Back to Silas S. Brown's home page

Getty Images copied my words

Getty Images have a reputation for suing anyone who copies their images without permission (which requires payment, and their prices can be high), so I am disappointed to report that in 2018 they copied my words without so much as an acknowledgement or link, and they did not seem able to handle my attempts to report that to them (I received no replies whatsoever, and the words stayed up on their site without acknowledgement).

My main concern is actually that the words they copied could be misleading when used out of context in this way, which is why I've now changed the original (but have not been able to get Getty to change their copy).

Here are the words that Getty Images copy-pasted verbatim from an earlier version of my Xu Zhimo page into one of their photograph descriptions:

Since 2008 a carved stone placed behind the bridge in King's college has displayed the first and last lines of a famous Chinese poem by Xu Zhimo. That poem has been attracting Chinese people to Cambridge since 1928. Zhimo was briefly a literature researcher at King's (1921-22). He admired then-recent English poets especially Thomas Hardy (visiting Hardy's Dorset home in 1925), and rewrote some of their poetry in Chinese, as well as his originals including a first poem about leaving Cambridge in 1922, but the famous second one was dated 6th November 1928 after revisiting Cambridge on a tour.

Now, I've realised I could have been wrong to use the word "especially" in that passage: I changed it to "such as" in a revised version. The reason why I particularly mentioned Thomas Hardy was, not because I had seen any evidence that Xu Zhimo admired Hardy more than any other English poet, but because I was born in Hardy country---and on my personal home page I'm presumably allowed, even perhaps expected, to show any vague personal connection I have with the subject.

(The Chinese visiting scholar who encouraged me to publish my translation in the first place was also interested in Hardy and had visited my family to see the area. But in most cases when I tell Chinese visitors that I come from the area where Thomas Hardy lived, it won't mean much to them until I say he was a poet who met Xu Zhimo.)

Now, my point is that, while all this 'personal stuff' may make sense on my home page where I'm supposed to put my personal spin on things, it probably doesn't make sense to copy-and-paste it verbatim into a description on Getty Images' catalogue, at least not without some indication of who said those words. In general I do think about which parts of my work can be declared public domain (e.g. CedPane), what can be liberally licensed (e.g. Web Adjuster), etc, and if I've chosen not to weaken my copyright then there's usually a reason---and that reason is sometimes "because I'm not so sure this is suitable for use in other contexts". You can of course quote a small passage under "fair use" legislation, but if your fair use is research then you are usually expected to acknowledge this kind of verbatim quote---a practice that may help identify when you're quoting a personal opinion for example.

It might also help to be open to being contacted by the original author, in case they're trying to let you know that they've made a correction you might want. In fact, and especially if you are a big company like Getty Images, it's probably a good idea to let us know when you quote us, rather than wait for us to find it. Google engineers got this right: when I was collaborating with Jonathan Duddington on Chinese speech synthesis, and Google wanted to use our work in their "Google Translate" service, we had already made it 'free/libre and open source software' so they could use it without asking, but they still had the courtesy to send us an email to let us know what they were doing. That approach not only made us feel more positive, but also set up a channel whereby we knew how to get back to them if we later found any problem they might want to know about. It's a pity that Getty Images does not seem to work in the same way.

J. Paul Getty is said to have changed Matthew 5:5 into "the meek shall inherit the earth but not the mineral rights". His company now seems to want to add "copyright" to that---whenever I see a Getty Images credit in a magazine or video, I can't help thinking "them again---wanting fair credit from us, but applying a different set of rules to themselves". Their acting like this is damaging their image, and might even make judges less sympathetic to them when they take others to court---if you are in the business of suing other people for copyright infringement, then it stands to reason that you should "go the extra mile" to avoid doing it yourself. Yes it may be only one paragraph from a random person's home page, and I may not be inclined to go out looking for lawyers, but if some lawyer finds me, and says their client is being sued by Getty Images and would I be so kind as to sign a copyright transfer so they can countersue, then right now I can't honestly say I wouldn't consider it. So copying individuals' paragraphs without credit (and without an obvious complaints-handling procedure) could be a legal bad move for Getty Images as well as making them look bad.

(Opinions above are my own and not legal advice---I can't promise I'm right. But I can't promise I'm wrong either!)


All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.