A photographer who put thousands of pictures in the public domain gave up her right to complain when others sell them, photo agencies and affiliated companies say in court papers.
Getty Images and other companies argued in papers filed in Manhattan federal court Tuesday and Wednesday that Carol Highsmith’s $1.1-billion lawsuit against them must be thrown out.
Seattle-based Getty Images said Highsmith “cannot complain when members of the public, including businesses, make use of the photos for commercial purposes.”
Highsmith, a renowned photographer whose pictures have been featured in books, newspapers and magazines and on two postage stamps, shares thousands of her photographs for free with the public through the Library of Congress in an arrangement that is more than 25 years old.
In its court papers, Getty Images noted that publishers charge money for their copies of novels by Charles Dickens or for Shakespeare plays even though those are in the public domain.
The company’s lawyers said the lawsuit was “an attempt to regain some measure of legal protection for the Highsmith photos that plaintiff Highsmith relinquished years ago.”
“It is thus impossible to infringe a copyright in those works, as no copyright exists,” they said.
In a separate filing, Alamy Inc. attacked the lawsuit as meritless “with an absurd $1.1-billion price tag.”
The British company said it joined in the arguments of Getty and License Compliance Services Inc., a company that sent a letter to Highsmith’s website last December demanding a $120 payment for use of a photograph Highsmith took of a badminton shuttlecock sculpture outside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo.
In its court papers, LCS acknowledged that its letters are sternly worded as it explained that it provides a security-guard-type service for companies such as Getty and Alamy by challenging those who appear to use their products to ensure they have paid for them.
LCS, a Delaware corporation with offices in Seattle and London, said it dropped the matter when Highsmith said she took the picture herself.
LCS lawyers said the amount of money sought by the lawsuit was “outlandish” and Highsmith’s lawyers “irresponsibly seek to twist a provision of the Copyright Act meant to safeguard copyrighted works into the vehicle for their own windfall.”
Joseph C. Gioconda, an attorney for Highsmith, said in an email that his client and her not-for-profit organization, This is America Inc., disagree with the defendants’ arguments and look forward to addressing the issues in court.