Photographer Sues Getty Images for $1 Billion, Alleging Mass Copyright Infringement

Photographer Sues Getty Images for $1 Billion, Alleging Mass Copyright Infringement

Photographer Carol Highsmith has filed a suit against Getty Images seeking damages of $1 billion, alleging "gross misuse" of her photographs and copyright infringement.

In 1988, Highsmith donated tens of thousands of her images to the Library of Congress for use by the general public without charge under the sole stipulation that she be properly credited for them. Nonetheless, she recently discovered that Getty Images had been charging licensing fees for her images when she received a letter from them in December 2015 telling her she had to pay to use her own image (seen below) on her website. Upon further investigation, she found the "brazen and extortionate practices" were being applied to many users and were continued even after she voiced her objections, and thus, she filed a lawsuit. 

The claim alleges that Getty and other named parties have "misappropriated Ms. Highsmith's generous gift" and are "falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright holder." Under copyright law, she is entitled to up to $468,875,000 in damages for the 18,755 images that appeared on Getty's site, but due to a precedent in which Getty was similarly found to have violated the DMCA, the claim alleges Highsmith is entitled to damages in excess of $1 billion. The case was filed on July 25 in the United States District Court , Southern District of New York. So far, it appears Highsmith's images have been removed from Getty's site. 

[via PDN Pulse]

Images of Kansas City Art Museum by Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, used under public domain.

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33 Comments

Dave Kavanagh's picture

Now I'm not arguing that she doesn't have a case, but.....a billion???

Anonymous's picture

I agree. She took the legal maximum and then doubled it. I'm sure Getty's revenue from her images aren't anywhere close to a billion.

Michael Kormos's picture

It's part of the litigation process. This will never actually go to court. Parties will settle the case out of court for a fraction of that amount.

Chris Adval's picture

Not all the time. Remember the Richard Prince cases, which makes his likelihood on these cases, not the "art" he says he makes based on others work with small modifications.

Chris Adval's picture

According to the damages apparently its nearly half a billion based on her analysis at least.

Anonymous's picture

I hope she gets paid! It'd be good for all creatives.

The damages are already $500MM (however I think that's low given they misappropriated almost 20k images). If she can prove that there was criminal intent (which there was, they knew what they were doing and didn't stop when told to do so), the damages amount can be doubled or tripled.

The amount is paid by each image and on top of that if the offender is repeating similar and previous offense then it goes higher. However they will settle for a fraction of that but a big amount anyway

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Actually she is asking for at a MINUMUM 46,887,500$ for 18,755 photo violations (they have over 18000 of her images apparently) so she is asking for, at minimum 2500$ PER IMAGE ... far below the 150,000$ the law actually allows for.

The thing is Getty has been fined for copyright violation within the past 3 years so the fees can be TRIPPLED as a repeat offender.

You missed a zero - its $468 million, minimum.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

No I didn't.

This is a straight COPY AND PASTE from the OFFICIAL court documents.

11.
Getty has committed at least 18,755 separate violations of 17 U.S.C. § 1202, one count for each of the 18,755 Highsmith Photos appearing on Getty’s website. Thus, Ms. Highsmith is entitled to recover, among other things, and if she so elects, aggregate statutory damages against Getty of not less than forty-six million, eight hundred eighty-seven thousand five hundred dollars ($46,887,500) and not more than four hundred sixty-eight million, eight hundred seventy-five thousand dollars ($468,875,000).

I didn't type this ... this is a copy paste from the actual court document.

So they say she is entitles to no less than 47million and no more and 470million based on copyright law.

But since Getty has been lost in court over copyright violations in the last 3 years (MOREL case) another part of copyright law comes in allowing the court to SIGNIFICANTLY increase the penalties.

14.
Because Getty has already had a final judgment entered against it by this Court under 17 U.S.C. § 1202 in the past three years, this Court may treble the statutory damages in this case against Getty.

15.
Getty must therefore account for well over one billion dollars ($1B) in statutory copyright damages in this case.

My bad - I saw the misplaced $ sign and thought you had made a mistake in comprehension, turns out it was my mistake!

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Not really your fault, I'm french Canadian and we put the $ at the end in french which lead to your assumption. :)

http://www.syllabus.ca/en/didyouknow-en/writing-numbers-in-french-and-en...

Bert McLendon's picture

Go big or go home!! Get it!!

Max Leitner's picture

Would love to see this shut down Getty. Good luck.

Henry Louey's picture

But she loses all that exposure!!

Justin Berrington's picture

"Muahahaha" That's her lauging all the way to the bank

Stephen Cole's picture

For what they did I really hope she gets the billion. It's punitive. Getty acted in what to me appears to be a criminal manner. This woman was generous enough to give them away. And look what the suits at Getty did to her. I hope they pay big time.

she gave it for "free" to the congress because she new she will collect a lot of money later. She understood long time ago that a big criminal corporation would do exactly this. So it was a bank account.( just kidding)

Thank you Alex for providing posts with substance to Fstoppers!

Henry Louey's picture

I agree. This post and Nino's Shoot the Centrefold have been brilliant.

Chris Adval's picture

This will be a very interesting and very tricky case. Technically Getty should not be making bank on images in the library of congress. But I'd assume library of congress art work should be available for non-profit, educational, and inspirations purposes. 1 billions will be tough, but $500,000,000 more likely if she wins. This will be a long case for sure since Getty is a billion plus net value, so I'm sure they got a ton of lawyers protecting them rather they're in the right or wrong of the law. If she wins, it'll definitely cost her at least $50m-$100m

Eric Lefebvre's picture

If you go and read the actual court document it spells it out clearly.

It's over 18000 images and she is actually asking for about half a billion

"not more than four hundred sixty-eight million, eight hundred seventy-five thousand dollars
($468,875,000)."

On top of that Getty got slapped for copyright violation within the last 3 years Morel case ...

"12. The unlawful conduct complained of herein is not Getty’s first violation of the DMCA, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 1202.

13. Getty was found by this Court to have violated 17 U.S.C. § 1202 within the last 3 years, and ordered to pay over $1 million in damages."

So this allows the fines and penalties to be tripled

"Because Getty has already had a final judgment entered against it by this Court under 17 U.S.C. § 1202 in the past three years, this Court may treble the statutory damages in this case against Getty.

15. Getty must therefore account for well over one billion dollars ($1B) in statutory copyright damages in this case."

From a different blog:
"...While the statutory damage liability for Getty in this case is $468,875,000, PDNPulse reports that Highsmith is seeking $1 billion based on the precedent of photographer Daniel Morel’s lawsuit against Getty, in which he was awarded $1.2 million for the widespread infringement of one photo."

Quick math:
18,755 images x $1.2 = $22,506,000,000

She's letting Getty off easy.

Spy Black's picture

I SOOO hope she takes these scumbags down.

I came here to write about how ridiculous our lawsuits in America are but then I read the article and this woman should be pissed. I don't know about a billion dollars but it sounds like Getty really messed up here.

I think it would depend on what she decides to do with the sum if she wins.

If she's still as generous as she was when bequeathing her images, a charitable organization, institution or two might receive some much needed funding and support.

As noted in my post above, is any 1 image of hers any less worth because Getty decided to "steal" the entire catalogue of 18,755(!)?

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Hey Lee, 18000 images and Getty is a repeat infringer that prosecutes people who infringe on "their copyright" with extreme prejudice ... I have no pitty for Getty here.

I'm looking forward to watching this one unfold! Even if she gets 10% of that amount - happy days, right?!

go get em girl

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