has a bit of a reputation
for being a ridiculous copyright troll
at times -- sending out threatening letters demanding large sums to "settle" for people who use an image from Getty's database. But, now, it appears to have taken the trolling to a new level, as the German blog GetDigital.de revealed last week when it reported that Getty had demanded nearly $1,000 for one year's use
of an image of a penguin that is actually part of a semi-popular meme, better known as the Socially Awkward Penguin
If you're unaware, the Socially Awkward Penguin usually looks something like this:
Or, more specifically, it looks like that with words above and below it detailing a socially awkward situation. For example:
Okay, maybe not the greatest meme, but, you know, it's an internet meme.
is that the penguin itself was sort of plucked from a photograph taken by George Mobley for National Geographic, seen here in thumbnail form:
Getty holds the rights on the image, and apparently has decided to go trolling on it. GetDigital actually agreed to pay up and remove the image... but was also told that it couldn't tell anyone about this, and apparently decided to give a giant middle finger to Getty by posting all about it -- leading to fairly widespread press attention about the fact that Getty is apparently so desperate in its copyright trolling that it's now going after memes.
In response, GetDigital has now released an alternative version of the Socially Awkward Penguin based on a penguin that Getty can't troll over:
It's even been added to Meme Generator
in case you'd like to make your own.
Of course, this whole thing is particularly stupid and makes Getty look absolutely ridiculous (once again). Chances are there would be a strong fair use defense in the US, but the shakedown above is happening in Germany, which doesn't have a similarly codified fair use concept. But, even so, it just makes Getty look desperate. Even worse, when approached by the Daily Dot about this, rather than admit it had fucked up, Getty Images doubled down
“We believe in protecting copyright and the livelihoods of photographers and other artists who rely on licensing to earn a living and fund the creation of new works,” a Getty spokesperson wrote. “Getty Images has an immense responsibility to the 200,000+ artists we work with to ensure that their work is properly licensed when used by commercial entities. Bear in mind that many artists themselves are small businesses, and are entitled to be paid for their work.”
Getty added that it “understand[s] that people love our imagery and want to share it in a personal capacity with their online audiences.” But to do so without triggering a copyright claim, Getty recommends that Internet users take advantage of the company’s image-embed tool, which the company launched last year.
Nearly the entire statement is bullshit. Getty has no "responsibility" (immense or otherwise) to shakedown blogs using a semi-popular meme. Doing so is not about protecting copyright or protecting the livelihood of photographers. It's just shaking down a blog. No one is using this meme because of the photograph itself, and as can be seen by the alternative version, there's nothing special about this
penguin that makes it especially necessary for this meme. It's just a crazy meme that got popular on the internet, not because of Getty and not because of George Mobley.
As for the whole thing about Getty's image-embed tool, we wrote about that
last year when it came out -- and we were happy that Getty appeared to be embracing the internet, rather than just copyright trolling, but this response is pure bullshit, because the socially awkward penguin image is not available via Getty
, because that image is not the meme
. So that response makes absolutely no sense at all.
Meanwhile, the Socially Awkward Penguin meme itself had more or less become obscure after going through its rise and fall in popularity. However, this shakedown by Getty appears to be leading to a resurgence of the meme. Perhaps that's really what Getty wanted all along.