the human face or form, so no claim can arise. Whether this remains true after the creative work of a cosmetic surgeon or tattooist is less clear. There have been copyright cases over tattoos, which like any artwork can only be copied with permission of the creator unless only incidentally included.

            A model release is a binding contract that agrees to relinquish specific future claims of equity in return for a ‘valuable consideration’. This is usually payment, but can be prints or some other agreeable exchange. However it cannot be nothing; without ‘valuable consideration’ no contract is formed.

            The requirement for model releases arises only in advertising and marketing use of images, where endorsement by the subject is implied. A simple model release does not provide for defamatory use, distortion or misrepresentation of the subject, it simply says in effect ‘I am not later going to demand a further fee’ for the purposes to which this photograph may be put’. More complex model releases can waive extensive rights of redress for defamation, privacy, publicity rights etc.

            One other important issue revolves around model releases and minors. If a model is to be paid and is under 18 they must be licensed models else an offence is committed. Licensing is a function of local authorities.”

            Strictly interpreting UK and EU copyright law, it could be deemed that individuals photographed hold no rights over the usage of their likeness irrespective of the medium, provided there is no defamation or misrepresentation (but that’s a fairly standard notion, similar to the act of defaming by libel or slander).

            It may also be arguable that photos of individuals could be included in promotional material for products or services without a model release, although an MR does obviously and contractually clarify the issue.

            Is US PD and photography copyright law more explicit on these matters?

          2. Since these rights are heavily jurisdiction dependent and the photographs in question were taken in the US and given to a US institution, the applicability of EU law is probably not very useful in the dominant usage of these images.

          3. Berne Convention on Copyright would still apply in signatory countries as the U.S. is one of the signatories.

            *I am NOT a lawyer.*

          4. Why are you assuming the photos in question have content that requires model or property releases? Those are not copyright issues. A public domain image may, indeed, be used for any purpose. Model/property releases are a completely separate issue.

          5. No, actually those “separate issues” PRECLUDE the use of the photos in advertising regardless of whether they are in public domain or not. That’s my entire point. I’m familiar with licensing photos for commercial and advertising uses, both from being a photographer that supplies those images… and having worked behind the scenes at a licensing agency as an editor who was required to know how to edit content submissions for license-ability.

            I’m not simply assuming. I’m making an educated guess, as a photographer, that another documentary photographer who shoots “This is America” would probably include a lot of Americans and locations, landmarks, privately held properties, etc. like I described. Apparently she also took photos of artwork, which would fall into the Can’t-Use-That-Without-Permission category as well: http://www.thisisamericafoundation.org/

            Even the Metro or landscape shots with names visible in them could be used for Advertising until you removed “Bruce Springsteen” or “Union Bank” from the image.

            Why were you assuming that most of the images do *not* have humans or subjects with rights issues in them?

          6. As someone who works with this very specific issue as a full time profession, I’m saying your claim is baseless. Like your comment, it lacks any supporting material. Do the attorney thing and read it through again, do some research, and move on?

          7. We know that you want to show off what you know about model releases, but they do not apply to most of the Highsmith photos in the Library of Congress collection. There are few human subjects in this collection.

          8. The requirements for model releases vary widely depending on jurisdiction. Generally they have to do with privacy rights, and occasionally image management rights for those jurisdictions that recognize them. Pictures taken in public of views available to the public are largely exempt from any sort of privacy consideration.

            If what you said about the general necessity of model releases was true, the entire paparazzi sector simply would not exist. Since it obviously does exist and is thriving, perhaps you ought to rethink.

            People heavily invested in commercializing images often make stuff up to cause people to fear to exercise their rights. Please don’t do that. It’s a really jerk move.

          9. Let me continue to educate you so that others might see through your “jerk move” rhetoric.

            What the post mentioned, that I am replying to, was ADVERTISING use. Not EDITORIAL use. The guy above posted about working in ADVERTISING agency, not a news agency. The two are completely different uses that require completely different licensing.

            The paparazzi examples? Those are not used to promote or sell a product or business. They’re posted as ‘news’, as Editorial images. Those do not require releases, and cannot be used without release in an Advertising situation.

            I’m not making this stuff up to stop people from exercising their rights. I’m telling the truth that if you do use that “public domain” image from Carol, of a little girl walking with her dad on “main street”, and use it in an Advertising way -for example- a billboard for a 501c3 that deals with sexual abuse…. you would get your pants sued off by her and her father. Not just for using it without permission, but also for using it in a ‘sensitive use’ way. But if Apple used it to advertise iPhones, the same would apply. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Public Domain, or if you find it and pay for it through another company.

            Please stop talking out of your ass. “Please don’t do that”.

          10. Generating a false endorsement that was not given is a specific behavior that is separate from using an image in an advertisement. Yes, that is generally not permitted. If you use a public domain image without the false endorsement, that’s not impinging on any rights even if a person or landmark is plainly identifiable so long as there are no privacy rights in question.

            So, yeah, if you decide to lie, justice will eventually catch up with you. Don’t do that. Not lying is fine though, even without a model release. As always, consult a professional for the tricky stuff in your particular jurisdiction.

          11. “I’m telling the truth that if you do use that “public domain” image from Carol, of a little girl walking with her dad on “main street”, and use it in an Advertising way -for example- a billboard for a 501c3 that deals with sexual abuse…. you would get your pants sued off by her and her father.”

            Yes, a lawsuit would be possible – but it would have nothing to do with copyright. It would be a right of publicity issue.

    4. I have wondered the same thing. Some images, especially the anthropological ones, looked awfully familiar.

    5. What they’ve done is criminal. And I would like to think immoral, unethical and a breach of professional trust. It should be reason enough to lose their license to sell, since they were found guilty of selling another photographer’s work without permission.

      1. If we get this circulated widely enough, their reputation might be damaged sufficiently that they won’t be able to do business.

    6. I can see the idea that there might be some value in an organization collecting works (licenced and/or public domain) and charging for it. As a comparison, if I go to Barnes&Nobles and pick up a public domain book (The Portrait of Dorian Grey for example) it’s reasonable for them to charge me for it. Even if I could get it cheaper on the internet from the Gutenberg Project, Barnes & Noble can charge what the market will allow. What they can’t do (and what Getty seemed to do here) is try to keep other people from distributing copies.

      1. This situation is like you had an electronic copy of the book (that you wrote), and Barnes and Noble sent you a bill for reading it.

      2. Buying a physical copy of a Public Domain book is completely different. Public Domain means that the work has been around for so long that copyright has expired and NO ONE owns the intellectual property. Anyone can do anything they want with it, including reproducing it, What you’re paying for are the costs of typesetting, printing, buying the paper, transportation, overheads for the bookshop etc. You’re NOT paying for the intellectual property, which is why Public Domain books are much cheaper than the latest bestsellers. If you “buy” a digital copy, for example through the Kindle site, they’re free or very cheap, because it costs a big company virtually nothing to host a digital copy.

        These photos are still under copyright to the creator. She donated them so that people could use them for free. She did NOT license Getty to sell the rights to them; Getty has been stealing her intellectual property for who knows how long, and they only got caught because they had the chutzpah to try and CHARGE HER FOR HER OWN WORK. Not cool.

      3. People aren’t charging a “finder’s fee” for making the images easier to locate. They’re charging a “license fee” for permission to use the image. The former would be the rough equivalent of charging for a printed copy of a classic novel.

      4. But that is not what is going on here. They are also pursuing people who got the photos from other sources. It is as if, I downloaded a free copy of a public domain work and then Barnes and Noble found me and demanded $15 for the book.

    7. Might be worth looking into to see if you folks paid for something like this that they licensed illegally. I am not a lawyer and have no idea about the details on something like this or your agency, just saying “might” here :P

    8. And you folks should sue as well you PAID for a FREE image. You should get every penny refunded.

    9. I think the point of the lawsuit is that public domain images should NOT be used for commercial purposes. Had you used those images for advertisement, the lawsuit might have been against your agency.

      I upvoted you, because I also hope that Highsmith wins the case.

    10. I hope anyone who has run afoul of these people goes back and
      checks on the image in question to see if its one of hers – if it is,
      then Getty may be in for a colossal class action lawsuit… and I hope
      it happens.

    1. If she loses, which is highly unlikely, it would show a serious imbalance on how laws are applied to individuals versus how they are applied to corporations. Let’s not forget cases like Jammie Thomas who has a $222k judgment against her for sharing 24 songs.

  7. Gettys entire business revolves round image licensing, so you would expect the one thing they would be able to do competently is actually manage their image licensing.

    1. Their competence isn’t necessarily in question here. If they’re a bad actor, they very competently stole those images.
      Also, there’s no hard and fast rule that a company with one trade has to actually be good at that trade. It stands to reason that they *should* be, but reality sometimes differs.

    2. What you would really expect is that a thief would not turn around and send a bill to the person they stole from when the rightful owner uses their own property. That is what is incompetent here.

  8. Sadly this is not just one case. Works in the public domain are slowly being usurped by media corporations and essentially removed from the public domain again.
    I can’t remember where I read an article on the subject, but apparently the use works in the public domains sometimes cause them to enter into the standard copyright, with a new owner.

    1. I hope this case sets a precedent, so that this does not continue to happen. I am so completely tired of these corporations taking over everything.

      1. Precedent has long been set, The treble damages are because of a previous willful infringement charge in 2013.

        But going back even further you can find precedent in the filesharing cases such as Jammie Thomas-Rasset in 2007.

    2. You might be referring to “Copyfraud”, a term coined and written about by Jason Mazzone.

      An Internet search of this term and Mazzone’s name will unveil a host of material in this area.

    3. IANAL so possibly talking out my ass here, but the “new copyright” applies to a derived work, not the original? So you could take 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, add a new preface, and voila, copyright in the new book belongs to you. (I don’t know if you could then go after anyone who removes your preface and republishes that result (identical to the original text) again.)

  9. Do any of you folks know if there might be basis for a criminal fraud case here – or, if not, a civil case pursued by the Attorney General’s office? (Since the Library of Congress is involved, I presume it would be the federal AG rather than a state one.) And I figure the Library of Congress itself ought to have a strong interest in discouraging this behavior.

    1. Since she gave her works to the US she no longer owns them and is suing as a public beneficiary of her gift– as a member of the public with joint public ownership– a private attorney general, not as an individual because she gave her work away to the state, or for fraudulent conduct of Getty of frivolously demanding payment for public domain works. Would be interesting to see the pleadings and the private AG statute. Her rights are not exclusive and it is the public name for copyright, fraud is in her name

      1. The “public use” rights she conveyed to the LoC do not necessarily include “commercial use”. She may well still own the commercial rights. In any case, she almost certainly still holds the basic copyright. Many years ago, it was common to assign or sell copyright; now it is more normal to assign or sell particular usage rights (as in a Creative Commons license).

        Her standing in this case is based not on being a member of the public (ie, beneficiary of the gift), but as being the creator and donor of the photos. I am a member of the public, and thus a beneficiary of the gift, but I do not have the standing to bring such a case.

      2. For her stuff, yea, but not if they’ve been doing this to other people who have not donated their art.

      3. She licensed it freely to the Library of Congress she did not transfer her copyright ownership. She is the sole owner of these images not the public.

        1. Public Domain… There is no copyright on these images anymore, that’s what public domain means, it’s waiving all copyright, an extraordinary gift.
          But that also means that someone else can’t assert copyright. So Getty is way out of line here.

          1. Copyright protection is in perpetuity, the exclusive right to reproduce is what expires. Public Domain is protected under the Copyright Law. When a work enters the Public Domain it is legally protected from anyone claiming they own the exclusive right to reproduce the work.

      4. Her work was almost certainly donated under a creative commons license which stipulates that the photo cannot be resold.

      5. The right to be identified as the author is inalienable. Assigning copyright to another party or releasing the work into the public domain does not change this. Getty / Alamy seem to have fallen foul of this; they certainly have claimed to be the copyright holders (and I wonder if they can argue that slapping their watermark on the images makes them enough of a “derivative work”), and it seems likely they’re also usurping authorship (plagiarism).

  10. How perfect it would be if Getty and Alamy get nailed big time for their unmitigated greed and gall. Is this Getty, other than in name, associated with the Malibu Museum? That would be optimally stupid, but even if not, what better way could there be to ruin their reputation, credibility and any public good will they might have developed? It’s astounding that the economic powerhouses in the Western world have the idea they can do absolutely whatever they want, no matter how vile, in the pursuit of money, and they are mighty enough to get away with it. Unfortunately they are often correct. Hopefully not this time.

  11. Why was Getty using public domain mages in the first place? And how did it get them? These were all donated to the Library of Congress, so did they just waltz in and take what they wanted?

    PAUL RYAN, WE HAVE SOMETHING ELSE FOR YOU TO INVESTIGATE!!!

    1. Why would Paul Ryan want to investigate a company making money? He’d be far more interested in investigating Benghazi for an 8th time.

      1. Hell, he wont care what he investigates, as long as it’s something. You do realize these guys get extra salary for their laughable “investigations”, right? That’s pretty much the only reason why the stupid Benghazi “investigation” went on for so many years.

        1. No, they do not get any extra salary for these investigations. That’s not how the Congressional Pay system works.

          1. You think so? The House Appropriations Committee spent 5.7 MILLION in just the first three months of this year on “staff”. 173 names listed… for one committee, for THREE MONTHS. Im sorry, you’re going to tell me, with a straight face, that a chunk of that wasnt making its way back into congressional hands?

            The various Benghazi committees have spent God only knows how many times that much… and you think ol’ Paul isnt getting a cut of that action? Dream on, bud.

          2. I guess we can agree that I am a dreamer and you have no evidence that would stand up in court. If money was going into the pockets of a Congress person, I would think some whistle-blower would have come forward by now.

  12. These aren’t the only groups selling public domain images. I’ve been approached by one to help them do it. (I said ‘no thanks…..’).

  13. I love the delicious irony of Getty’s own micro greed in attempting to charge Highsmith leading to exposure of their macro greed.

  14. If this puts Getty (and its server-hammering crawlers at PicScout) out of business, then there will be cheers across the world. Photographers need to make money from their work, but Getty’s intimidatory methods are not pat of that process.

  15. A local paper featured a photo of my best friend’s sons with an online tag of “Buy this photo” You REALLY have to be careful. Her husband had given permission for the paper to photo the boys at a parade and to publish, but NOT to sell online.

  16. This is going to get much bigger.

    Getty is well know for operating a ‘shake-down’ scheme (aka copyright troll), in which web crawlers identify cases of (supposed) copyright infringement, followed by an automated email demand letter to the owner of the site demanding outrageously inflated licensing fees (e.g. $600 for a photo you could buy for $5). Legal action is threatened if payment is not made within 14 days.

    The law-firm they work with gets a cut.

    I received such a letter ($3000 for 5 photos that I was assured by the web designer were in the public domain). My attorney requested proof that Getty was the copyright holder and method of valuation, and it was dropped within 24 hours.

    This explains it: https://www.isba.org/ibj/2014/11/lawpulse/yourclientgotgettyimagesdemandlette

    1. hmm wish i had known that years ago before they sued me for $9000 for 3 images i used on a web site

      1. Might not be too late. If they don’t hold the copyright they may well have defrauded you.

    2. That is their business though. You *could have* bought the photo but you didn’t — that is the point.
      Work is frequently stolen off my websites, and the old ‘my web designer did it’ is the #1 excuse.
      Don’t know about your case, but the photographer deserves to be paid for their work and, if used without permission, any additional fees incurred for the misuse. It’s theft.

  17. I hope she wins, but as some commenters below have noted, due to particularities in copyright law about works in the public domain, her case is not clear cut. Works in the public domain are claimable by commercial entities to do with what they wish, including charging royalties for use of digital files which have been assimilated into their collection. It would be false for Getty to claim _sole_ “copyright” and charge fees for licensing the copyright, but if they can prove that they “delivered” the imagery-assets (digital files embedded with their proprietary watermark-code) to the licensees they charged, a judge might say that Getty is entitled to receive compensation for use of a proprietary digital asset. Only if the end user can prove that the digital file was acquired through _other_ means – like directly from the Library of Congress – would there be no case for fees. In other words, it’s _access_to_the_digital_file_ that Getty could charge for, not “copyright”.

    Here’s an example from the pre-digital age of photography: In the 1990s, I worked as a photo researcher at a major, commercial stock photo company (not Getty, but later acquired by them) and there were dozens of transparencies there of an image of the Earth taken from space, from an Apollo mission. These images were captured by NASA, but were released into the public domain, as most non-classified imagery owned by the government is (or was then) _automatically_ in the public domain. A photographer could request a large-format transparency copy of this image from NASA and then re-copy it and put his/her name on the cardboard mount, along with a notice that declared that removing the mount would result in a usage fee (not a “copyright license”). The agency lawfully charged usage fees for access to those transparencies, on the photographers’ behalf. If someone got their hands on a transparency directly from NASA, they wouldn’t have to pay anyone a licensing fee, but if the commercial agency which had the transparency lent it to someone for their use, they could legitimately charge for the service of providing access to the physical photo.

    If the images Getty is licensing were assimilated from LOC in this way, and then embedded with watermark-code, I could see their highly-paid lawyers making their case based on this logic of possession of an asset (the digital file they had stored in their archive) rather than licensing of copyright – which is not applicable for a work in the public domain – especially since she put the images in the public domain herself.

    1. But they sent her a copyright violation notice, and the image on her website would clearly not have the Getty watermark-code. Which means they were looking for the image itself, not their copyrighted files that contained that image.

    2. Given that it was a photo on her own website, I’m guessing it was entirely encoded from her own PC and should not have a digital watermark from Getty. So they’re in a lot of trouble.

    3. This is false. Once the image enters public domain it cannot be re-owned since there is no physical contract with the creator for licensing. Burden of doubt to prove provenance is upon the entity claiming ownership. Any entity licensing art of other creators must have documented clear provenance and a signed contract for licensing details with the creator. The above scenario was poorly handled and botched. The default expectation is that Getty MUST document provenance and have no right to claim lack of knowledge. The fact that they tried this with 18,000 images is indicator of blatant disregard for copyright law. There is no defense for what they did.

      1. Not quite right. The copyright exists. She could transfer the rights, but she can’t destroy the copyright. She may have transferred all rights to the LoC, in which case they are the copyright holder. More likely, she released publication and duplication rights to the public. The most common method of doing this is using the Creative Commons convention, which usually explicitly excludes commercial use, or includes a clause that the creator be credited. The creator still holds any residual copyright, and has standing to pursue anyone who violates the conditions of the Creative Commons contract.

        Note that this is an entirely different situation from that which exists for, say, Civil War photos. Those are out of copyright, and not copyrightable. As you say, once out of copyright (commonly called “public domain”), it cannot be re-copyrighted unless there is a “significant artistic addition” made to the image (Bridgeman Art Library v. Corel Corp., 1999).

        1. The timing might make this complicated. The donation to the LoC started in 1988, long before Creative Commons started, but about the time the USA signed up to the Berne Convention. So a partial release of right became possible, but you would have to see the specific contract. You can’t just point at a particular Creative Commons deal. Releasing something to the Public Domain was the extreme option, and that was part of what prompted the Creative Commons development.

          The relevant Act is dated 1988 and took effect in 1989. But the 1976 Act set the need for a written conveyance. Both Getty and the Library of Congress should have something in writing, whatever that might mean in this digital age.

        2. Oh, good lord. Sorry to snipe at you, because I’ve seen the same comment repeatedly from other posters, but seriously, why is everyone doing this “maybe she transferred these rights but not those” nonsense?

          The Library of Congress site is pretty specific – the Carol Highsmith collection is in the public domain. Public domain, no known publication restrictions. Not royalty free, not free with attribution, not free for editorial use only – public domain.

          1. Why? Because we are looking at this from a legal perspective, and “public domain” is not in the copyright law. It is a layperson’s term and doesn’t precisely match the legal terms.
            Also, Highsmith released the photos with conditions. In order for those conditions to have any meaning, she could not have relinquished all rights.
            But if you are not interested in legal language minutiae, don’t read this. As with most internet discussions, our discussion will have zero practical effect (since none of us are actually involved in the lawsuit) so it’s an academic exercise.

    4. The copyright violation notice was auto-generated with no human intervention. They send 1000s of these. It’s part of the Getty business model.

    5. The article says “public domain” but (as of the Copyright Act of 1976) copyright is established at the creation of work, not registration of that work. Copyright can be transferred, and specific rights can be severed and transferred for specific purposes, but the copyright itself either exists or it doesn’t. The term “public domain” does not even occur in the Copyright Act, though it is popularly used for items that do not qualify for copyright, or items which have had some rights overtly released by the copyright holder. Copyright still exists for those items, and can be asserted if the terms of the release are violated (if an item is used commercially, for instance, or if the original artist is not credited — specifics depend on the terms used to release the rights).
      If you are interested, check out the details on “Creative Commons” (one standard way of releasing rights), and the Copyright Act itself. (www.law.cornell.edu/copyright/copyright.table.html#chapt2)

      1. According to the Library of Congress, the entire collection is in the public domain and there are no known publication restrictions. Creative Commons is irrelevant here.

        1. I would be curious to see what language the LoC has artists sign in these cases. The CC0 full legal text (https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode) is telling. It includes a lot of extent-of-the-law language, automatic fallbacks to traditional (though cost-free) licensing, warranty disclaimer, etc.

          My sense is that the LoC is just going a little ways out on a limb in pursuit of their goals. When someone shows up with 18k photos to donate to the public domain you don’t say, “well, interesting story, that’s actually really complicated and maybe impossible!” Instead you say, “Yes ma’am, thank you ma’am. Sign here ma’am.”

          This link describes pretty much the conclusions I came to after doing a lot of research on it myself. I don’t know who wrote it or if they are qualified, I only share it as a shorthand version of what I myself found and came to believe: http://www.publicdomainsherpa.com/no-rights-reserved.html

  18. I hope that Getty Images is driven into bankruptcy by this lawsuit, and that the court orders that the entire Getty Images catalog is audited to determine point of origin. I also hope that the court requires Getty Images to compensate every other claimant that can prove theft of intellectual property, and to refund fees charged to every individual who used an image stolen by them.

      1. I came here to say exactly this. Highsmith isn’t the only party that Getty victimized here. And truthfully, we have no way to really know how long they’ve been doing this, so that lawsuit could be…unprecedented.

        We’re talking a potential Extinction Level Event, here.

  19. Disgusting, and this is the kind of thing we artists deal with every day. Large corporations use illustrators’ images without permission or compensation constantly. Zara is a great example and just one of many. Stop stealing from artists!!!!!!

  20. The most curiosity I have is who bought the photos from Getty?

    Getty sent out the letter because it knows that many of the photos it does own are being ripped off consistently. As a creative whose seen my work ripped off, I’m on Getty’s side to stop the major ripping off that goes on.

    But obviously, they took it way too far.

    It’s the clients who bought those images who should be suing Getty.

  21. She doesn’t have a leg to stand on. More’s the pity. She put the photos in the Public Domain, so she does not own them anymore. It’s a “threat” lawsuit, and she is hoping they settle out of court, instead of spending a bunch of money on defending it. A class action lawsuit should be filed against Getty Images on behalf of all of the people they defrauded by selling her images to them. And the Attorney General of the United States should also press charges of fraud, criminal malfeasance, and anything else they can.

    1. Uh, no. From her complaint:

      “Ms. Highsmith is the sole and exclusive owner of all rights, title, and interest in and to the copyrights in the Highsmith Photos, subject to licenses Ms. Highsmith has given to
      others, including without limitation the non-exclusive, free license Ms. Highsmith has given to the public to reproduce and display the Highsmith Photos.”

      1. IF she placed the photos in the Public Domain, AS SHE CLAIMED, I AM 100% CORRECT.
        If you knew ANYTHING about the law, you would know that you can literally claim ANYTHING in a lawsuit — it doesn’t have to be true or provable. Because it can always be amended later, and other scenarios like that.
        So either YOU need to go to law school, and/or you seriously need a refresher, and/or you are a typical low-intellect incompetent attorney, and/or you are spewing crap out of your mouth, as well.

        1. There is no such thing as public domain, for individual works anyway. NASA and public orgs have a special deal in the States about their work being publicly free – but she’s not a publicly funded org. Individuals can’t easily or at all give their copyrights away – partly to protect them and their right of authorship.

          Even if it’s a work for hire you still have a right to be credited, and also some older contracts where people got hardly anything, like old recordings and comic books, later court cases have given the work back to the author since the contract didn’t hold water, was financially dishonest or didn’t include modern uses.

          So the right of authorship is a very strong one, even against corporations. And certainly no way she gave her images into ‘full’ public domain, because that’s not usually possible. You can’t give away all those rights, just not enforce them or license free uses.

          Otherwise Creative Commons would not need to exist?

    2. LOL — she put them in PUBLIC DOMAIN. That means Getty does not have the right to scoop them up and turn them into copyrightable material. It would be like me claiming copyright on Shakespeare. Yes, as the originer, she DOES have the legal standing here. They are STEALING her worlk, public domain or not.

      1. If you place your work into the Public Domain, you LOSE ALL RIGHTS to that work.
        ANYBODY can do ANYTHING they want with that work. Including sell it. EXCEPT you CANNOT claim copyright on the work, or try to get other people to pay you when they use it.

        UNLESS the person DID NOT truly put them in the Public Domain, and, as the lawsuit seems to suggest, they were NOT truly put in the PD, and there were NOTED provisions to their use made AT THE TIME, and IN WRITING.
        The courts will decide the merits of the case. Unless they pay her off. (fLawsuit Lottery)

        1. You seem to not understand the concept of public domain; which doesn’t exist in the way you’re thinking.

          Every work is automatically copyright or has a ‘right of authorship’. Orphan works do exist, and of course are marked expired after a long time (Civil War photos for instance where the photographer has been dead a long time). But they still have a copyright, even if no-one’s there to enforce it, or the authors/artist is unknown. Also in the States, organisations who are publicly funded have to make their work public domain – that is truly public domain, like NASA images. I’m guessing there still is a right to credit though. But that’s not what’s happened here.

          But you can’t easily give away your copyright – in fact an author/artist has a right to assert that they made something even if it’s a work for hire, that can never now be taken away (it used to be different decades back I think). That doesn’t mean they own the other rights though, the rights to publish, exploit, control the work.

          Creative Commons is a license where you can basically say you license the work for free use, most ‘public domain’ licenses do this. But that doesn’t mean it’s truly public domain – i.e. it has no author and no-one asserts rights over it – only in the sense that the public can freely use it. She didn’t give her rights away regarding the photos being credited to her, and certainly didn’t license Getty to make money off them. So she’s in the right, and also sounds like she’s suing because it would make her seem bad, give her a bad reputation.

          1. And you do? It’s obvious from your writings here that you don’t.

            OK I’ll bite, where is your Internet Law Degree from? :-P I know LAWYERS don’t WRITE in random CAPS like this, they’re taught not to. Oh, and you being completely wrong about Copyright 101: Public Domain too, anyone would know more just watching a Lessig talk :-P

    3. Sorry, but you’re absolutely 100% wrong.

      She filed suit under DMCA alleging that Getty falsified copyright information. She doesn’t have to be the owner of the copyright to do so, because the issue isn’t whether *her* copyright was violated – it’s whether *Getty* holds a copyright or license to the photos. They do not, which means that they cannot claim that she owes them for use of the photos.

    4. She absolutely does have a leg to stand on, and the reason is clearly explained in this portion of the article:

      “Now, Highsmith has filed a $1 billion copyright infringement suit against both Alamy and Getty for “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs. “The defendants [Getty Images] have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people,” the complaint reads. “[They] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees … but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.””

      Getty’s response is disingenuous, in that the very reason for the lawsuit is that they (wrongfully) went after Ms. Highsmith for copyright violations.

  22. Hard to imagine Getty didn’t know they weren’t the owners of these images. How do you make that mistake?

  23. Getty has images taken on the moon by US astronauts in 1970 that they’re licensing for thousands of dollars. (they want neary $2000 for using this one in a simple magazine ad.) These images, and every single image NASA produces, are in the public domain.

    I saw similar images in a stock photo catalog about 20 years ago. I called them and spoke to a licensing representative to find out how they could charge a fee for something that was essentially the property of every American citizen. They told me that they went to NASA and obtained transparencies, and scanned them with proprietary equipment and those scans were legally under their copyright. I told them good luck trying to enforce that. The woman replied to me to go ahead and try and that I did not want to be on the wrong end of a lawsuit from them.

  24. I am shocked. I don’t know why I am shocked, when you think of the horrible things major corporations do to the population and the environment. Is this planned from the top? Are there people shaving off the money?

  25. This is where copyright has come…Really that amount of money doesn’t make sence at all. But, it makes sence she strikes back, that she has the power with here age is a different story, but she deserves to get justice for what they’ve done to here. Though, I don’t get this amount of money, if she looses. It basically says: When you give pictures AWAY, you will be fucked for live. And thus nobody will ever share a picture again. And boom all social media will die.

  26. I myself do like it when people actually use my photo’s/pictures. But only when it’s for own use or at max NON-commercial use. When people are actually gaining money/attention by my photo’s without giving me a cut (in attention or money) I will get very mad. And nobody wants to see me mad. So, I do totally get here why she’s doing this. But the amount of money that goes around for something like a picture. It’s just, doesn’t make sence any more. And let’s me feel people are only doing photography for money nowadays. Not for, like me, the passion, the memory and just: The let the world see what I see.

  27. The article does not clearly explain the legal issues involved. I’m assuming that instead of infringement this is mostly about Getty presenting itself as the copyright owner. That violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

    There are not many cases for precedent on that and it will be very interesting to see, because I have a suit pending trial on the DMCA also.

    If anyone else has a DMCA or similar copyright case, please get in touch with my attorney. (Listed at the end of this link:)

    http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/the-rights-of-photographers-to-images-used-in-the-real-estate-industry-need-to-be-protected-300128466.html

    1. You’re dead on the money – the actual suit alleges that Getty violated DMCA by falsely claiming copyright on public domain photos.

      1. Yes, I figured because I understand the DMCA law. Many posts on this site are not well informed and frankly are just uneducated opinions without any basis.

        This is a double edged sword because stock photographers want their agencies to enforce copyright compliance. And photographers need to register their images and enforce their rights when photos are misused. Very few photographers put their images into the public domain while living. But after their copyright expires (and they most likely are dead) who looks out to see if anyone is claiming ownership as Getty did?

        Highsmith does not have to prove the value of her images since she can opt for statutory damages from $2500 to $25,000 per incident plus legal fees. What seems clear is not always so to a lawyer. Getty’s lawyers most likely will fight this every which way possible. But I think she has a lot going for her.

        What isn’t mentioned here is that I think every company that received a threatening letter and/or paid money to Getty for these images (assuming they did not contract to license them from Getty) may have a case too.

        Plus we don’t know how many other public domain images from other photographers and other sources that Getty received payments for after threatening enforcement actions.

        This opens up a huge can of worms if Getty used an automatic letter writing system that does not distinguish between rights managed images in their control and other images such as royalty free or public domain images. And if there is any evidence of people complaining and Getty took no action, that will make things worse.

        Highsmith’s lawyer would be smart to get a digital forensic expert to pore through Getty’s system as part of discovery. It will help this case and the lawyer may find other cases to pursue. This all depends on their pre-trial phase and what the judge allows.

  28. Fantastic–Getty are total blood sucking aholes. How can I contribute to this lawsuit fund?

  29. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore at the disgusting greed of the rich, yet I continuously am. I want to see these filthy bastards go down!

  30. Also, non-profit institutions often sell work that is in the public domain. I worked for two institutions that did this. Although one had a “caveat emptor” policy, the other did not.

  31. I hope she gets every red cent from them. I have always assumed that Getty is a huge troll. They’re the reason I started shooting my own images just because I’d get these damn ransom letters from them on images that were supposed to be public use.

  32. Since America has lost its rule of law, the actions of the Getty Trust don’t surprise me. Right now, status quo is the rule of the jungle based on size, political clout and how much money you can corrupt politicians with, not past law precedent or the Constitution.

    Didn’t that famous pirate of Silicone Valley, Bill Gates, acquire Getty images a few years ago? If so, this wouldn’t surprise me. Look at the business, copyright and privacy practices imposed on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Anything pictures or documents you post there automatically gives them full rights. Read your notices folks. You lose all IP rights when you post to FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram.

    1. “You lose all IP rights when you post to FaceBook, Twitter and Instagram.” No, you don’t.

      1. Yeah you do. Check the contracts you agreed to when using FakeBook and content you post on the platform. You give FakeBook full and unrestricted use rights for any and all content you posted, or in other words, you lose all content editorial control. You may still own it to use for other outlets and can use it elsewhere, but you’ve agreed to give the boy wonder all and any IP use rights in perpetuity and with no legal ability or recourse to ever stop its use or even its modification. Don’t be surprised to see your daughter in some advertisement, even if you deleted your account or delete (if you can) any one posting. Hasta la vista, Baby! LOL

        1. Yes, you give up usage rights for content published on the site. No, that is NOT the same as losing all IP rights.

          1. From a business and content creator’s point of view, it is pretty much losing control of everything. You can continue to use the content as the owner in fair use, transformative and derivative settings as the owner, but so can FakeBook. The contract I recently reviewed doesn’t even allow for the owner to stop the content use in any setting by FakeBook. You are essentially an IP owner with no power. BTW, this includes an author/creator sending unpublished works to an editor via FB Messenger.

  33. Good. Fuck them. It’s bad enough that they are a major business that understands copyright law yet they pirate images. It’s even worse that they are attempting to PROFIT from piracy. Why don’t they get shut down like so many torrent trackers do? Oh yeah, the torrent trackers don’t have an army of lobbyists and lawyers schmoozing congressional members.

  34. Even if an artist grants their pictures for public domain and you want to use it for editorial or advertising and if their is a person that is recognizable in the photo you need a model release, same goes for a structure you will need a property release or if their is an animal you need a property release from the owner. Animals are considered property. For example you is have a picture of the Santa Monica Pier and if the picture is used editorially or in an advertisement you will need permission from the city of Santa Monica. I took a portrait and it was used in a magazine with the pier out of focus in the background and the city came after me and I had to pay a usage fee. The city signed a one time usage fee in the property release. Some people or cites are very aggressive when it comes to releases.

  35. Getty once used an image I had on an old website, that I had photographed myself. When I tried to request that they remove it from their database, they flatly refused stating that they had the rights to the image. Ultimately, I provided the courts with the negatives and Getty was forced to remove the image. I was awarded $2200 for ”lost income” and that was the last of it. It does not surprise me that Getty are dishonest.

  36. Getty Images are really very unpleasant. They plaster “their” images all over the internet knowing full well that naive people will stumble across them and reproduce them on websites, newsletters etc. They then bully said people – who are often individuals or small organisations engaged in non-profit activities – into paying them wholly extortionate sums of money. Somebody needs to stop them and I’d be delighted if Carol Highsmith manages it.

  37. Wow. A wealthy corporation or individual claiming that other people’s work is theirs and charging for it? How very typical. I hope she wins the billion dollars, but don’t count on Getty paying. They’ll keep that lawsuit going for decades before they pay a dime, with the thought that she’ll run out of money to pay her lawyers.

  38. Getty tried to make me pay a royalty for a photo that appears in one of my books, which I paid a license to someone else — the artist who owned the photo. When I questioned Getty whether they had permission from the artist, Getty backed off and went dead silent. This happened about a year ago.

  39. Get every person to sue the pants off those conniving crooks. Bankrupt them and file personal lawsuits so the jerks at top don’t escape to their posh estates and avoid prosecution.

  40. I’ve licensed plenty of photographs directly. As a photographer, I place some of my work online (Flickr, Facebook, etc.) and have had many reputable publisher license images for use in books or websites. I’ve also found some images misappropriated, however I think most people out there try to do the right thing.

  41. The problem I have always had with these agencies is that they don’t own these photos. The same photos were floating around at garage sales, and now I see them on Getty. That is true of all the photo agencies. Also editorial is different from advertising, and yet they attempt to collect on editorial, which falls under the First Amendment. I had a friend who wrote a book on an actress, used some photos, and the studio came after him. My friend said, “I am not paying you for photos of films you let disintegrate.” And that was that.

  42. This is sad about Carol Highsmith, because I could have sworn to have taken one just like that

  43. Getty images is an extortionist organization. They’ll come back at you for $120 or more, several years after you paid for an image. Their goal, I’m sure, is that they hope people don’t keep the documentation and have to pay twice. Really pathetic.

  44. I hope she gets the damages she is seeking. I hate lawsuits but this has to stop. I obtain images from unsplash and other places where photographers place their work to be used for any purpose license free, and I have noticed that several “stock photo” sites are stealing the work they are donating to the public domain to sell also. The moral decline is breathtaking.

    1. ..I was just there last week looking for a photo. It was referenced to me by a friend. I thought what a neat idea. But yeah….stealing from places that photos are free, and then reselling to make a dime, is not KOOL>>> …by doing this copyright laws might get even stiffer even for those donating to free causes.

  45. As a published motorsports author using hundreds of images of James Dean in all of my publications, I have to negotiate licensing agreements with the legal owners of these images — to be compliant with existing copyright laws. I have seen where Getty has been offering images of James Dean…where they do not have any contractual ownership…and some of which are under “public domain.” I call it “pirating.” The court system needs to get tough on these infringements as well as those on Ebay. Getty and others are a bunch of opportunistic thugs. Thumbs Up to Carol Highsmith!

  46. So, if you bought images from these sites, can you also sue them for stealing your money and setting you up for a lawsuit from the photographer for misuse of property?

  47. My father in-law just received a notice to pay $510 dollar to continue using a tiny picture of a girl blowing on a dandelion in a hayfield. We of course pulled the image (someone built the site for him and he was totally unaware of any copyright infringements). I hope getty images get nailed for their dishonest practices. Seems to me they are little more than leaches anyways.

  48. Funny I should be reading this… Last week I found lots of NASA images being served from Shutterstock’s site, which is also completely illegal.

    Everett Historical on Shutterstock is repurposing public domain NASA images for profit: http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-2733991p1.html

    http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-245965681/stock-photo-night-lights-from-the-philadelphia-new-york-city-boston-corridor-at-left-is-western-lake-ontario.html?src=c-kRG41oQZOd5FtV5HpxnA-1-6

    https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_2167.html

  49. I was creative director of Rhino Records for many years and am also a photographer. Because 95+% of Rhino’s music output was archival and we had a lot of releases we used thousands of photos a year. Whenever possible we tried to license from the photographers who took the picture rather than the stock agencies, both for the benefit of the shooter and so we could find photos that hadn’t been seen before. We still used a lot of photos from agencies, but we’d always check to see if they had an exclusive. Two “gouge” attempts stand out.
    One of the art directors needed several outer space shots of earth views, the moon landing, etc. They found what they needed from an agency that shall remain nameless, (Masterf _ le), and did some comps. When I saw them I asked where they came from. I said unless the agency hired a photographer/astronaut, these were paid for with taxpayer $ and we can get them free from NASA. And at much better quality. It wasn’t illegal for the agency to sell them but I wonder how many people paid for the “convenience.”
    My other fave attempt involved a photo of the Talking Heads that I shot. A freelance designer was working on a few expanded T Heads releases and used a lot of photographs, both from the photographers and from agencies. One of the photos he used from an agency had both my © and the agency’s. As a joke he put it in the book with both our names and copyrights to see if I was paying attention. (I had no idea they had the image.) The designer wanted to take off their copyright but I told him to leave it to see what they would do. A month or so went by and our photo researcher brought me a bill for late payment, the first of several. I wouldn’t let him pay them and told him to refer any legal calls to me. Sure enough, a lawyer eventually called. When I asked who the photographer was and he told me, I said what a coincidence, that’s my name, and I shot a lot of Talking Heads photos. He was quiet for a bit, then, much to my amusement asked, “Do you need legal representation?”

  50. HA! This is great! Getty said a while back they were going after people using unlicensed images “stolen” from their data base… Talk about the pot calling the kettle black! A big FU to Getty! Made my day!

  51. Would have been interesting and quite funny if they had applied to Getty for rights to use “their images” in this article and see if they noticed haha

  52. Massive fines for copyrights violation are there to protect movie studios from the masses. They are not there to protect the plebian little people like you or me or Carol Highsmith from the immortal corporations who rule over us all.

  53. Go, sink Getty. Please. Who owns it now, a Hedge Fund no doubt, that was the last owner?

  54. Yup, I tangled with Getty too. They tried to hit up my company for 5 grand claiming we had infringed on copyright. It was only when I pointed out to them that the photographer they were representing had ripped off the background of a photo given to my by one of my farmer friends of clouds above his farm and photoshopped that image into the background of one of his images that they backed off. I had a lot of fun playing cat and mouse with them for while then “whipping out” that original photo for their f*&^ing nasal appraisal. FU Getty!

  55. To play the devil’s advocate here: what if another photographer stole the images and claimed them add their own, and uploaded them to Getty?

    I’ve been on a digital art site that has recently suffered a rash of “art impersonators”, people claiming to be the originators. One went so far as to closely copy the original artist’s email address.

  56. I have received one such cease-and-desist demand … from an agency of the U. S. Government. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers accused me of posting one of their photographs, and demanded I take it down. Only one problem. I originally shot it on film, not digital. And I still had the negative.

  57. Stupid question, and bare in mind it is 2:00am, so it is stupid. Can folks who payed Getty for some of these photos sue Getty as well?For fraud or dealing in stolen goods or something?

  58. Getty must’ve donated to both sides of the political Aisle. “K Street Lobbyists” actually run the country from behind stacks of cash. Shameful, if not felonious behavior.

  59. Hilarious. Imagine what would have happened if they never sent the letter for copyright infringement. They might not be getting sued. Trying to peddle someone for $120 when they could have been decent people and alerted her of copyright infringement with a request to bring down the picture. Highsmith seemingly like a giving person might have let them know that those were her pictures and they could have settled with gentler terms, perhaps. I hope she takes them for all she can for being jerks and not even trying to apologize.

    This is the statement by Getty on this matter FYI

    We are reviewing the complaint. 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.

    LCS works on behalf of content creators and distributors to protect them against the unauthorized use of their work. In this instance, LCS pursued an infringement on behalf of its customer, Alamy. Any enquiries regarding that matter should be directed to Alamy; however, as soon as the plaintiff contacted LCS, LCS acted swiftly to cease its pursuit with respect to the image provided by Alamy and notified Alamy it would not pursue this content.

  60. When you give your stuff away freely, do you still have rights to claim how it can be used?
    I do agree that Getty cannot sell someone else’s property as if it is their own and should surrender all profits and be assessed a punitive settlement… but who can rightfully claim it?

  61. As a nature photographer I have found many of my prints stolen and then passed on as someone else’s work. I have had many of them with my copyright on them, and the copyright has been removed.

    In this day and age? People do not care. I work real hard doing my photography, but people think just because I exhibit them on Facebook, Tumblr and other sites? That gives them the right to steal my work.

    If I had enough money to hire a lawyer? I would put a stop to it. But I do not.

    Yet it is amazing to find people saying my work, which is very unique, is their work.

  62. Until I heard about this lawsuit, I had a lot of respect for Getty Images. I’m a professional sports photographer, and I often deal with agencies, including Getty. Before this incident, Getty had a reputation for being a fair and legitimate image client. But unless they can come up with a solid explanation for this incident, an apology, a major change in their policies, and a fair settlement, their reputation is shot.

  63. Getty is selling licenses for a lot of historical images which are most likely in the public domain.
    Just run their catalogue for keywords like NASA, Atomic Energy Commission, Department of Energy and so on.
    The images originate from the british Hulton Picture Collection, which was bought by Getty for £8.6 million in 1996.
    Would be interesting to know, if there are cases where they are accusing users of historical PD photos of copyright infringement.

  64. For you photographers wanting to set your own prices and market your own images, check out Picfair.com and Fine Art America ( pixels.com ). Those are two sites that I know of where you can market and sell your work. And YOU set the prices on your images. Getty has been abusing the rights of their clients for some time now. And this is outright theft.

  65. Getty’s been doing this for many years, as they’ve bought up image banks and absorbed their collections as their own, then sending reams of legal threats to people all over the world. You could say they’ve been running a racket of scaring people to get money out of them. I’ve had clients who were getting threats from Getty for images the client took themselves for their websites or legally bought the license to from an image bank that was later bought by Getty.

    I hope these countersuits and the courts nail these Getty bastards to the wall for what they’ve done & the heartache they’ve caused to a lot of people.

  66. for the record, unfortunately she is not an good photographer

    “Since 1988, Highsmith has been donating tens of thousands of photographs of people and places in the United States to the Library of Congress, making them free for public ”

    worse… she is an spammer

  67. Telling her to take down her own photo from her website and billing her for using it without permission is hardly distributing without claiming ownership. They certainly did claim ownership. From the actual owner! BIG oops! I hope she gets a big award.

  68. While I think it was disgusting that Getty is making money from public domain images – the photographer has no right to ask for any money, since she was giving away her photos FOR FREE.

    Copyright doesn’t apply to these images anymore, and she should accept that.

    Had they ripped off images she was selling it would be a totally different story.

  69. I was a creative director at an ad agency when Getty four-walled the stock photo industry by buying up every stock photo agency in existence, save maybe one or two. Great agencies that I had excellent working relationships with, such as Tony Stone and Photonica to name just two, were gone like a puff of smoke. Once Getty essentially “owned” the stock photo business, the prices went up, the negotiations became one-sided in their favor and it was game over for the independent photographer. It’s also the case in photojournalism. Look at the New York Times…almost every photograph now says Getty Images at the bottom. Somebody once said that a monopoly is the end of ideas…I think you can look to Getty’s greed and business model of domination as the beginning of the end of photography as we know it. I wish Carol Highsmith, a true creative hero, all the best in her fight against Goliath.

  70. “and it is important to note that distributing and providing access to public domain content is different to asserting copyright ownership of it.”

    Not when you slap your own watermark on it. Nice try, jackasses. Now pay the lady.

  71. How would you vote of you were a judge in this case?

    I own a small professional video production business. Woodie, an attorney and friend at the time, asked me to shoot some video for his TV show. He promised to pay for my time when the work was finished. We were friends, it was a one day shoot with someone else doing the editing, so no big deal, I thought. Who needs a contract?

    His edit guy bugged out, and he asked me to take over. It would have been a one day edit, but Woddie’s on screen performance was so poor and the green screen lighting at the studio was so uneven, we couldn’t use the footage for what he wanted. I advised him of the poor lighting up front, but his response was, “do the best you can with it.”

    He agreed to pay for me to re-shoot everything in my studio. the new video came out great. I even coached him through the acting, which was better but still not TV host worthy. I did the editing, which took about a day. Then Woodie wanted ten more videos made from the raw footage. He asked me to shoot an additional event, which of course he agreed to pay extra for shooting and editing. Then he wanted more editing using video clips he procured somewhere else. It was always just “one more thing” and I’ll get paid. He refused to use my EDL (edit decision list) forms, which made searching for his editing choices take much longer. In fact, because of that, it took over forty days to finish his additional editing.

    I registered all my video work with the US Copyright office, smelling a rat that Woodie might try to get out of paying for my work.

    I gave him low resolution copies of the finished work for his evaluation, which I posted on my youtube channel. He claimed these were unusable. He brought in his laptop one day, and while I was in another room, he copied all my files from my hard drive to his laptop. It’s the only way he could have obtained my good files, because I never gave them to him.

    I presented him with an invoice, billing him very fairly at only 100 dollars a day. As an editor who charges 100 dollars an hour, that was a real bargain for nearly two months of my shooting and editing. He went ballistic, told me to ‘F’ myself; he wasn’t paying over 4000 dollars for my work. He then started telling others my work was no good. I took down my YouTube channel.

    The next day, he threatened to sue me for interfering with his business. He put my videos back up on his own YouTube channel. Since he had given me his YouTube password previously, I took the videos down and sent him a cease and desist letter, stating he was in copyright violation.

    The third day, he hired a web company to create a new YouTube channel. He posted my videos there, which he linked to his web site. He has continuously been using my work to generate funds for his commercial television project.

    I sent a second invoice to his American Family Life corporation and a copy to his daughter in California (who is listed as VP of American Family Life).

    Woodie called the police and stated I was harassing him by emailing another invoice, and that I was endangering the welfare of his daughter by sending an invoice to her. I then contacted the police myself to see if they could arrest him for fraud. They told me, something about Woodie wasn’t quite right. They also explained it was a civil matter, and they couldn’t enforce the payment.

    I took him to court for unjust enrichment, and he claimed I sued the wrong party. He stated he was a corporate entity, and not an individual, even though he came to me as Woodie Thomas, individual. The judge dismissed the case on technicality without prejudice.

    I did some research, and discovered that copyright always stays with the creator of the tangible work, unless it is work-for-hire, or the copyright is signed off in a written agreement. But a little known law protects vendors in a client-vendor relationship.

    Clients always believe if they are paying, then it is automatically work-for-hire. But the law clearly states there is more to it than that in a client-vendor relationship. As a vendor and creator of the tangible work, I can only transfer my copyright by written statement or contract, where I expressly transfer my copyright. It isn’t work-for-hire unless it’s an employer-employee relationship. I never signed over my rights.

    I also discovered there are two basic types of copyright enforcement. One is cash value where I need to prove the value of my loss, which would be good for a known artist like the Beatles, where millions are at stake. There is also a statutory enforcement where no proof of value is required, but the limit is 75,000 dollars. The person bringing the suit also needs to have initiated the copyright registration application prior to the statutory lawsuit.

    Woodie has acknowledged in writing that I performed the work, and has also admitted in writing he refuses to pay for it. In addition, he is still using my work after being informed in writing that doing so is a clear case of copyright violation. He responded by threatening to sue me because he said he owns the copyright. I also contacted his web creator and YouTube, advising them the videos are my copyrighted work, and to remove them, which neither of them did.

    My next recourse is to sue all three parties for statutory copyright infringement. I have a solid case with all the evidence and documentation in order, and 75,000 dollars would certainly cover my costs. It may even hold legal ground that each of the three parties would owe 75,000 dollars individually.

    This experience has led me to forego the trust of friends and to avoid becoming involved in future low-budget TV and movie projects everyone seems to be doing these days.

    So what do you think? How would you decide this case?

  72. I’m a WW2 researcher.
    I discovered that a dozen WW2 photos on the Getty site were wrongly labelled (wrong place, wrong event). So I wrote to them offering to write correct captions. And when time passed, I wrote again. And again.
    There was absolute silence from Getty – the same people who are so active, so busy about chasing money.

  73. Well Getty have been sending out threats for years, so if they end up to be shown to be hypocrites, then great.

    It would be even more great if websites stopped using their crap pictures.

  74. I’d like more clarification of this issue. Elsewhere I’ve seen reports that a public-domain photo one posts on one’s website can suddenly go out of public domain (as it were: not sure what language describes this) and you can find yourself being billed and even threatened by some outfit like Getty. I’ve also read that even if you pay a stock photo agency for the right to use something in print or on a website, years later you can find somebody at your door demanding payment. How often does this occur, how is it done exactly, and is it legal? When a publisher believes s/he has acted in good faith, what recourse does one have?

  75. Welp, Getty just DESTROYED their own reputation by essentially stealing the public domain copyright of Highsmith’s work. What a pack of despicable jackals. You can tell by their mealy-mouthed response that they know they were in the wrong and are trying to work a ridiculous loop-hole to get away with it. They probably thought that a woman in her 70’s wouldn’t be up for fighting them. Disgusting.

  76. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Between the stolen Roman artifacts and the stolen WWII art, this activity fits in with the rest of how the Getty does business.

  77. It would appear that Getty may need a different lawyer if this response was crafted by their current one:

    “it is important to note that distributing and providing access to public
    domain content is different to asserting copyright ownership of it.”

    Just what were they asserting when:

    “she received a letter from Getty Images accusing her of copyright infringement for featuring one of her own photographs”?

    The “scientific” name for that is smoking gun.
    They should offer to settle for $500 million and pray that she accepts.

  78. I hope she destroys them! Too many Internet companies like this make money off the backs of real artists and try to befuddle the recourse by too much legalize. False copyright bullspit is their bread n butter and anyone working for these companies should just give up on being human anymore. Scumbags and thieves every single one of them.

  79. “distributing and providing access to public domain content is different to (sic) asserting copyright ownership of it”

    Although demanding $120 from Ms. Highsmith because she posted her own image on her own website is pretty darn convincing proof that Getty is guilty as sin. Get out the checkbook, boys. Your scam is about to bite you where it hurts.

  80. The images are not public domain, she retained the copyright to the photographs. She did provide a license that made it free to reuse her photographs through the library of Congress.

  81. Upon reading the headline, I thought it was another example of our litigious society run amok. However, after reading the article, I can only hope the lawsuit brings those firms out of business and some of those execs up on criminal charges.

  82. Strong precedent and formula for statutory damages makes a pretty solid case. Substantial settlement offer certain.

  83. I hope Ms Highsmith is not only awarded her $1B but is also allowed to spray-paint the faces of all the Getty plunderers as a punitive measure. That $120–that’s just enough that a lot of people would write the check, not knowing that Getty was charging for work a very talented artist put in the public domain. Getty delendo est!

  84. There are many sites available to get free images I don’t know why people pay Getty. In any case it’s a business with no future.

  85. This does not surprise me. I have had some bad experiences with Getty myself. If this is true, they deserve to pay the full amount.

  86. Again, Getty’s statement of 8/1 is true, but does not address the issue.

    Image banks make make public domain images available. However, it is fraud for them to demand payment from those who access those same images from other sources.

  87. One of the most significant damages from Getty’s behavior is it will discourage talented photographers from donating their work for public use. As a volunteer, you expect your gift to create a public good, not line corporate pockets.

  88. As anyone who has had to deal with Getty, most will agree they are a vile and opportunistic corporation. I hate to delight in the negative, but here’s a toast to them being sued into non-existence.

  89. How can Getty’s statement say “providing access to public domain content is different to asserting copyright ownership of it” while at the same time they are sending letters to the photographer accusing her of copyright infringement for featuring one of her own photographs on her own website?

  90. For the record, when I was in the media business and needed stock shots back in the ’80’s and ’90’s Getty was expensive but reputable. Then in 2009 they were purchased by a private equity firm – most of these firms have absolutely no interest in the product — they are only interested in creating money machines to continue what could be considered the financial rape and pillage of the world for their owners. It’s horrifying. So if they can get $120 or a $1000 bucks with a letter — who cares what the truth of it is? The fact is that a capitalist democracy without ethics, humanity or compassion — as is currently the case — is a pretty awful thing to be a part of. And it’s pretty obvious with the current state of affairs that many of us are still barbaric — any more and we’d be ripping raw meat with our teeth from the animal we just killed…for dinner.

  91. Getty has been doing this for years. I wouldn’t be shocked if a class action is filed soon.

  92. If this image was taken by a member of the Army and for the Army, it will always be copyright free. I suspect that finding the original source will be hard, so Getty makes it easy but unaffordable for the average person. Any photograph taken for the government, such as military photos and civilian “works projects” type things, like posters and people living in the great depression, documented for government reasons, will always be free usage, especially now that 70 years have past. But if the photo above was taken by Willie or Joe to show the wife and kids back home, and ended up in Joe Jr.’s attic and then Joe the III found it and copyrighted it, then he owns the copyright and then can sell it or sell it in limited ways, and I think Joe the IV may be able to renew the contract for 35 years, in the US of A. This of course is based upon my own experience. I donated about 10 years worth of my work to a state archives department. I own the copyright for another 25 years and the archives keeps the work and only charges users for what it costs archives to store and copy the item. In 25 years my daughter will own the copyright and can keep it for another 35 years. Then it goes into public domain. I will be 125 by then.

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