How Public Domain Pictures became a Nightmare for Alamy and Getty


Recently, a case where a photographer donated a huge cache of images to the library of congress to become public domain has come to haunt Getty Images. 

Carol M Highsmith is currently suing Getty Images for US$ 1 billion dollars in damages. After she was sued by Getty Images for copyright infringement over her own photos that she donated to the US Library of Congress. In her gift, those photos has become royalty free but Getty Images thought they could misappropriate it and sue her instead. 

This is not the first time such public domain images are being used by Getty in licensing suits. A number of royalty free images from the Library of Congress has ended up in Getty's own coffers and you can actually buy them. 

This has made photographers world wide very incensed at the thought that Getty and Alamy prefer to sell public domain pictures and keep 100 percent of the profits. 

This isn't a bad business model. Take something for free and sue the pants out of people who use them. 

In the world today, are are millions of images being captured digitally every day of week. Many will end up in stock image libraries like Getty and Alamy which will never be sold because too few buyers are turning to them. 

The race to the bottom to sell bulk digital images with subscriptions has decimated the worth of digital photos and yet, Alamy and Getty prefer to list public domain pictures as a way to sell even more picture albeit scalping a clean profit for themselves. 

Such brazen thievery is no different than the many who steal photos off the Internet for commercial use. 

But that's not all, lately Getty has decided to kill its photojournalism department by declaring it doesn't want to keep photographers engaged in reportage work will no longer be getting further assignments from them. 

Reportage work was the bread and butter of photojournalism in its heyday, Today, photojournalism assignments are farmed out to anyone willing to work for beer money. 

I have images listed on Getty and it and not seen a single licensing sale from them, giving me reason to suspect they are more interested to selling photos where they make a bigger profit than those who are listed as royalty free on their library. 

But the rush to the bottom by royalty free image agencies are making the business more and more difficult to justify. 

We all know that you can buy an image for a song on some of these sites and it is a sign of desperation for photographers who want their work purchased. 

Getty has been in hot soup lately, making several of such misappropriations from photographers and later suing them for copyright infringement only to be counter sued by the photographer and copyright owner instead. 

Getty Fights Lawsuit Update

In the ongoing litigation between Getty and Carol Highsmith, the image agency has told the court that Carol's images in public domain is free and cannot be infringed so their argument is that Carol cannot sue them for copyright infringement since no protection exist for them. 

For charging people for public domain pictures, Getty had this to add. 
“Public domain works are routinely commercialized,” writes Getty. “Publishers charge money for their copies of Dickens novels and Shakespeare plays, etc.” That, claims Getty, is what they’re doing with Highsmith’s work, and it’s totally legal. 
So what they are saying is that you should never put ANY images up into public domain because Getty has the right to misappropriate it and sell them online for a fee. 

Told you this can't end well.