Photographer Files $1 Billion Lawsuit Against Getty Images

Curators’ Corner

Photographer Files $1 Billion Lawsuit Against Getty Images

Stock photography databases have opened vast opportunities for photographers to generate an income, but with scaled up access came muddled terms of use. Now, a famous photographer is filing a $1 billion lawsuit.


Carol M. Highsmith, best known for capturing America’s breathtaking landscapes, filed a whopping $1 billion lawsuit against Getty Images in a Manhattan federal court July 25, accusing the stock photo giant of copyright infringement and the “gross misuse” of 18,755 of her images. The lawsuit was first reported by PDNPulse.

70-year-old Highsmith is renowned not only for her photography, but also for her goodwill. In 1992, she donated her entire life’s work to the Library of Congress in what was recognized as “one of the greatest acts of generosity in the history of the Library.” PetaPixel speculates that the donation, which grants public access to her photos with “no known restrictions on publication” but never stipulates that Highsmith is surrendering her photo copyrights, likely complicates the lawsuit.


Ironically, Highsmith first discovered Getty Images’ misuse of her work when she was charged for using her own photo, shown above—which was displayed on her own website. Ars Technica reports that not only has Getty Images “sold unauthorized licenses” of her images, but their copyright enforcement entity, License Compliance Services, proceeded to accuse users of their infringement via threatening letters. Of those accused is This is America! Foundation, a non-profit launched by Highsmith herself.

Highsmith’s $1 billion figure is based on the 2013 legal case between photographer Daniel Morel and Getty Images, in which Morel was awarded $1.2 million and Getty Images was found liable for 16 violations of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act.

According to a statement submitted to Ars Technica, Getty Images Vice President for Communications, Sarah Lochting claims that the lawsuit was “the first time Getty Images was made aware of the matter” and said that they are “currently looking into these allegations.” Lochting also clarified that Getty Images and License Compliance Services are “separate entities and have no operational relationship.”

What do you think about Highsmith’s lawsuit and the muddiness of stock photo sales? Tell us in the comments below.