Photo-licensing giant Getty Images is not usually on the receiving end of copyright infringement lawsuits. Getty is usually the one ruthlessly pursuing compensation for unlawful use of images in its collection. In a matter of weeks, however, the company found itself served with two separate suits.
In late July, photographer Carol Highsmith filed a lawsuit against Getty Images and three other companies for wrongfully selling licenses to her public domain images. The following week, Zuma Press also filed suit against Getty for copyright violations and unauthorized licensing.
In Ms. Highsmith’s lawsuit, she alleges that Getty has violated one section of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act 18,755 times. The company has not only sought licensing fees for the images she donated to the Library of Congress, but also was incorrectly attributing the copyright ownership to Buyenlarge rather than the Carol M. Highsmith Collection. Ms. Highsmith discovered the violation because she received a demand letter asking for $120 for the use of one of her donated images.
The civil complaint filed by Zuma Press states similar violations, claiming Getty has sought unauthorized licencing for more than 47,000 images. Zuma claims that Getty has been “carelessly and recklessly acquiring content” for their website without taking measures to prevent infringement or seek out copyright holders for proper permission to licence these images.
As for Getty’s response to these two lawsuits, the company claims it is “standard practice for image libraries to distribute and provide access to public domain content,” such as Ms. Highsmith’s donated images. Getty has not officially responded to the Zuma Press lawsuit, other than to say that they are in the process of reviewing the complaint. Since both lawsuits were filed, the majority of related images have been removed from Getty’s U.S. site.