Photography is a huge part of a creatives business whether you sell products or services, or maintain a blog. We all know a picture is worth a thousand words…and maybe even a thousand dollars. This recent case is fascinating in that there are several point to take away from this situation. Think about how this might affect your blog, your brand, or your ability to serve your customers. Here are some of the critical facts of the case.
A photographer started donating her photos to the Library of Congress in 1988. This means that anyone that wanted to use her photos were welcome to use them. She requested that the users of her photos credited the Library of Congress photographer’s collection. Imagine this photographer’s shock and surprise when she received a demand letter from Getty Images stating she owed $120 for using her own photos. She knew something was definitely wrong! After she explained that she indeed was the copyright owner, and that she had granted the photos to the Library of Congress to put into the public domain, she was no longer required to pay the $120. However, the photos still remained on Getty’s website for them to license to others.
The photographer filed a lawsuit in federal court for misappropriation of the gift to the Library of Congress for charging fees to those who were free to use the photos without paying anything. According to the photographer’s lawsuit, it is alleged that Getty violated federal law 18,755 times based on the number of photos it licensing on its website. There are no separate agreements between the photographer and Getty that would grant licenses to sell the photographer’s photos, so Getty essentially has the same rights and responsibilities that all citizens have to use the photographer’s photos. Because of the outcomes of some other related litigation, the photographer was able to ask for treble statutory damages—translation—the defendant’s potential liability could total well over $1billion. Interestingly, the photographer is one whose works have been featured in over 50 books and on two US postal stamps.
This is case is both interesting and extreme, but I think in its extreme nature I think it works well to make a few important points for creatives.
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