Kenneth Lowe May 30, 2014, 11:42am


A semi-professional photographer from Massachusetts is suing one of the world’s largest stock photo services over claims it let a third party use his work without permission or pay.

Andrew Katz sued Getty Images May 16 and a few days later, asked Chicago's federal court to certify a class in his suit that accuses the distributor of photos and other multimedia products of improperly allowing one of its partner companies the use of his images.

Katz posted the image in question -- a photo of his dog --on Flickr, a website where photographers can upload photos for public display. Flickr, which reported 92 million users in February, allows Getty to use photos, provided it pays royalties to photographers skilled and lucky enough for their work to be noticed and selected.

Getty also supplies images to CafePress, a company that lets customers design things like mugs and T-shirts using these images.

"Flikr markets this partnership aggressively to its users, touting the potential gains of granting a license to Getty designed to 'MAKE YOU AS MUCH MONEY AS PO$$IBLE,' and reminding users that Getty's editors are constantly scouring the Flickrverse in search of suitable images for their content directory," the suit states.

Katz alleges the photos he posted to Flickr made their way through Getty’s exchange and became available to CafePress customers without being first notified, and without receiving any royalties.

Flickr users, the suit states, have standing agreements with Getty concerning the use of their images by the company and what reimbursement they are entitled, all of which involve prior notification and the payment of royalties.

“CafePress offering to sell items using images from its licensing agreement with Getty constitutes a use of the image, for which Getty is obligated to its Flickr users to pay royalties pursuant to the [licensing agreement,]” Katz asserts in his suit.

It adds, “Subsequently, according to the agreement between the class members and Getty, the class is also entitled to royalty payments when CafePress sells an item using an image licensed from Getty. However, Getty routinely failed to notify and pay class members for CafePress’ use of their photographs.”

Katz claims the dispute stems from “an artful photograph of his dog that later gained widespread 'viral' popularity online."

He licensed the photo to Getty on Feb. 13, 2012, along with others, and contends he later discovered Getty had given CafePress access to the image. He alleges Getty never furnished him with notification or agreed-upon royalties.

“To investigate the issue further, [Katz] subsequently purchased an item imprinted with his photograph directly from CafePress, and again, received neither notification nor royalties for the individual purchase,” the suit asserts.

Through his attorneys, Joseph J. Siprut and Brandon M. Cavanaugh of Siprut P.C. in Chicago, Katz on May 19 filed for a motion seeking certification of a class over his claims.

If granted, the class would include any photographer who uploaded photos to Flickr and subsequently had their work made available to CafePress by Getty without the agreed upon notifications or royalties and excludes persons with any relationships to Getty.

Besides seeking class action status, Katz asked to the court to determine Getty's conduct constitutes a breach of contract or in the alternative, unjust enrichment. He also wants an unspecified amount of damages and any other relief the court deems just and proper.

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