Usually when “Getty Images” and “copyright infringement” are used in the same sentence, you likely assume that it has to do with someone using an image in their collection without their permission and/or not paying for it (more than likely it’s the “and” part of that situation). However, that’s all been flipped around due to an unlikely party: the Car-Freshner company, manufacturer of those tree-shaped air fresheners that hang from millions of rear view mirrors. The company apparently launched a lawsuit way back in 2009, claiming that the tree shape used for their product is copyrighted and they can be clearly seen in a number of Getty’s stock photos (they’ve included 11 in their suit), therefore making the company in violation of that copyright. Getty, in turn, claimed fair use and requested that the suit be dismissed. Unfortunately for the stock company, the US District Court judge, in Syracuse, New York where the case was being heard, has denied the dismissal and the suit will move forward. By itself, it’s an interesting, even somewhat funny story. However, the larger implications are somewhat alarming, given that if one company can hunt down just a small handful of images using a trademarked object and successfully win some money out Getty, what’s to stop other copyright holders from following suit? And given that Getty’s collection of some 80 million photos, not to mention those held by other stock image company, there’s sure to be some concern within the industry.
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