Corbis sues Amazone over sale of pictures

Photographic agency Corbis is suing online retailing giant Amazon in the US for millions of dollars for allowing the sale of pictures of celebrities on the site without copyright agreements.

This is the eighth time that Corbis has filed suits for alleged copyright infringements since November and it is investigating another 120 cases.

The images are mainly those of film, music and sports stars, originally taken for the covers of glossy magazines. Corbis claims they were being sold on Amazon.com as posters or prints and is suing the site and 15 poster and picture stores.

British-born freelance photographer Andrew Macpherson, who is represented by Corbis, alleges that 70 or 80 of his images have been used without his permission and he estimates he has lost hundreds of thousands of pounds. The pictures were taken for magazines such as The Face, InStyle and Arena. “It’s almost everyone I have ever photographed,” he said.

“I wouldn’t mind if people were getting the images for free to stick up on their walls, but the people who are making the money have stolen my work and the celebrities’ likenesses. It’s the worst of all scenarios.”

Martin Ellis, general manager of Corbis UK, said the company had developed software which encoded its photographers’ work, allowing them to hunt down and investigate cases of copyright infringement.

He said. ” There has always been the problem of images being stolen but the web is a great enabler for those who want to use them illegally. It is relatively easy to download them, and we feel it is crucial that we take a lead in ensuring it doesn’t happen.”

Amazon has removed the pictures from the site but Corbis said it would continue with the legal action. It is seeking damages of up to $150,000 (£90,000). Macpherson said he hoped the case would lead to greater protection for photographers’ copyrights.

“The most satisfactory conclusion would be recognition by the law courts about what’s happening and how to give us a position of greater strength to protect our rights. Also, photographers are hard to band together. Corbis is a big company and it doesn’t like having its own profits taken, but it’s also like a cooperative. Corbis creates a power of community.”

An Amazon spokeswoman confirmed that Corbis had filed a complaint but said the company believed it to be “without merit”.

She added: “Amazon.com has a long and strong commitment to protecting intellectual property rights and we often remove merchandise sold by third parties on our site. If Corbis had told us about the merchandise in question we could have removed it a long time ago. We have since removed it, just as we remove other merchandise that is brought to our attention by film studios, music labels, software producers and video game makers.”

by Mary Stevens

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