Getty Images is being sued for $1 billion by Carol Highsmith after she received a $120 bill because she used her own photograph without Getty’s permission. Highsmith is a highly respected photographer whose work has been the centerpiece of many important books about U.S. cities, states, religion, and historical renovations nationwide, Forbes wrote. Highsmith has provided photos showing people and places of the United States Library of Congress since 1988 for public use without cost. In her lawsuit, Highsmith claims that Getty Images sent her a nasty letter over her use of her pictures on a personal website.
Carol Highsmith Sues Getty Images for $1 Billion in Copyright Complaint. https://t.co/PVFeoVVNp2
— Museums Council NYC (@MuseumsCouncil) July 29, 2016
Although the astronomical amount she is suing the agency for may seem ridiculous, it is a complaint that affects nearly 19,000 photos of this famous photographer. As explained in a report from the L.A. Times, Getty Images threatened to take her to court in the letter and accused her of license infringement and demanded a “settlement payment” of $120 from her nonprofit This Is America! Foundation.
“We have seen that an image or image(s) represented by Alamy has been used for online use by your company. According to Alamy’s records your company doesn’t have a valid license for use of the image(s),” the letter reads.
“Although this infringement might have been unintentional, use of an image without a valid license is considered copyright infringement in violation of the Copyright Act, Title 17, United States Code. This copyright law entitles Alamy to seek compensation for any license infringement.”
— Johnny Montana (@agenda42) July 29, 2016
Torrent Freak reports that the cash demand was later dropped, but Highsmith discovered that Getty and Alamy were offering thousands of her other photographs on their websites. Highsmith had previously donated her images to the Library of Congress for public use but noted that Getty was misrepresenting them by stating that users must buy a copyright license from the company to use them.
Although the images were transferred and listed as free for any use without restrictions, that does not override the rights and responsibility of the photographer, and in no case allows Getty to sell them, the lawsuit alleges. The lawsuit, filed a few days ago in the courts of New York, comes after Highsmith realized the alleged copyright infringement when Alamy, a licensing service working for Getty Images, sent a letter to her non-profit organization demanding that she pay $120 for showing her own photos on her website.
After receiving the letter, Highsmith called LCS, the licensing service, and provided evidence that she was the original owner of the photographs, which were intended to be used free of charge, and LCS decided to close the case against her and not demand more payments.
Although LCS admitted the mistake, Getty Images and Alamy continued offering Highsmith photographs for sale on its website until a lawsuit was filed on July 25. On July 29, Getty Images dropped Highsmith’s images from their website.
The vice president of communications at Getty Images, Sarah Lochting, released the following statement regarding the matter.
“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.”
Lochting also said that LCS and Getty Images are “separate entities with no operational relationship,” but reportedly Getty Images and LCS share the same address in Seattle, according to DNS records. Lochting declined to comment.
This is not the first time that Getty Images has been in trouble with the law. In 2014, photographer David Morel won $1.2 million in damages after a federal jury found AFP (Agence France-Presse) and Getty Images guilty of copyright infringement.
[Image via Shutterstock]