Yesterday we reported on a lawsuit filed against Getty Images by noted U.S culture archive photographer Carol Highsmith. The case was notable for the extraordinarily high liability sum sought after in the suit, with a potential US$1 billion of damages being sought by Highsmith. Now both sides have responded to our request to speak on the matter.
The case revolved around Getty allegedly misappropriating 18,755 photographs of Highsmith’s. The image provider site was attempting to monetise the photos and even issued Highsmith with a copyright infringement claim. The photos in question are part of a massive collection Highsmith has spent the last 30 years contributing to the U.S Library of Congress, making them free for public use. However, Highsmith claims that though she allowed her images to be used in this manner, she retained her individual ownership and credit right of the images. If this is the case, then Getty was possibly making a profit from Highsmith’s images without the right to do so.
A Getty Images Spokesperson issued us with the following statement:
“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 [License Compliance Services] works on behalf of content creators and distributors to protect them against the unauthorised 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.”
It seems that Getty believes that because the images were in the public domain that long, they became so widely available and dispersed that any rights claims were null and void.
If you are wondering why Alamy is also being mentioned in this matter, it’s because they are also charged against in the claim, along with Picscout, LCS, and an unnamed “1-100” John Does.
We also reached out to Highsmith’s legal counsel for information. James R. Gourley, a partner at Carstens and Cahoon declined to issue any further information, saying “We don’t have any comment beyond what is contained in the complaint.”
If you wish to read the full complaint it is available here for your perusal.
In the meantime it looks like neither side is willing to admit fault and this case could be moving towards full-on litigation. If it does, it could have major ramifications in respect to image providers, photographer rights and free use. We will keep you updated as this story progresses.