Earlier this week, Getty Images was hit with a lawsuit by highly regarded photographer Carol M. Highsmith. The suit, which claims copyright infringement on 18,755 photographs, amounts to the sum of $1 billion.

As first reported by PDNPulse, the 70-year-old Highsmith filed the lawsuit with the Federal Court of New York on July 25, 2016. Named as defendants in the case, along with Getty, are several of its subsidiaries including PicScout, Alamy and 100 other parties referred to as John Doe in the document.

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Carol Highsmith self-portrait in a broken mirror that she photographed during the Willard Hotel restoration, Washington, DC (c. 1980–90) (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Although the statutory damage Getty would have to pay within the current law is around $500 million, Highsmith is seeking double that. This is due to a precedent set by photographer Daniel Morel’s lawsuit against Getty, in which he received $1.2 million for the infringement of only one photo.

Highsmith’s claim initially stems from a December 2015 letter sent to her by Getty. The company charged the photographer with copyright infringement and demanded she pay for using one of her own images on her personal website.

Highsmith denounced the claim, stating that her catalog was donated to the Library of Congress and placed under the public domain; something she has steadily been doing since 1992.

“The Defendants have apparently misappropriated Ms. Highsmith’s generous gift to the American people,” reads a claim in the lawsuit. “[They] are not only unlawfully charging licensing fees…but are falsely and fraudulently holding themselves out as the exclusive copyright owner.”

Highsmith stands by the fact that she has never abandoned the copyrights to her photos. The Library of Congress agreed to notify whoever uses one of her images that they must attribute the work to her.

She claims that among releasing and licensing her work without permission, Getty never credited her on any of the images. Along with this, Highsmith says the company has continued its “brazen and extortionate” tactics by sending similar infringement claims to other parties who used images fairly.

Andre Karimloo
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Andre Karimloo


A writer from the Los Angeles area in his 20-somethings. An enjoyer of good conversations, good compositions, and good drinks. Inspired by the the sights, sounds and ideals of a city which embraces cultures of all different mediums.

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