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A photographer who claims Getty Images has been using her work without permission is suing the image library for $1 billion.
In a lawsuit filed at the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Carol Highsmith said the agency had used more than 18,000 images without consent.
In the complaint, filed on July 25, Highsmith claimed Getty originally contacted her accusing her of copyright infringement and demanding that she pay for displaying on her website an image she had taken.
“Highsmith subsequently learned that the defendants have been sending out similar threat letters to other users of her photography,” the complaint added.
Highsmith has been providing her images to the US Library of Congress since 1988. The public are allowed to use them for free.
Her photos cover her extensive documentation of people and places throughout the US.
According to the complaint: “Defendants are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees to people and organisations who were already authorised to reproduce and display the donated photographs for free, but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner and threatening individuals and companies with lawsuits that the defendants could not actually lawfully pursue.”
Highsmith claimed Getty has committed “at least” 18,755 separate violations and that she should collect up to $468,875,000 in damages.
She added that as Getty has been found liable for copyright infringement by the same court in the past three years, it should pay triple damages, bringing the total to “well over $1 billion”.
Getty and news agency Agence France-Presse were fined $1.22 million in 2013 for infringing photographer Daniel Morel’s copyright after they used his images of the Haiti earthquake that were posted on Twitter.
A spokesperson for Getty said it was reviewing the complaint but believed it is based on “a number of misconceptions” which it hopes to rectify.
“If that is not possible, we will defend ourselves vigorously,” the spokesperson added.
This was first published on World IP Review.
Getty Images, copyright infringement, US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Carol Highsmith, copyright