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Copyright Law

We Need Your Voice on the next Register of Copyrights

Posted by Advocacy Liaison on December 30, 2016

Copyright Office logoThe Graphic Artists Guild needs the help of all visual artists, and all creators and copyright holders.

Here’s the deal: as you probably know, this October, the Librarian of Congress removed Maria Pallante, the Register of Copyrights, from her position. This move was unprecedented, and is a blow to the creative community. Throughout her tenure as Register of Copyrights, Pallante demonstrated her willingness to listen to the concerns of creatives, and her interest in revisiting copyright law and modernizing the Copyright Office so that it can better serve rights holders and users.

Now the Librarian of Congress has taken a second unprecedented move. Instead of conferring with members of Congress and stakeholders, she’s decided to post a Survey Monkey poll, asking the general public to weigh in on the “knowledge, skills, and abilities” the new Register should possess, and what the top three priorities should be.

This means that those who want to weaken copyright protection for creators will be able to weigh in, and influence the selection process. 

So we’re asking all visual artists, and all who rely on a strong copyright system, to respond to the Library of Congress’ survey. Let the Library know that we need a Register who understands the value of copyright, recognizes the need for the Office to be modernized, and has the support of the creative community.

Below are survey responses you can cut-and-paste into the Library’s survey, or which you can use to base your own responses. (Thank you to ASMP, NPPA, and the Copyright Alliance for the original survey responses.)

Please share this message with your fellow creatives on social media, on your blogs, via email, etc. The Library is soliciting responses until January 31st. Let’s make sure our voice isn’t drowned out! #mycopyrightmatters #yourcopyrightmatters


Please cut-and-paste from the responses below, or use these as the basis for your own responses, and respond to the Library’s survey by January 31, 2017.


Model responses for LIbrary of Congress Survey on Register of Copyrights

1. What are the knowledge, skills, and abilities you believe are the most important for the Register of Copyrights?

The next Register of Copyrights must:
• be dedicated to both a robust copyright system and Copyright Office;
• recognize the important role that creators of copyrighted works play in promoting our nation’s financial well-being;
• have significant experience in, and a strong commitment to, the copyright law
•  have a substantial background in representing the interests of creators of copyright works;
•  possess a deep appreciation for the special challenges facing individual creators and small businesses in protecting their creative works.;
•  a keen understanding of, and a strong commitment to, preserving the longstanding and statutorily-based functions of the Copyright Office, especially its advising the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on domestic and international copyright issues; and
•  have the solid support of the copyright community.

2. What should be the top three priorities for the Register of Copyrights?

Priority #1: Continue the traditional and critical role of the Register as a forceful advocate for both a vibrant copyright system and a strong Copyright Office that works closely with the House and Senate Judiciary Committees in promoting a strong and effective copyright law.

Priority #2:   A commitment to moving quickly to modernize the Copyright Office with a special focus on updating and making more affordable and simpler the registration and recordation processes.

Priority #3:  Working with Congress to achieve enactment of legislation creating a small claims process that finally provides individual creators with a viable means of protecting their creative efforts.

 3. Are there other factors that should be considered?

As a creative, I believe, to the extent possible, that the views of those whose works are protected by copyright law should be given greater weight in this survey than those who are not. It is also crucial that the views of the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, be given great deference in the selection of the next Register.

Judge Dismisses Photographer’s $1 Billion Case Against Getty Images

Posted by Rebecca Blake on November 25, 2016

Earlier, we reported on the lawsuit brought by photographer Carol Highsmith against Getty Images and other parties when she discovered they were invoicing users of her photographs, which she had put into the public domain. Getty Images and another stock agency, Alamy, were licensing photographs taken by Highsmith, which she had put into the public domain in an agreement with US Library of Congress. Highsmith became aware that Getty and Alamay were licensing her photographs when she received an invoice from License Compliance Services on behalf of Alamy, accompanied by a letter claiming she was using the images without their permission.

Highsmith sued Getty and Alamy for $1 billion, stating that since Getty is a repeat offender in copyright violation, statutory damages should be trebled. The defendant’s legal counsel pointed out, however, that the plaintiffs were conflating copyrights with rights management. Since Highsmith had placed her photographs in the public domain, both Getty and Alamy are legally permitted to license the images, and Highsmith has no copyrights to assert on those images. (Public domain works may be commercialized, as in the Dover Publications Design Library collections of public domain clip art and images.)

Highsmith did not sue for copyright infringement, but rather for violation of provisions the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  According to Lexology, Highsmith’s lawsuit made three major allegations — that Getty, Alamy, and the co-defendants:
1)  violated a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which forbids the alteration or removal of copyright management information (17 U.S.C. § 1202) Highsmith’s agreement with the Library of Congress stated that her credit line must be included with any use of her images. Getty and Alamy altered or removed Highsmith’s credit line, and added their own watermarks and credit lines);
2)  engaged in false advertising under the Lanham Act by implying that they were working on concert with Highsmith;
3)  similarly, violated New York General Business Law § 349, which forbids businesses from engaging in “deceptive acts or practices.” 

On October 17, the judge presiding in the case, US District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, indicated that he was considering dismissing a number of Highsmith’s claims. According to Law360, the October 17 hearing largely focused on the claims relative to the New York General Business Law, indicating that the judge had already come to a decision on the other claims. In fact, on October 28, the judge dismissed all of Highsmith’s claims except those related to the New York General Business Law. 

That left Highsmith’s lawsuit severely weakened. On November 16, the parties settled over the remaining New York State claims. (The terms of that settlement have not been disclosed.) The judge dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning that Highsmith is forbidden from filing another lawsuit on these grounds. 

Below: Highsmith’s public domain image, which Alamay invoiced her for.
Credit: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division 

Carol Highsmith Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, MO

Statement on Removal of Registrar of Copyrights by Copyright Alliance

Posted by Advocacy Liaison on October 24, 2016

Copyright Office logoOn October 21, Dr. Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress, announced the removal of Maria Pallante as Registrar of Copyrights. With small copyright claims legislation introduced in the House and copyright law under review, the change in Copyright Office leadership comes at a sensitive time. The Guild is working with other creators’ associations to formulate an appropriate response, and to advocate for greater protection for visual artists. The Copyright Alliance, of which the Guild is a member, released a statement that echoes our concerns:


Copyright Alliance Logo

Copyright Alliance Statement on Today’s Changes in the Copyright Office Leadership by New Librarian of Congress  

Washington, D.C. – October 21, 2016 – The new Librarian of Congress, Dr. Carla Hayden, today announced that Register of Copyrights and Director of the United States Copyright Office, Maria Pallante, has been removed from office. The following is a statement by Copyright Alliance CEO Keith Kupferschmid regarding the announcement:

“We are most grateful for the dedicated service that Maria Pallante has provided during her tenure as Register of Copyrights. Serving since 2011, Register Pallante’s commitment to evidence-driven policymaking and public involvement in the policy process should serve as a model. She has recognized the importance of copyright to both the U.S. and international creative communities and worked as a steadfast advocate for modernizing the Copyright Office and its technology initiatives. It has been an honor to work with Register Pallante.”
 
Kupferschmid concluded by stating: “We are surprised and concerned by today’s news, which comes at a time when the Office and others are considering many potential changes to the copyright system and law. As the national search for a new Register of Copyrights commences, we are committed to assisting the new Librarian and the Chairman and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees with this important process, and view it as an excellent opportunity to continue the dialogue on the future of the U.S. Copyright Office. We support Karyn Temple Claggett’s appointment as the Acting Register and believe that her appointment will allow us all to be deliberate and take the time necessary to find the next Register.”
 
###

ABOUT THE COPYRIGHT ALLIANCE
The Copyright Alliance is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest and educational organization representing the copyright interests of over 1.8 million individual creators and over 13,000 organizations in the United States, across the spectrum of copyright disciplines. The Copyright Alliance is dedicated to advocating policies that promote and preserve the value of copyright, and to protecting the rights of creators and innovators. For more information, please visit www.copyrightalliance.org.

$1 Billion Lawsuit Against Getty Images Raises Questions about Public Domain Dedication

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 29, 2016

Photographer Carol Highsmith was outraged when she received a $120 invoice from Licensing Compliance Services on behalf of Almay Limited, a photo stock agency. The invoice was accompanied with a threat letter contending that she was using one of their licensed images on her website. Why the outrage? Highsmith had taken the photograph Almay was claiming to license. Not only that, Highsmith had donated that photo to the Library of Congress for public use, rights-free. A little bit of digging revealed that Almay Limited and photo stock giant Getty Images were selling Highsmith’s public domain images, and were aggressively pursuing anyone found to be using those images via the content tracking service PicScout (a Getty subsidiary).

Highsmith is a well-regarded photographer who documents the cities, countryside, and cultures of the United States. Her work has have been widely acclaimed and published. Inspired by iconic American photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Frances Benjamin Johnson, Highsmith began donating her photographs to the Library of Congress in 1988. The Library established a one-person archive of her work, to which Highsmith continues to contribute; the collection is expected to top out at over 100,000 images. An article on PDNPulse states that in making her images public domain, “Highsmith says she never abandoned her copyrights to the images. She says the Library of Congress had agreed to notify users of the images that she is the author, and that users must credit her.” (“Photog Seeks $1 Billion from Getty for Copyright Violations,” David Walker, Sept. 9, PDN Pulse) Her intention was to make the photographs available rights-free “for the use and benefit of the American people, and as a permanent record of our nation’s buildings, landscape, culture, and people.” Discovering that her donated work was monetized by stock image agencies was a surprise.

Hightsmith contacted Licensing Compliance Services, who quickly dropped the invoice. But Highsmith wasn’t satisfied. Searches pulled up 18,755 of her donated images on Getty Images, and about 500 on Alamay. Both Getty and Alamay were inconsistent in how the photo was credited. Alamay made no reference to Highsmith, but labeled her photos “© Everett Collection Inc / Alamy Stock Photo.” Getty labeled some images “By: Buyenlarge”, and others “Credit: Buyenlarge/Contributor”, followed by “Photo by Carol Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images.” (Buyenlarge is the profile of a contributor on the Getty website. It’s also the name of a print-on-demand poster printer specializing in public domain and licensed historic ephemera; some of those images also appear on Getty under Buyenlarge's credit line.) Highsmith also discovered that Getty and Alamay continued to seek out and invoice users of Highsmith’s images, even after they were made aware that users may have sourced the images from the Library’s Highsmith collection.

The sheer volume of the images posted to Getty Images and Alamay led Highsmith and her legal team to seek damages of $1 billion from Getty, Alamay, Licensing Compliance Services, and PicScout. Highsmith is contending that when Getty and Alamay removed or altered the credit line from the photos – the Highsmith/Library of Congress credit she had stipulated upon donating her photos – the defendants violated DMCA provisions of US copyright law which proscribe the altering or elimination of copyright management information (CMI) with the intent to enable or conceal copyright infringement. The lawsuit also contends that the defendants are falsely presenting themselves as the copyright holders (or their agents), and threatened lawsuits they couldn’t pursue against people who lawfully used Highsmith's public domain images. (Highsmith is not claiming copyright infringement in her suit.)

While that figure sounds hyperbolic, it’s based on what the legal team thinks they could be awarded. As outlined in her lawsuit, each instance of infringement could be seen as a separate violation of Section 1202 of US Copyright law, and could result in a award of between $2,500 and $25,000. Multiply that by 18,755 infringements, and the total comes to between $46,887,500 and $468,875,000. Since Getty was already found to have infringed a photographer’s work in the past three years, the Court could additionally treble the damages awarded to Highsmith – hence the $1 billion price tag. (Highsmith also contends that Getty’s licensing of her work damaged her reputation by making her appear to have been hypocritical in first donating her work to the Library, and later deciding to license the work to Getty.)


Carol Highsmith, photographer, Nelson Atkins Art Museum, Kansas City, Missouri

Carol Highsmith was invoiced for her photo of the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, MO.

Credit: Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Getty responded to the lawsuit with a statement claiming that the complaint was based on misconceptions, and filed a motion to dismiss the case. In their motion, they refute that they altered the CMI. Getty's motion also states they could not have altered the CMI with the intent to infringe copyrights, since no copyrights exist to infringe on public domain images. It’s not certain that Highsmith will prevail, should the case go to trial. Stock agencies legally license public domain images, and justify the fees by citing the resources they invest to make the images available for “productive use.” In her article, “Can Anyone Use Public Domain Images?”,  Nancy Wolf, legal counsel to DMLA, explains that legally anyone can make use of public domain images, including licensing them. But most images enter the public domain when their copyright expires, if their copyright wasn’t renewed, or if the work didn’t have a valid copyright notice.

But what about images that were dedicated to the public domain? Can the creator make that dedication conditional, as did Highsmith claims she did with her requirement of a credit line? And does the creator retain any copyrights? The IP blog Public Domain Sherpa asked the Copyright Office whether an author could abandon his or her copyright to a work. The Office responded that there is no specific provision in copyright law for disclaiming copyrights, and that while an author can record their intention with the Office, the acceptance of a statement of abandonment of copyrights  “…should not be construed as approval of the legal sufficiency of its content or its effect on the status or ownership of any copyright.” In her agreement with the Library, Highsmith stated that she dedicated to the public “all rights, including copyrights throughout the world, that I possess in this collection.” However, the agreement also states that the Library will request that those reproducing the work include the credit line, “Carol M. Highsmith's America, Library of Congress.”

There’s a good chance Getty and the other defendants will settle out of court with Highsmith. Even if they stand a good chance of winning the suit, the negative pulicity generated by the lawsuit may make a court battle not worth the effort. Getty and Alamay have removed all of the Highsmith images from their websites. But what about those who used Highsmith’s images legally from the Library of Congress website, but were invoiced by Alamay or Getty (and paid the bill in some confusion)? Jonathan Bailey on Plagiarism Today wonders if a class action lawsuit brought by those erroneously billed by the stock agencies will be brought.

The Power of the © Notice

Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 15, 2016

Leslie Burns copyright noticeIn June, we reported on attorney Leslie Burns’ article on CMI: copyright management information. Burns advised visual artists to put a visible copyright notice on  work they post online, since doing so provides the artists with additional tools to bring to bear, should the work be infringed. In her follow-up article, “Your © is More Than CMI,” Burns goes into greater detail on how to effectively use the copyright notice, and why doing so is such a good practice.

First, Burns explains that the copyright notice must include the copyright symbol, the date of publication, and the copyright owner’s name. (For those confused on what the date of publication is, she goes into a bit of detail.) She then explains that if an infringer uses a work that had a copyright notice removed, the infringer can’t claim “innocent infringement” – even if the infringer got the artwork from another source, and had no idea that a copyright notice had been removed. Burns cites two copyright cases that support this rule: BMG Music v. Gonzalez and Maverick Recording v. Harper
Infringers who have used works from which the copyright notice of watermark was removed have violated §1202 of the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act). Burns calculates that the infringer could be looking at a minimum of $3,250 in damages ($750 for the infringement, and $2,500 for the DMCA violation), and possibly attorney’s fees.

Of course, none of this will apply if the visual artist hasn’t first registered his or her work with the copyright office. Remember, a work must be registered before an artist can sue for copyright infringement.While an artist can register work after detecting that it's been infringed, damages are limited if the work is registered after the infringement occurs. WIth a background in business and marketing management for a photography studio and a design firm, Burns is huge advocate for visual artists. Her website, Burns the Attorney, features a steady stream of articles on legal issues creative types need to be on top of.

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