Getty Images sued for licensing images in the public domain
July 28, 2016

Getty Images sued for licensing images in the public domain

Carol Highsmith, “Houston, Texas Skyline” (2014), part of the Lyda Hill Texas Collection at the Library of Congress (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Caroline M. Highsmith, a renowned photographer who has dedicated her life to capturing images of the United States, is suing Getty Images for $1 billion. Highsmith claims that the company committed copyright infringement through the “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her photographs documenting America.

She became aware of Getty Images using her photographs when she received a letter from Getty Images demanding that she pay for her own photos that she used on her own website!

Beginning in 1988 and up until recently, Highsmith was donating tens of thousands of photographs that she had taken to the Library of Congress. The photographs represented her documentation of people and places throughout the United States of America. Her photos were listed on the library’s website as being in the public domain with “no known restrictions on publication’’, however Highsmith claims she never abandoned her photo copyrights.

The complaint alleges that Getty Images is not only unlawfully charging licensing fees and claiming themselves to be the owners of the photographs, they are apparently misappropriating Highsmith’s gift to the Library of Congress.

If the claims in the lawsuit hold up, the statutory damage liability for Getty Images could be as high as $468,875,000, however Highsmith is seeking $1 billion. Read the full complaint here.

A more comprehensive visual record of the United States through the eyes of “America’s photographer” can be seen here: You can look, just don’t claim them as your own.