|Photographer Carol Highsmith with her Phase One camera. Photo via The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.|
Photographer Carol M. Highsmith is suing Getty Images for $1 billion over its alleged copyright infringement of 18,755 of her photos. The lawsuit, which was filed in a New York federal court on July 25, alleges that Getty Images has been charging fees to license her images without her permission – the same images she has provided to the Library of Congress for free use by the public. In addition to distributing her images, the lawsuit alleges that Getty did not give Highsmith proper credit for her photos.
The legal claim alleges statutory damages at up to $468,875,000. But because of a ruling against Getty in Morel v. Getty, a previous copyright case, the damages can reportedly be tripled to deter ‘bad faith business practices’. Highsmith became aware of Getty’s alleged copyright infringement after, she says, it sent her a letter accusing her of infringing the copyright of her own photograph by posting it on her own non-profit organization’s website.
The claim states, in part, ‘The defendants have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people. [Getty Images and subsidiaries] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees… but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.” The lawsuit also claims Highsmith’s reputation has suffered a serious blow as a result of Getty’s alleged actions.