California. Getty Images offers stock photos for a small fee. But many of their photos are used unlawfully. There are so many images on the internet these days that Getty resorted to some code called a robot (bot for short). This code searches the internet endlessly for any images which have a tiny bit of imbedded code that creates the famous Getty Watermark.
A discovered watermark prompts the robot to send details to the Getty lawyers. For any illegal finding, a “cease and desist” letter goes out. This letter requests the recipient to pay a small fee or remove the image.
US photographer Carol Highsmith donated some 100,000 photographs to the Library of Congress stipulating they were to be placed in the public domain (free to be used by anyone). To her surprise, she received a “cease and desist” letter from Getty and a request to pay $110 US for use of an image. Unfortunately, it was a photo taken by Highsmith and donated to the Library of Congress.
Her lawyers sued Getty for a billion dollars on her behalf after over 18,000 of her donated images were discovered in the Getty database. End of the issue? Not so! Getty claimed that like all stock photo companies they often use public domain images. Getty claims the fee is not for the photos but for the cost of indexing and making the photos readily available online.
The issue was picked up by many sources including Russell Smith of our Globe and Mail in his August 2nd article “When bots have a say in the chain of custody of artwork” and in the Artforum a few days earlier (July 28th) in this article:”Photographer Files $1 Billion Lawsuit Against Getty Images for Copyright Infringement“. Read them for more information.