On March 15, 2019, Getty Images, Inc. (“Getty”) has been hit with a class action lawsuit in federal court in Washington for allegedly tricking customers into buying fake copyright licenses for images in the public domain that can be used freely.

The complaint against Getty was brought by Texas digital marketing company CixxFive Concepts LLC and claims that Getty has violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act and state consumer protection laws because they have been requiring customers to purchase a license in order to use all the images on its website, including images that are in the public domain. The complaint states, “Although charging for public domain images is not illegal by itself, Getty was going even further by deceiving customers into buying ‘fictitious’ licenses that restricted the ways the images could be used, even though works in the public domain can be used freely…Getty’s and/or Getty US’ licensing customers are not only paying a licensing fee for public domain images, the licensing agreement also deceptively purports to restrict the licensee’s pre-existing right to free and unfettered use of public domain images.”

The complaint also mentions that “Getty’s licensing agreement currently bans the use of licensed public domain images on ‘postcards, mugs, T-shirts, calendars, posters, screensavers or wallpapers,’ as well as business cards and online greeting cards.

To add fuel to the fire, Getty is also alleged to have been using a subsidiary to send copyright infringement letters regarding usage of public domain images, creating a “hostile environment” for users who were legally using those images.

The lawsuit seeks to recover damages on behalf of all licensees who have paid Getty for a public domain image, as well as to prevent it from “wielding a false claim of ownership of over intellectual property that is rightfully in the public domain.”

CixxFive is represented by Edward H. Moore of the Law Offices of Edward H. Moore PC, R. Dean Gresham, Bruce Steckler, Stuart L. Cochran, L. Kirstine Rogers and Braden M. Wayne of Steckler Gresham Cochran PLLC, James R. Gourley of Carstens & Cahoon LLP, and Michael R. Steinmark of SettlePou.

Counsel information for Getty Images was not immediately available Tuesday.

The case is CixxFive Concepts LLC v. Getty Images Inc. et al., case number 2:19-cv-00386, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.

* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is a boutique entertainment and business litigation firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The Firm has extensive experience handling cases involving business, entertainment law and intellectual property, having provided top quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized in multiple publications for its many achievements and high ethical standards, including Martindale-Hubbell and Super Lawyers.

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