Schadenfreude hits a new high

You are now reading the only sentence I’m writing in this, the first-ever “no comment,” utterly self-explanatory (besides these introductory words) post on LIKELIHOOD OF CONFUSION® — via a site called Hyperallergic:

In December, documentary photographer Carol Highsmith received a letter from Getty Images accusing her of copyright infringement for featuring one of her own photographs on her own website. It demanded payment of $120. This was how Highsmith came to learn that stock photo agencies Getty and Alamy had been sending similar threat letters and charging fees to users of her images, which she had donated to the Library of Congress for use by the general public at no charge.

Now, Highsmith has filed a $1 billion copyright infringement suit against both Alamy and Getty for “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs. “The defendants [Getty Images] have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people,” the complaint reads. “[They] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees … but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.” According to the lawsuit, Getty and Alamy, on their websites, have been selling licenses for thousands of Highsmith’s photographs, many without her name attached to them and stamped with “false watermarks.” . . .

Screen Shot 2016-07-27 at 4.18.50 PM
Photo by Carol Highsmith on the Getty site, with a false watermark (image via Highsmith v. Getty et al. complaint by the author) — Via Hyperallergic

Since each violation of copyright in this case allows the plaintiff to seek damages up to $25,000, the statutory damages for Getty’s 18,755 violations amount to $468,875,000. But because the company was found to have violated the same copyright law within the past three years — in 2013, Daniel Morel was awarded $1.2 million in a suit against Getty, after the agency pulled his photos from Twitter and distributed them without permission to several major publications — Highsmith can elect to seek three times that amount: hence the $1 billion suit. . . .

“The injury to Ms. Highsmith’s reputation has been … severe,” it continues. “There is at least one example of a recipient of a threatening letter for use of a Highsmith Photo researching the issue and determining that Ms. Highsmith had made her photos freely available and free to use through the Library website. … Therefore, anyone who sees the Highsmith Photos and knows or learns of her gift to the Library could easily believe her to be a hypocrite.”

UPDATE:  “Rakoff To Crop Photog’s Claims In $1B Suit Against Getty”

Ron Coleman

I write this blog.

One thought on “Schadenfreude hits a new high

  1. I think some commentary is needed, counselor.

    What is unlawful about charging licensing fees for works in the public domain? It’s sketchy, sure, but is it unlawful? How is it different from selling an eBook of, say, Hamlet on Amazon? Is the difference that Highsmith did not release her photos into the public domain but rather nakedly licensed them to all, in perpetuity, to use but not relicense (or some such arrangement)?

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