Getty Images is appealing a French court decision that could set a precedent affecting stock photographers across the world, BJP has learnt.
The case was launched by Pernette Martin-Barsac and Jacqueline Jeanneret Gris, who are the respective holders of the hereditary and moral rights over the works of furniture designers Charlotte Perriand and Pierre Jeanneret. Both designers worked with Charles-Edouart Jeanneret, also known as Le Corbusier, to create a series of armchairs and sofas that have become iconic items of the 20th Century.
"My clients, with the Le Corbusier Foundation, own the intellectual property rights to these pieces of furniture," lawyer Dominique de Leusse tells BJP. "For the past 25 years, we've been fighting to stop the counterfeiting of these iconic objects - most of them coming out of Italy - but also against the reproduction in print of these art pieces."
He adds: "These iconic objects are associated with the ideas of quality, comfort and luxury. And often, we see marketing agencies use them to promote computers, alcohol or even financial products. They try to associate the values these objects have with what they're selling. And, the French courts have found that you can't reproduce a work of art without autorisation."
In recent years, de Leusse has found that the images used in these commercial originally came from Getty Images, prompting the lawyer to sue the stock library. "Getty Images is selling images representing these objects without authorisation and without mentioning the names of the rightful copyright holders," de Leusse tells BJP. "The designers' heiresses don't want to see these objects become commonplace," which could have an impact on their value.
Earlier this month, a French court of appeal found against the stock agency, arguing that the designers' intellectual property should be protected, unless the objects were just accessories in the images sold. It wasn't not the case here, according to the court.
"Basically, there are two notions of copyright going against each other in this particular case," says de Leusse. "Photographers' copyright, and the designers' rights. Very much like a photographer needs the authorisation of people featured in their photos before selling them, they also need the authorisation of the intellectual property rights' holders when it comes to works of art such as these objects."
The court's decision has led Getty Images to contact its creative stills and video contributors to alert them against the potential danger of using designer furniture in licensed content.
In an email seen by BJP, Getty Images writes: "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."
The agency adds: "You are responsible under your agreements with us to submit only content for which you have the necessary rights. Using this case as an example, while you may hold a copyright in a particular image or clip, if it contains even a fraction of a Le Corbusier piece then you may not have all the necessary rights under French law to provide that content and therefore may be liable for copyright infringement under French law in respect of the furniture featured."
In a statement sent to BJP, Jonathan Lockwood, vice president of corporate counsel at the stock agency, says: "As a creator and provider of content, respecting intellectual property rights is of the utmost importance to Getty Images. Whilst we respect the differences in French law compared to other jurisdictions, this case involves very specific facts and we can confirm that we are appealing the current decision. The issues involve a conflict between different copyrights and we are taking a stance in support and representation of our photographers and photojournalists from France and elsewhere in the world."
He adds: "We look forward to resolving this matter through the appropriate channels."
De Leusse doesn't believe Getty Images will be successful with its latest appeal. "Jurisprudence goes against them at the moment," he tells BJP. "But I understand their point and the economic impact a proper precedent could have if they lose this case. Other designers and artists could wake up and sue them as well."
In the meantime, Getty Images has sent to its contributors a list of objects that can't be featured in licensed content. It includes furniture designed by Le Corbusier, Ame Jacobsen, Eero Aarnio and Mies van der Rohe.
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