ASMP Files SEC Complaint Against Getty Images

Posted on 2/6/2001 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



February 6, 2001

The American Society of Media Photographers, ASMP, has filed a complaint with

the US Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, against Getty Images, Inc. for

failing to report to the SEC a suit involving copyright infringement, false

designation of origin, breach of fiduciary duties and breach of contract with a

photographer represented by Tony Stone Images (TSI), an agency owned by Getty.

The trade association went to the SEC because of the potentially industry-wide

ramifications of the outcome of a suit by Penny Gentieu and Getty's failure to

mention the suit in filing reports required by the SEC, according to ASMP

executive director Richard Weisgrau.

Weisgrau said, "We believe that a legal decision that is unfavorable to Getty

could easily result in a host of similar suits from photographers that in the

past held, or currently hold, contracts to supply it with photography. If that

were the case, it could result in Getty's contracted sources of supply

withdrawing licensing authority from Getty and terminating the relationships.

This could have devastating consequences on Getty's financial position, in

that, the case could result in an award in excess of $2 million, plus

attorneys' fees and costs."

Weisgrau urged the SEC to investigate why Getty Images did not disclose this

lawsuit, which does have the potential for substantial consequences. "Getty

might use the excuse for not mentioning the suit because, in their view, it

would have no material effect on the company. ASMP would disagree strongly with

such a position," said Weisgrau.

Photographer Penny Gentieu, well known for her distinctive style of baby

photography, sued Getty Images on "copyright infringement resulting directly

from many breaches of duties of Getty as an agent, its financial accountability

to its principals, its breach of contract by misrepresentations and bad faith


The Gentieu litigation has been filed in the U.S. District Court for the

Northern District of Illinois as Gentieu, et al v. Tony Stone Images/Chicago,

Inc. and Getty Images, Inc. No. 00 C 0269 (N.D. Illinois).

As a publically traded company Getty Images must disclose all lawsuits that are

likely to have a marerial impact on the company. In past filings Getty has

listed a number of lawsuits that are covered by prior indemnification or

current indemnification agreements and other suits, one of which - against

another Getty company, - did not even name Getty as a defendant.

Weisgrau said, "In our opinion, it seems to be listing suits of little

financial consequence to Getty by virtue of the indemnifications in place or

being sought." He went on to point out that the Gentieu suit, in which there

is no possibility of indemnification, is not listed.

ASMP believes that if Gentieu prevails, the consequences for Getty are likely

to be far reaching. "Not only will Getty and its subsidiary Tony Stone (now

known as Stone) be liable for substantial monetary damages, but they will also

be vulnerable to similar suits, perhaps even a class action suit, by other

photographers whom they represent or have represented in the past," said


Gentieu has been represented by Tony Stone Images since 1993 and came under the

Getty Images umbrella when Getty acquired TSI in 1995. In 1998, just after she

refused to sign Getty's new photographer's contract, Gentieu began to notice

both a slump in her sales and copying of the look and feel of her famous,

distinctive baby pictures.

Whereas other photographers were featured prominently in Getty's web pages and

catalogs, Gentieu's photographs were being marginalized, even though her 1993

contract with TSI was an agency contract and included a "best efforts to sell"

clause. Then, she found out that one company had licensed and paid TSI/Getty

handsomely for rights to use one of her photographs. When she complained

directly to the TSI/Getty accounting department that she had not been paid,

TSI/Getty suddenly sent her a check for her share of the license proceeds.

Gentieu then started carefully reviewing all documentation sent to her by

TSI/Getty and saw cancellations followed by re-issuance of licenses for less

than original license sales, double subtractions from the Los Angeles and

Chicago offices of Getty and many other discrepancies. Because her 1993

contract permitted it, she demanded an audit of her TSI/Getty account, but was

prevented from seeing the very documents that would enable her to untangle the

accounting snags she had already identified.

Subsequently, Gentieu sought assistance from ASMP and hired Chicago copyright

attorney Patricia A. Felch of Banner & Witcoff, Ltd., to represent her. Felch

also represents writer Jonathan Tasini in the highly publicized case against

the New York Times over electronic re-use rights of freelancers' articles.

Copyright © 2001 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-251-0720, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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