Courtroom Sketch Artist Sues Getty Images For Copyright Violations

A courtroom sketch artist has sued Getty Images for allegedly infringing copyright by displaying her illustrations online and selling copies of them without her consent.

Christine Cornell of Weehawken, N.J. says in her lawsuit that she has served as a courtroom illustrator for nearly every major trial in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey since the 1970s. She alleges that Getty Images wrongly sold drawings from those trials -- including sketches of people like Martha Stewart and would-be subway bomber Najibullah Zazi.

“Getty Images has engaged in the unauthorized transmittal, display and reproduction of more than 50 of the Cornell Drawings,” she alleges in a complaint filed on Thursday in federal court in Seattle. “Such infringing images were made available for distribution and distributed through Getty Images to its subscribers, customers and a la carte purchasers for editorial and commercial uses.”

Getty Images declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Cornell says that she licensed her courtroom drawings to the wire service Agence France-Presse, but only for a one-time use. She says that AFP transferred the images to Getty.

Upon learning that Getty was offering her sketches, Cornell says she complained to the company and the images were removed. But according to Cornell, some of the images later reappeared on Getty's site. A copy of her sketch of Najibullah “was still on display on the Internet on June 12,” she alleges.

She argues that Getty Images has a pattern of acquiring rights to image archives without first making sure that the sellers are allowed to transfer the images. “Upon information and belief, Getty Images has engaged in a pattern and practice of failing to use due diligence to confirm its copyrights in these collections and has acted in continuing reckless disregard of content creators rights in these collections,” she alleges.

Cornell isn't the first artist to sue Getty Images. The company also was named as a defendant in high-profile copyright infringement case brought by Daniel Morel, who took photos of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and uploaded them to Twitter. In that case, AFP distributed Morel's photos to Getty Images, which then licensed them to other news organizations. That case is pending in federal court in New York.
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