Think You Can Sell That Photo of Your Cat on Your Living Room Couch as Stock Photography? Think Again.

Shooter at Rest

I just got an email from Getty Images that I suspect is a mass email to all of their various contributors. In the email Getty is asking for help in identifying our photographs that might contain images of designer furniture. The email states that French courts have found in favor of the Le Corbusier rights-holders against Getty in a case where furniture was in the stock photograph.

Here is the email below with emails redacted:

“Attention all Flickr Collection on Getty Images Contributors!

You may have heard about a recent case (actually more than one case) where Getty Images and some of our photographers have had claims lodged against us in French court for images which include designer furniture, even as a minor part of the image.

This is a serious issue that involves potential liability for you as photographers.

The French courts have found in favor of the Le Corbusier rights-holders who initiated these claims. While we disagree with the decision and we are appealing it, we are very mindful that for now, it is a valid decision. It is critical that you understand that any claim like this one is extremely serious and requires action on your part in order to protect your interests, not just ours. We will continue to fight this decision, but in the meantime we must continue to actively pull content from our site that may be deemed infringing. We simply cannot identify all problematic images as quickly without your active participation. And quick action is vital.

Most importantly, if you believe that any of the images you have uploaded to us might possibly include any designer furniture, please email the Getty Images ID numbers to [email redacted] as soon as possible! The sooner we can identify and remove potentially infringing images the better we can reduce potential legal problems.

We are including links to information and FAQs that give more information on this issue and we strongly request that you read them and study the visual guides included.

You can also read the original Le Corbusier complaint here:

In English

Original in French (clearer photos)

Please note: because we are still engaged in litigation, we are very limited in what comments we can make or questions we can answer. If you do have questions please email [email redacted] especially for any specific images you believe may be a problem.

This is only for images you have on the site. We cannot answer questions about images you have posted on Flickr or elsewhere.

Thank you for your help and attention to this very important matter.”

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  1. Adam Allegro says:

    Wow… I do not know what to think about this one. On one hand I guess I sort of agree that something unique and unquestionably a certain company’s product should be protected, the other, more rational side of me says IT IS FLIPPIN FURNITURE. This is going to open a whole can of worms… Clothes, shoes, sunglasses, hats… What do you think about it?

  2. Really? There are a whole lot of people sitting around who don’t have enough to do – so they become a big PITA for the rest of us. Seriously.

  3. First it’s designer furniture. Next it’s designer clothing. Eventually, it’s anything that’s been designed period! I wonder where this obsession with “ownership” will finally end? I have been chased out of public buildings because security guards didn’t want photos taken of the lobby. I have had pictures of sailboats rejected by stock agencies because of a tiny bit of identifiable lettering on a sail. Ditto for pictures of construction equipment where a “CAT” logo was visible. Is anything in the public domain anymore? Lawyers have taken over photography. Location releases are getting more complicated than model releases these days. Where will it all end?

  4. Thomas Hawk says:

    I wonder if my barber will sue me if I take a self portrait after my next haircut.

  5. Mike Gabelmann says:

    You would think these companies/designers would think “Great! Free advertising”. If you took a picture of their product that made it looked bad, I could see a potential problem, but come on this is ridiculous.

    Pretty soon I won’t be able to take pictures in my own home because some company will lay claim to the paint on my walls or some biotech company will object to people in my photographs because they have patents on the human genome.

  6. KIZI says:

    nice photos..i’d like it. thanks for share.

  7. Sly Vegas says:

    what happens if this trickles into the automotive industry? good thing i dont photograph my 1992 honda accord !

  8. Mike says:

    In the end, I think the cow will have the ultimate claim. It is his hyde after all on that couch.

  9. Sabelo Ndingane says:

    Unbelievable. We need another revolution against these dictator companies. Where is common-sense in court of law? maybe common-sense is not so common after all.

  10. Lee H. says:

    That is completely crazy. Either the attorneys made a weak effort and argument, the judge had a bad day or French law is completely backward.

    As others have mentioned, fashion photography would obviously be an issue but even general photography would be at risk for inadvertent capture – how the heck would you enforce such a law?

    Surely the nuance is the commercial nature of stock photography, but even then, the commercial act isn’t recreating the design itself. The designer of the couch isn’t losing money to the photograph, and it would be easy to argue the opposite – that the photo only encourages sales of the subject.

    Sheesh – what about photos of buildings? Surely there is some sort of design protection for architects – can news photographers sell their work through sites like Getty and AP?

    It doesn’t take long to extend this ruling to the really ridiculous, especially since it has a healthy head-start…

  11. HeartlandLiberal says:

    The court is flat insane on this. This would have to fall under any fair use provision as long as the furniture is not identified, or the photo is not being used in any way to infringe explicitly on the rights of the furniture manufacturer by referencing in any way that could be construed as leveraging its brand for profit.

    The absurdity of this ruling is truly beyond the pale when you stop and think about any major film you have ever seen. Do directors now have to be careful and gather all their props from used furniture and charity shops to make sure that don’t accidentally include a designer piece of furniture in a screen?

    Sheer and utter nonsense. This is worse than the copyright troll company that finally got slapped down in Texas courts for basically claiming they owned patents that owned how you do and show anything on the Internet.

  12. Chris Summers says:

    Well if this is the case, Kevin Clarke who created The Red Couch project back in the ’80’s will be in trouble!

  13. Laurie says:

    Thank God I mostly photograph wildlife. No one has taken a copyright on birds yet, have they? Wait! I just photographed a Red Tail Hawk on a street sign. It had 3M reflective paint on it. I’m screwed…

  14. Noah J. Katz says:

    Is there no end to this? On one side I can see that designer furniture is fairly custom and that some artist designed it but That is the case then the argument could be made that if you take a shot of your desk that everything on it is copyrighted and therefore can’t be sold.

    This really is ridiculous I think.

  15. Thomas Hawk says:

    Laurie, I’ve actually heard of some zoos going after photographers for taking photos of wild animals at their zoos.

  16. Laurie says:

    I wonder how any professional wedding photographer can do his or her job. We have the wedding dress, the tux and all the props and accessories. What about every time a photographer goes to shoot a celebrity in their home for a magazine? Are these photographers going to have to get releases for every furnishing, every piece of clothing, every prop that shows up in the shoot? If a book happens to be lying around does the author of the book need to be contacted. And on and on.

  17. Keith says:

    Thomas, in the ZOO – No way. This is mad. I wont be able to get a photo of my kids soon. MAD..

  18. Frank Lynch says:

    I’m not surprised at all. People who make recognizable stuff have an equity interest in protecting their brand name, and need to control its portrayal. A commercial that showed a vacuum cleaner exploding for comedic effect was pulled, for instance.

    In a prior life I worked at a Fortune 500 company, and legal was constantly warning marketing that there were restrictions against using iconic NYC buildings in ads. The owners of the buildings needed to license the use of their building in the photos.