A former Getty Images executive has called on creative agencies to take a stand against search engines that “facilitate theft in plain sight,” he said, referring to images, videos and music that are often targets of illegal downloads.
"The products of our labor and talent have been abused and stolen for years and have fed the search giants that are now wreaking havoc with all aspects of our society – from the survival of high street shops to the credibility of international law. We must believe we can help change things for the better," Lewis Blackwell, the former worldwide creative head of Getty Images, wrote in a post for The Drum on Thursday.
The post comes days after Microsoft’s Bing search engine removed an image widget that is at the center of a lawsuit between the software company and Getty Images. The feature, which allowed users to embed image galleries and slideshows from Microsoft Bing’s search engine, was taken down after Getty Images filed a lawsuit claiming it constituted a “massive infringement” of copyright. According to the suit, the tool copied and indexed Getty’s images without permission.
Blackwell’s former employer has a reputation for being extremely litigious. In February, the company went on a something of a lawsuit spree, during which it filed numerous single-image lawsuits against companies it claimed used its images without permission.
Since 2008, Getty has been known to send out “settlement demand letters” to website owners demanding to be paid for “image(s) already used.” Usually a cease-and-desist letter would suffice, yet the Seattle-based company routinely takes it to the next level, often attaching an invoice amounting to several hundred to thousands of dollars.
In a recent case, Getty Images sent a Florida law firm one of its notorious “settlement demand letters” after it allegedly used a photo of a woman texting and driving that Getty owned without getting permission. Upon receiving the letter, Schneider Rothman IP Law Group -- which happens to specialize in copyright infringement -- sued Getty Images for “unfair and deceptive business practices.” The firm’s website never hosted the image in question but used a third-party software to display the image instead.
In his post, Blackwell said “the old royalties model never worked that well and is now very unfit for purpose.” His post went on to propose a system of “micro-royalties" funded by “a modest tax on the profits of the tech companies, in exchange for a legitimization of their use of content."
While Blackwell says he admires Google and other large search engine companies, it is up to the creative industries to propose a solution to this widening problem. “We – the owners of content – need to help it manage its power, its open and fair presentation to the world,” Blackwell wrote. “As the communications industry, at the very least we should be able to make a lot of inventive and embarrassing noise about the issues rather than conspiring with the near-silence.”