Another day, another lawsuit…except for today’s tale involves one of the biggest media licensing firms out there: Getty Images.
The allegation is that Getty is claiming ownership over images that are supposed to be in the public domain.
In a class action lawsuit against the company, Getty is accused of using deceptive business practices to convince people to pay for the rights to images that are supposed to be free or, as FStoppers quotes, Getty is “fraudulently claiming ownership of copyrights in public domain images (which no one owns). Selling fictitious copyright licenses for public domain images (which no one can legally sell), including operating an enterprise of third-party contributors to perpetrate this egregious scheme.”
The charge is being led by digital marketing company CixxFive which says that Getty is “creating a hostile environment for lawful users of public domain images.”
The laws Getty is accused of breaking are no joke, either: One is the Washington Consumer Protection Act and the other is commonly associated with gangsters and mafia criminals but also a lot of white collar crime and that is the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
FStoppers explains that there is some nuance into what CixxFive is alleging here. For example, the website says it is totally ok to profit off of images that are in the public domain, but it is illegal to claim that you own them.
DPReview cites the lawsuit filing to clarify this point: “One aspect of the deceptive nature of Getty’s and/or Getty US’s licensing scheme is that Getty and/or Getty US claims copyright on all of the content on its website. For example, the bottom of each page of its website states: “All contents © copyright 1999-2019 Getty Images. All rights reserved. Also, specific public domain images are overlaid on Getty and/or Getty US’s website with the © symbol followed by an entity or contributor name, indicating that the image is protected by copyright. The same © symbol and information is also provided next to the public domain image.”