I have to admit I've been rendered speechless by a lot of things lately. I won't mention specifics in most cases—you can probably guess a few.
Not the most appalling, but possibly the most egregious, is something that's happened in our very own little parish. You can read the article yourself at Hyperallergic and I recommend you do so, but you can get the gist from the first paragraph:
"In December, documentary photographer Carol Highsmith received a letter from Getty Images accusing her of copyright infringement for featuring one of her own photographs on her own website. It demanded payment of $120. This was how Highsmith came to learn that stock photo agencies Getty and Alamy had been sending similar threat letters and charging fees to users of her images, which she had donated to the Library of Congress [for] use by the general public at no charge."
If that's not just a jaw-dropped, wide-eyed WTF, I don't know what is.
Not only that, it's not the first time it's happened. "In 2013, Daniel Morel was awarded $1.2 million in a suit against Getty, after the agency pulled his photos from Twitter and distributed them without permission to several major publications."
Behavior like that brings to mind—well, my mind—Matt Taibbi's famous description of Goldman Sachs: "...a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money."
By the way, in paragraph two above is our vocabulary word for the day: egregious (roughly, ih-GREE-juss), adj., extraordinary in some bad way; glaring; flagrant. Excessively shocking or outrageous. "Over-the-top awful" in argot ordinaire.
But really, there are no words.
(Thanks to Donal Wells)
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Don: "Just to add some balance. The images are available from the Library of Congress website and are listed as being in the public domain for 'copyright free access.' Copyright free images do get placed at Getty by individual photographers or by archival collections that distribute them. Value is added by keywording and making them readily available. Sometimes work is done to the images to improve them, or for example copyright free images from NASA may be composited into other work. Getty provide a lot of info from their legal team to their contributors about what is considered acceptable in this way. On the customer side, many have subscription deals and find all their needs at one place, simplifying their image searches (and thus adding value). It may seem wrong, but it's not necessarily illegal. The fault could indeed lie with the Library of Congress in the way they have made the images available (i.e., not in line with Highsmith's expectations).
"As to greed? The bill sent to Highsmith is almost certainly the result of an automated bot at work. In this case a mistake was made. Hardly a billion dollar one though is it? Getty Images does this to protect the work of photographers from the hoards who think everything on the Web is free and right click anything without a thought, claiming ignorance when caught and outraged that they are expected to pay for the use they have made.
"When Getty successfully claw back payment in this way the photographer whose image has been stolen gets a cut.
"I don't know Carol Highsmith's background, but it seems she is now in a position to pursue her photography without needing payment. I would imagine most of the photographers who supply their work to Getty Images, some 250,000, like to get paid and want unlicensed uses found and billed.
"There are two sides to every story, and it's interesting to contrast this trial-by-Internet with the recent mention of payment for use to Harlan Ellison. And before anyone says Highsmith needs paying: no she doesn't, she chose to give them all away."
Geoffrey Heard replies to Don: "Sitting in my far distant spot in paradise, the South Pacific New Guinea islands, I am always amused that the moment some corporate greed is brought to light in the USA, someone pops up to defend it.
"Don says inter alia: 'I would imagine most of the photographers who supply their work to Getty Images, some 250,000, like to get paid and want unlicensed uses found and billed.' The point, Don, is that Highsmith did not supply her work to Getty Images—she gave it to the Library of Congress to be freely available to whoever wants to use it. But Getty has some sort of arrangement with the LoC so that it lists them.
"Then Don says Getty needs to get some money for the listing and what not. Really? And the listing costs $120? And are Highsmith's pictures available only through the Getty listing?
"I have used a number of pix from the LoC from time to time, just downloading them from the LoC site (I just tried to verify continuing availability today but the LoC sites are all down for maintenance over the weekend). But Highsmith would not have downloaded the pic she used from the LoC because she had it on her computer. So she just picked it up and posted it. And, of course, Don offers the excuse that no doubt the billing was generated by some automatic bot. Sure, of course it was, it is always the computer's fault when someone like the egregious Getty is caught out.
"But in this case it was billing Highsmith for $120 for her own photograph which did not come from Getty's collection or via Getty.
"Was this a standard price the Getty charges for every picture in similar circumstances? Bet it is. It is a price that is supposed to include its expenses, its profit, and a few stray cents for the photographer.
"And there is the egregiousness of the egregious Getty. It was about to keep the whole $120 because Highsmith is not a subscriber.
"Further, the bot was wrong because Getty made it that way. If automated billing is the happen, then it is incumbent upon Getty to bill only for photographs obtained from its site and maybe only for photographs supplied for sale by its subscribers.
"Its bot should not be billing for other photographs.
"It would be pretty simple, I imagine. Getty could add a bit of hidden text or whatever to every subscriber image, I imagine, through an automated process that would cost virtually half of nothing to implement, and it could then set up its billing bot to find that information and bill on that.
"But would Getty do that? Well, it wouldn't want to; it might reduce its income by a couple of bucks so it would need to be forced to.
"No bot billing without exclusive property ID!
"I like the suggestion of fining corporations a percentage of turnover (not profit, that's too easy to manipulate, just ask the taxman) rather than a flat sum. I have read that in Finland, they do something like that with parking (and other traffic?) fines. The fine is a percentage of the value of the car! Does the Grosser Mercedes driver leave his car in No Parking areas in Finland? Nope. Does he in Australia where there is a standard parking fine of $50 or $100? You bet. The standard fine is barely pocket change for him and he is happy to pay it for the convenience. If fines are to be effective across the board, they need to be in proportion to wealth."