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Getty Sued Again Over Abusing Copyright Law, Licensing Images It Has No Rights To

from the a-pattern-in-the-making dept

Getty hasn’t been having a very good past few weeks. After getting sued last week by famed photographer Carol Highsmith, after a Getty subsidiary demanded money for her posting her own photographs (which she had donated to the Library of Congress), it’s being sued again by independent press agency/wire service Zuma. Zuma claims that Getty was offering 47,048 images of its images for licensing, despite not actually having a license to do so.

The full lawsuit is pretty short on details, so it’s difficult to assess the legitimacy of the lawsuit. In fact, the lack of detail in the filing makes me wonder if there’s a lot more to this story. Most of the filing focuses on highlighting how Getty has rapidly been buying up other photo licensing/stock photo sites, and using that fact to make the assertion (without further evidence) that Getty does not do enough due diligence to make sure the photos it offers for license are properly authorized. It may very well be that Getty screwed up here, but it seems like the complaint should include a few more details. Instead, there’s a lot of innuendo.

Perhaps the weirdest is using the following tweet from Getty’s founder and chairman, Jonathan Klein, back in January as evidence against Getty:

What this is in reference to is the fact that Bill Gates had just sold Getty’s biggest competitor, Corbis, to the Chinese firm Visual China Group (VCG) while simultaneously, VCG had negotiated a licensing deal with Getty to handle the licensing of all Corbis images outside of China. In short, his reference is pretty clear: for two decades or so, Getty and Corbis had been competing neck and neck, and here was a deal by which he basically got all of Corbis’ image collection without having to actually buy Corbis. It’s a bit of a crass way to express it, but it doesn’t seem that nefarious.

In the lawsuit, Zuma paints a much darker picture of this tweet, arguing that there was some sort of secret deal going down that Klein was subtweeting (tweeting about something or someone without directly naming it or them) a deal to get Corbis’ imagery without letting the world know the details. Here’s how the lawsuit describes it:

Upon information and belief, in January 2016, Getty covertly purchased Corbis? image licensing business via Visual China Group, Getty?s exclusive distributor in China.

In response to the clandestine deal, Getty?s then-CEO and current Co-Founder and Chairman, Jonathan Klein tweeted ?Almost 21 years but got it. Lovely to get the milk, the cream, cheese, yoghurt and the meat without buying the cow.? @JonathanDKlein, January 22, 2016 at 7:41 A.M.

I’m not sure what that has to do with the actual lawsuit at hand, unless something about the Corbis/VCG/Getty deal had something to do with Getty posting Zuma’s images. Instead, they just make blanket assertions:

Upon information and belief, Getty has been carelessly and recklessly acquiring content, not doing due diligence and not taking adequate measures to prevent infringement as well as falsifying/removing proper copyright management information. In fact, its aggressive acquisition schedule is possible only at the expense of others? rights. Undeterred by almost two hundred complaints filed with Washington State Attorney General?s Office, despite several lawsuits, and the growing consensus in the industry that its abusive, unethical, and reckless business practices must be addressed, Getty has shown that it cannot and will not reform on its own accord.

I’m the last person to go around defending Getty, which I tend to think of as a large copyright troll that has a history of abusive behavior. But a lawsuit like this should be a lot more detailed and have stronger evidence. Perhaps it’ll show up later in an amended complaint. It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case — but filling the initial complaint with random innuendo, rather than directly explaining what Getty did to infringe on Zuma’s photographs makes it seem like a weak case.

Filed Under: , , ,
Companies: corbis, getty, zuma

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Comments on “Getty Sued Again Over Abusing Copyright Law, Licensing Images It Has No Rights To”

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7 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

legalized hoodwinkery

Is this sort of thing any different from a company selling open-source software as its own product? Yes, it’s very scammy, especially when they charge a high price for re-labeled free software. But it’s not technically illegal, no matter how much money they rake in from the many fools who should have known better than to be hoodwinked so easily.

The sad reality is that while the law gives immense protection to people who choose to copyright their work, the law gives virtually zero protection for people who instead choose to open-source/public-domain their work.

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