‘Nelson Atkins Art Museum, Kansas City, Missouri’ – one of the images involved in the legal dispute [Photo: Carol M Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division]
The renowned American photographer claims Getty violated her rights for each of the 18,755 photos displayed on the Getty website.
The copyright action concerns photos that Highsmith donated to the Library of Congress in 1988.
The archive documents people and places throughout the US.
According to the lawsuit, the donation gave the public ‘the right to reproduce and display all the photographs at issue in this lawsuit, for free’.
Highsmith claims Getty Images was purporting to sell licences for thousands of her photographs on commercial websites.
The lawsuit, filed on 25 July at a United States District Court in New York, is seeking up to $1billion in copyright damages from Getty.
The mammoth figure is based on the outcome of a previous case (Morel v Getty), which allows the court to treble the maximum $468,875,000 statutory damages sought, according to Highsmith’s Dallas-based lawyers Carstens & Cahoon.
The photographer, who lives in Maryland, says the matter came to her attention when she received a demand for payment for use of one of the images on her own website.
In response, Getty Images denied asserting copyright over the images.
The Seattle-based library said in a statement: ‘We are reviewing the complaint. We believe it is based on a number of misconceptions, which we hope to rectify with the plaintiff as soon as possible. If that is not possible, we will defend ourselves vigorously.
‘The content in question has been part of the public domain for many years.
‘It is standard practice for image libraries to distribute and provide access to public domain content, and it is important to note that distributing and providing access to public domain content is different to asserting copyright ownership of it.’
Highsmith’s lawyers declined to comment on the ongoing litigation when contacted by Amateur Photographer.