May 25, 2022

LA Times: “Getty Images Will Bill You Thousands To Use a Photo That Belongs to the Public. Is That Legal?”

From The Los Angeles Times:

[Dorthea] Lange’s photographs of “migrant mother” Florence Owens Thompson and Washington farmer Chris Adolf, along with Walker Evans’ image of Alabama sharecropper Floyd Burroughs and thousands of other photos taken by other Depression-era photographers, can be downloaded by anyone as a digital file of pristine quality from the Library of Congress website, at no charge and without restriction.

But they also can be purchased from the commercial licensing firm Getty Images, for fees that can run to thousands of dollars, depending on how they’re to be used, how large they will be displayed, and how many people might see them. Getty’s library of public-domain images is vast, and its rates aren’t cheap.

This raises obvious questions. Why would anyone pay so much for something they can have for free? And is Getty acting legally?

These questions are at the heart of a lawsuit filed against Getty and others last week by Carol M. Highsmith, a photographer who donated her work to the Library of Congress, only to receive a nasty letter from a Getty subsidiary over her use of her pictures on a personal website. The letter warned Highsmith that she had infringed the license holder’s rights and demanded $120 in compensation. Her lawsuit asks for $1 billion in damages.

Direct to Complete Article (Includes Comments from Carl Malamud and Rick Prelinger)

About Gary Price

Gary Price ( is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.