That Coronavirus Image Is Public Domain, But That Won't Stop Getty From Trying To Sell You A $500 License To Use It

from the seriously,-guys? dept

Late last week, we wrote a nice story about how the infamous image of the coronavirus that is causing COVID-19 is in the public domain, since it’s a work of the US federal government. That’s part of the reason why it’s everywhere these days:

But, as one of our commenters pointed out, that won’t stop Getty Images from trying to sell you a license to the image (even complete with the CDC logo on it, which takes real balls by Getty) for an astounding $500.

I mean, the text with the image even directly says that it was created at the CDC. You’d think some worker bee at Getty might recognize that this makes it public domain.

Getty has a bit of a history of this, and was even sued by a photographer for trying to license images that she had put into the public domain. To be clear, Getty is not violating any law here. Something that’s in the public domain is free for use in any manner, meaning that you certainly could try to sell it, though it does seem a bit sleazy and dishonest, especially at a time when news about the coronavirus is so important.

What would be problematic, of course, is if Getty actually threatened, sent DMCA takedowns, or sued over anyone using the image. Because that would be bullshit. It’s a little unclear exactly how Getty got this image. It’s listed as part of the “Smith Collection/Gado.” However, it’s hard to find out what exactly that means. There is a company called Gado Images, which mixes a bunch of buzzwords about AI with stuff about archiving photographs. I’m not sure I understand what one has to do with the other. It says it’s using AI for “digitizing, capturing and sharing the world’s visual history.” And licensing it, perhaps. But if the images are not Gado’s to share, then that raises a whole bunch of other questions.

Either way, the whole thing is pretty sleazy, and Getty should either (a) take it down, or (b) admit that it is public domain and make it freely available.

Filed Under: , , , ,
Companies: gado images, getty images

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “That Coronavirus Image Is Public Domain, But That Won't Stop Getty From Trying To Sell You A $500 License To Use It”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:


This is pretty much the textbook definition of Copyfraud: That is, claiming to own a copyright on something that doesn’t have it.

If we actually had a balanced Copyright regime, there would be penalties for copyfraud. But alas, as with all other regulatory bureaus in the executive branch, the enforcement is on the take.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Copyfraud

So, can anyone explain to me how this copyfraud is not actual fraud – or even extortion? They’re extorting $500 payments under at least an implied thread of a lawsuit if you don’t, based on an assertion that they one something that they know that they don’t.

If I claim I own the Brooklyn Bridge, someone believes I own it, and I sell it to that someone, I have committed a crime. If I threaten to sue someone for doing something unless they pay me $500, unless I am VERY careful in my phrasing, I have committed a crime.

So how is this not illegal at all?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Copyfraud

"So, can anyone explain to me how this copyfraud is not actual fraud – or even extortion?"

Because – as anyone who followed the DMCA shit-show can attest – the lawmakers bought and paid for by the copyright lobby were outraged at the idea that the industry representing the "poor and starving artists" should have the added burden of having to actually prove their claim was correct before making it.

Hence the DMCA is formulated to assume that any claim made in "good faith" was to be assumed valid, and that a copyright holder would not be liable to any mistakes made in such a claim.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Copyfraud

Getty makes no statement it owns the copyright.

All Getty is doing here is trying to profit from the public domain, also known as taking a page from the Disney "How To Screw Everyone" playbook.

It’s unethical, for sure, but I’m surprised anyone is actually paying Getty for the use of any of its images.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Copyfraud

I think you’re right. So does the law. However, a better analogy to what Getty is doing is like Penguin (or their children’s imprint, Puffin) selling a print copy of Treasure Island when you could get it for free on Project Gutenberg. What Disney does is sell cinematic adaptations of Treasure Island (three as far as I can tell: The 1950 live-action one, The Muppets version, and Treasure Planet), so they’re not selling the same thing (unless you count their former literary imprint Hyperion).

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Copyfraud

Not quite, and that’s unfortunately enough wiggle room to allow them to continue their despicable behavior. Something in the public domain can be ‘sold’ by anyone, because depending on how you look at it either no-one owns it or everyone owns it, and that includes Getty.

There’s nothing inherently wrong in selling public domain works, where it gets scummy is if you imply that you own what you’re selling, by, oh, I dunno, phrasing it as a license or something along those lines, a term most people associate with ownership. Something like that takes selling public domain works from fine to what is essentially ‘legal scam’, where it might technically be legal but it’s still reprehensible and sleazy.

jupiterkansas (profile) says:

Re: Copyfraud

Copyrfraud is claiming copyright over something that someone else holds the copyright too, or claiming copyright on something in the public domain.

ANYBODY can sell public domain image. You can sell them. Getty can sell them. I can sell them. It happens all the time. It is not even wrong or unethical. Shakespeare? Dickens? Old silent movies? Civil War photos. Someone is out there selling them.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

"rights-managed" on Getty

On Getty, it’s license type is listed as "rights-managed". Implies there’s limitations on usage.

Limited to the specific use, medium, period of time, print run, placement, size of content, and territory selected, and any other restrictions that accompany the content on the Getty Images website (or any other method of content delivery) or in an order confirmation or invoice. Non-Exclusive, meaning that, unless otherwise indicated on the website, your invoice, sales order or separate agreement, you do not have exclusive rights to use the content. Getty Images can license the same content to other customers.

Common uses include:
Newspapers and magazines (except for covers), editorial broadcasts, documentaries, non-commercial websites, blogs and social media posts illustrating matters of public interest
Can’t be used for:
Book or magazine covers, commercial, promotional, advertorial, endorsement, advertising, or merchandising purposes in any media (e.g. print, commercial broadcast, film, digital)
Standard editorial rights:
Anyone in your organization can use it an unlimited number of times for up to 15 years, worldwide, with uncapped indemnification
Subject to the Content License Agreement

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "rights-managed" on Getty

According to the CDC Image library <b>Copyright Restrictions</b>:
None – This image is in the public domain and thus free of any copyright restrictions. As a matter of courtesy we request that the content provider be credited and notified in any public or private usage of this image.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Creating a photo at the CDC does not in and of itself render the photo a work of the United States Government. The person creating the photo must be an officer or employee of the USG, and the photo must have been created as a part of that person’s official duties. If these requirements are not met, such a photo is not within the public domain. In such a situation the subsequent transfer of copyright, if any, in the photo to the USG would enable the USG, if so inclined, to assert the copyright against others.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Andrea Iravani says:

So it isn’t the highly contagious and fatal SARS virus wrapped in EBOLA and AIDS envelopes that you claimed it to be Tyler? But more like spider eggs in bubble yum? Never mind. That is quite a miscalculation, but you sold a lot of soap as a journo terrorist after destroying everyone’s lifee! With your feet on the ground and your head up your ass try this trick and spin it! You’re full of shit and that’s all that’s in it and you’ll ask yourself, where is my mind?

Crafty Coyote says:

In a Rush to Judge

I wish they had a different name. Every time I hear that word Getty, I have to think about the extortionists and fraudsters who try to bilk people into paying money for architectural and landscape photos, rather than the best bass guitar player of all time (spells his name different, but you know what I mean). It really is a shame!

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: In a Rush to Judge

Fortunately, copyright wasn’t an issue with these covers because I paid for a mechanical license for them.

On another note, as a courtesy I give the original songwriters a CD-R of the cover I made with their song or songs I have covered. I was able to do so with all my covers except for Blue Öyster Cult’s "Burnin’ For You" (I have not yet met Buck Dharma) and the "Land of Chocolate" theme from the Simpsons (I have not yet met Alf Clausen). To everyone else I gave a CD with my cover of their song on them, including Geddy Lee (unfortunately, I couldn’t give it to Neil Peart, but them’s the breaks).

Crafty Coyote says:

Re: Re: Re:2 In a Rush to Judge

As a copyright holder (would have been a Creative Commons owner if I’d heard about it in 2017), I want to be very generous with my little Crafty Coyote and hope other people get something out of him. I hate how copyright is used as a form of censorship, I truly do.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 In a Rush to Judge

I’m all about Creative Commons. The reason why they’re not on my copyrighted covers is because I don’t own their copyrights; I’m merely their licensee so I must stay within their bounds. Music whose copyright I do own I have licensed with a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license (as well as covers of Jonathan Coulton who licenses his music in a similar fashion).

Federico (profile) says:

Copyright registration for public domain works

The web page has a footer "© 2020 Getty Images", which is misleading but maybe not so clearly associated to the image itself.

I couldn’t find any copyright registration by "Gado", but funnily enough there are 1177 copyright registrations containing the keyword "CDC":,0&SAB1=CDC&BOOL1=all%20of%20these&FLD1=Keyword%20Anywhere%20%28GKEY%29%20%28GKEY%29&GRP1=OR%20with%20next%20set&CNT=10&REC=0&RC=0&PID=ZFkr0_L7g37iWSH4WBC1ZrnOu&SEQ=20200407021637&SID=2

Including several which list the CDC as author:

How can the "CDC Yellow Book 2020: Health Information for International Travel" be registered for copyright when the registration itself says:

Authorship on Application: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, employer for hire; Domicile: United States. Authorship: Some new, revised and updated text. Compilation of individual contributions

Text from previously published edition. Public domain material.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...