|Image by Carol M Highsmith|
Carol Highsmith is a 'richly published photographer best know for capturing 'Americana'. Highsmith’s images have been publicly available through the Library of Congress since 1992, and the only thing the artist asks is that people credit her when using them. But why is her claim for $1 billion dollars? Well after this ill fated episode was started by Alamy, Highsmith discovered that Alamy and Getty Images were apparently "representing" some 18,000 of her images.
Seattle-based Getty Images is the world famous multi national agency that controls an enourmous archive of stock images - and it is known to be vigilant in protecting its rights and the rights of its clients. The company scans the web in search of instances where people have used its images without obtaining an appropriate license and pursues the alleged infringer for money. Alamy decribes otself as "the world’s largest stock photo collection". Only here Ms Highsmith wasnt actually a client - and Alamy didnt own or control the rights to the images - and nor did Getty.
|One of Carol Highsmith's images|
One such letter was received in December 2015 by the This is America! Foundation, a non-profit set up by Carol Highsmith, a long-established US-based photographer. Penned by a company calling itself License Compliance Services (LCS) on behalf of Alamy. The letter said:
“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)” adding “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.” The company demanded $120 to settle the dispute,
Highsmith says she explained her position to LCS - primarily that she was the author and was the first legal owner of the copyright in the image. However, she also revealed that she had donated this and thousands of other images to the Library of Congress and makes them available to the public to reproduce and display for free. At the end of December 2015, Highsmith received confirmation from LCS that the case against her had been dropped. However, Getty and Alamy reportedly continued to make available more than 18,000 of Highsmith’s other photographs on their websites.
Highsmith's lawsuit states: “Nowhere on its website does Getty identify Ms. Highsmith as the sole author of the Highsmith Photos. Likewise, nowhere on its website does Getty identify Ms. Highsmith as the copyright owner of the work” and “Instead, Getty misrepresents the terms and conditions of using the Highsmith Photos by falsely claiming a user must buy a copyright license from Getty in order to have the right to use the Highsmith Photos” and “The Defendants are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees to people and organizations who were already authorized to reproduce and display the donated photographs for free, but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner and threatening individuals and companies with copyright infringement lawsuits that the Defendants could not actually lawfully pursue.”
Highsmith says that Getty is liable for statutory damages of up to $468,875,000.
Getty commented "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” adding “LCS works on behalf of content creators and distributors to protect them against the unauthorized 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.”