IP & Copyright

Getty Images’ New Approach to Copyright is Bad For Artists

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As a future law student who plans to focus my studies on Intellectual Property, I navigate news aggregation sites thirsty for some juicy copyright and trademark infringement stories. Protecting and recovering property is what I’m about. After all, there’s ingenuity, labor, and profit to protect!

Therefore, when Getty Images turned over a new legal leaf this week, I found myself confused, annoyed, and relying on my inherent sarcasm to get me through this bit of tough IP news.

Getty Images, a large and well-known image licensing company, is seeking to make less aggressive copyright enforcement a priority. Aww, so endearing, isn’t it? *Cue eye roll*

For years, Getty has been equipped with (and fully utilized) software that flags illegal reproductions of its images on the Internet. Once flagged, Getty would send a rather stern note to the party that is allegedly infringing its content. Threats in the letter include costly litigation avoidable by settlement penalty payments and licensing and enforcement fees.

Recently, the leader of Getty Images’ global legal team, John Lapham, explained to GigaOm how Getty’s “enforcement policies are being ramped down…We’ve changed the program quite a bit to remove penalty and fees.”

Retrospectively, there were hints along the way. In March, Getty allowed free embedding of a majority of its images. For Getty, the move allowed access to more user data, advertisement insertions, and metered payments to Getty photographers. For users, the watermark was removed from this group of images, but critics still say “the implementation is hideous.” Ouch.

A Getty spokesperson extended Lapham’s explanation, stating in an email:

Our aim is to approach infringers as customers and to educate them—and anyone else who is new to licensing—about how to license imagery properly. To this end, at the beginning of this year we changed our approach to remove additional fees—“fees” being a percentage of the costs we incur in detecting unauthorized use and recovering the cost of the license. We now endeavor to recover the cost of the license fee only—there is no additional fee or penalty—and we only seek payment from registered businesses that are using an artist’s exclusive content to promote their own business.

So, Getty wants to treat infringement as just a customer mistake. A far cry from the intense lawsuit spree it executed earlier this year.

I appreciate the little licensing lesson that Getty is offering. But I disagree. A photographer worked hard for that photo, positioning the subjects, adjusting the lighting, staging the background. As Getty tries to promote its new tactic as one that helps the creative community, my years of studying communication and media make that hard for me to believe. The credibility associated with Getty is built upon the corporate and legal muscle it provides for artists. By diluting that practice, I worry and feel for the artists who license their work through the company.




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