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Le Corbusier have just successfully (which means they won) sued Getty images for selling stock photos that contained furniture they created. In response Getty has requested of all its users that they remove any images that contain any designer furniture.

I don't see any reason the same (admittedly insane) logic could not now be applied to absolutely any designed or manufactured object.

What protection do I have to continue to safely sell rights to images I have taken without ensuring that the manufacturer or designer of any object within the image has consented?

I often take photos of architecture, musical instruments, electronics, food, should i be removing these too?

The minor details of the getty case

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Filing a lawsuit does not necessarily mean you are guilty of any wrongdoing. Lawsuits get filed all the time, and they are generally a costly nuisance ALL the time, but that is often the only reason they are filed in the first place. The claims in the filing usually have to be found valid and upheld by a final court before they REALLY set precedent (either some form of supreme court or an appellate court.) The lawsuit was filed in France, and precedent there does not necessarily mean precedent elsewhere (although as the EU countries coalesce more and more into "The EU", that could change.) –  jrista Feb 14 '12 at 4:23
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BTW: Worst case...move to the US. ;) We are fairly explicit about "fair use", and such a claim as filed by Le Corbusier would likely never even have made it past preliminary hearings. –  jrista Feb 14 '12 at 4:24
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Not being a lawyer and all that, but it's really difficult to tell if it would be a matter of fair use in the US since the stock images are quoted in the article as being used for commercials and not for editorial ends. It would take a specialist to figure that out. In any case, pun intended, you can be sued for anything at any time and there is no way to protect yourself "from getting sued" but only to have a ready defense after you are sued. Which means keep your documentation and waivers in order. –  Patrick Hughes Feb 14 '12 at 5:28
    
@PatrickHughes: I guess it depends on the locale, however I don't think Getty can really be held accountable to how their stock is used by a customer. If a customer uses stock in some way that violates any rights, it should be the customer that gets sued. I would be willing to bet that Le Corbusier is suing Getty as much (or even more so) for the fact that they are getting some publicity out of the whole fiasco as they are trying to protect their property or rights. Again, this is coming from a citizen of the US, where we very appropriately have proper "fair use" clauses in our laws. –  jrista Feb 15 '12 at 3:40

4 Answers 4

Best protection is to learn a little about copyright law in whatever country you are doing your work. In the US, for example, things that are predominately functional cannot be copyrighted. For example, the design of clothing. But if you have a model in a shirt with an Andy Warhol painting on the front, then that would be trouble.

When in doubt, get a signed property release, just like you hopefully already do for model releases.

Also, if you are self-employed, hopefully you already have comprehensive business liability insurance. This often covers copyright infringement.

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I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice and even if it was you shouldn't take legal advice from strangers on the internet.

You can't protect yourself from being sued, especially today now that photos tend to be digitally distributed worldwide every idiot on the planet can sue you for anything.

You have to remember whoever is suing does not have to be right, even if the lawsuit is completely and obviously wrong and there is no way it will get to trial lawsuit can still get filed and you have to waste time fighting it (and if you are smart waste money on getting a lawyer).

And getting sued in the US or the EU can have negative impact on your business even if you do not live, work or even ever plan to visit the country where the lawsuit was filed.

There are countries where you can sue anybody for anything (even if the lawsuit is completely unjustified), so if you take a picture of anything I designed I can sue you for copyright infringement, I can sue you for showing my designs in a negative way (even if I am the only person in the world that thinks you are showing my design in a negative way) I can even sue you for not photographing my design - the fact that all those lawsuits are idiotic and should be thrown out of court doesn't prevent me from filing suits and making you spend time and money defending yourself (and if I have a good lawyer and you accidentally get an idiot judge - or you are on the wrong end of some political fight that has nothing to do with you - there's always a possibility you will lose).

(disclaimer: I didn't read the specific details of the case, this paragraph may contain wrong information, it may also contain traces of nuts.) Even property releases won't help because in this case the designer of the furniture sued, not the owner of the specific piece of furniture photographed (who would have signed the property release).

Sorry to be so negative but the legal systems (all of them, all over the world) are seriously broken and there is nothing you can do except have good insurance (but, if you suspect you might get into trouble, a quick talk with a local lawyer about the specific pictures you are selling won't hurt)

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That is seriously scary! Everything has a designer even if we do not call it designer, meaning its designer is somehow famous. Furniture, buildings, clothes all have been designed by someone and so can be considered someone's design.

Short of doing nude photography in a studio without any props and only plain colored walls, there is nothing to do about not being sued with the same basis. The success rate of such lawsuit is probably debatable and varies greatly by region.

I guess the probability of a lawsuit is proportional to how much money the suing party thinks you have. So, to protect yourself, don't make it appear like you make much money from photography!

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Hey, someone "designed" that color on the plain colored wall - unless you make your own paint. –  Nir Feb 15 '12 at 21:41

This answer is narrow insofar as it only deals with United States law. I am not an attorney, and caveat what @nir said.

In the US, there are two categories of stock image usage (broadly speaking): Rights-managed and editorial. For rights-managed images, the buyer has the right to assume the photographer (and by extension, the agency) obtained the necessary permissions. For editorial usages, however, all bets are off as images used in journalism are protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. Purchasers of editorial images are warned the images are for such usage only and thus mounting a lawsuit similar to the one you mentioned becomes a far steeper hill to climb because the injured party has to do battle with constitutional law.

I am not advocating that you hedge your bets on all images and submit them as editorial images. However, when you have a great image where you simply aren't able to obtain all the necessary releases, sometimes it's your only option -- if you want to safeguard against the kind of lawsuit you mentioned.

Again, this is US-only. I have no knowledge about laws in other countries.

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