A well-known American photographer has now sued Getty Images and other related companies—she claims they have been wrongly been selling copyright license for over 18,000 of her photos that she had already donated to the public for free, via the Library of Congress.
The photographer, Carol Highsmith, is widely considered to be a modern-day successor to her photographic idols, Frances Benjamin Johnston and Dorothea Lange, who were famous for capturing images of American life in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectfully.
Inspired by the fact that Johnston donated her life’s work to the Library of Congress for public use in the 1930s, Highsmith wanted to follow suit and began donating her work “to the public, including copyrights throughout the world,” as early as 1988.
According to the lawsuit, Highsmith’s gift continues “to the present” as she continues to take new photographs.
However, the case may have already had its intended effect: when Ars searched Getty Images on Wednesday afternoon, Highsmith’s photos seem to have disappeared from the site. However, they remain on Alamy, a British stock photo site that is also named as a defendant in the suit.
As one of Highsmith’s attorneys, Joseph Gioconda, wrote in the Monday lawsuit:
The Defendants have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people. The Defendants are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees to people and organizations who were already authorized to reproduce and display the donated photographs for free, but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner (or agents thereof), and threatening individuals and companies with copyright infringement lawsuits that the Defendants could not actually lawfully pursue.
Getty must therefore account …