After months in court, a billion dollar public domain dispute comes to a close.
Getty Images is a Seattle-based company which holds an archive of millions of stock photographs. It has garnered a reputation for strongly protecting it’s copyrights and pursuing those who use their images without paying. In late December 2015, Carol Highsmith experienced this first hand, when she received a $120 settlement demand via License Compliance Services (LCS) on behalf of Alamy, a Getty-affiliated company.
“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),” began the letter. “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 case took a bizarre turn when it became clear that the image Highsmith had been targeted for was her own. It was among a batch of photographs she had donated to the Library of Congress, and made available for the public to use for free. Getty images had subsequently acquired more than 18,000 of Highsmith’s pictures and integrated them into their archive.
The photographer responded with a $1bn lawsuit. Getty Images decided to pursue the case in court, saying it would defend its position because Highsmith had placed her images in the public domain and thus had no claim to them. The case has finally been settled with a dismissal, disappointing any who hoped to see the stock-photography giant take a beating.
After dismissing Highsmith’s lawsuit, three state law claims remained, suggesting that Getty had been collecting settlements from images it had no ownership of. These claims too, have been dismissed:
“It is hereby stipulated and agreed, by and among the parties, that this action shall be dismissed with prejudice [—], each party to bear its own costs and fees,” the Judge wrote in his dismissal.