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Photographer sues Getty Images for selling licenses to her work

Getty Images is on the receiving end of a $1 billion lawsuit for wrongfully selling usage licenses to a photographer's photos. The problem isn't that the company allowed others to use the images, but that they charged for it.

In 1988, photographer Carol Highsmith made several of her photographs public domain, asking only that they be credited to the Library of Congress' Carol M. Highsmith Collection. Imagine her surprise when, years later, she receives a Copyright infringement notification for one of her own public domain images.

Ms. Highsmith's lawsuit alleges that Getty Images violated one section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 18,755 times. This figure is based on the number of her photos Getty has available on their website, with usage fees ranging from $175 to $575. 

The lawsuit states that Getty Images has no rights to these images, beyond the rights made available to all by public domain, and that Ms. Highsmith has no contract with them to sell these images. Additionally, the photo credit is not correct on Getty's website for the images, typically citing Buyandlarge as the Copyright owner, only occasionally listing Carol Highsmith as an additional contributor.

A lawyer for Getty Images, Kenneth Doroshow, states the company will be asking for the case to be dismissed. They claim that it is standard practice for image libraries to distribute public domain images, as well as to charge a fee to cover their overhead costs for indexing, archiving, digitizing and making images searchable online.

In her lawsuit, Ms. Highsmith says she never intended to abandon her Copyright to these images, nor does she wish for third parties to profit from them or send demand letters for non-payment.


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