This month a civic-minded photographer, Carol M. Highsmith, filed a lawsuit against Getty Images. Highsmith has donated her work to the public domain via the Library of Congress.

Consequently, it was a surprise to her to receive an infringement notice for using one of her own photographs. Getty Images, a corporate stock photo cite, hosts a collection of public domain images on its site, apparently without indicating they are public domain.

Getty’s enforcement arm, Licensing Compliance Services, apparently didn’t put a parameter in they monitoring algorithm to disregard public domain images.  So they ended up threatening public access activist for using her own work.

Highsmith is not the only person disenchanted with Getty.

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In 2006, Bruce sold iStockphoto to Getty Images for around £30 million, and later left the company, but has now decided to start a new stock image venture. We caught up with him to find out why.

AA: Why did you sell iStockphoto to Getty Images?

BL: “There were several reasons. I had partners I couldn’t get along with. They were focused on revenue and profits. I was focused on the community. I couldn’t afford to buy them out. I felt like I had accomplished everything I had set out to do.

“I love to build things, trying to maximise revenue and margins is not as exciting to me. The community at iStock was surprisingly strong. Even today, with nobody at the helm of iStockphoto, there are still people hanging on the ship as it is sinking into the depths of apathy.”

File:Bratislava Bronze Paparazzo.jpg

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“It’s hard for me to criticize their corporation,” Livingstone says. “They’re responsible to their shareholders. They have to keep making profits and keep having growth. I totally get it. I don’t fault them for that.” But within his photographer network, it seemed like what started as a friendly business had grown up to become a monster. “One of the most depressing ones for me,” Livingstone says, “[were] people who I had helped change their lives—real estate agents or veterans or policemen who had quit their jobs and had focused on making stock photography and were earning a living—suddenly saying, I’m going to have to go back to my old job.”

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Their start-up story was the stuff of fairytales. But in 2012, three years after selling iStockphoto to Getty Images for US$50 million, Bruce Livingstone and Brianna Wettlaufer decided to start all over again. The pair, along with a small team of iStockphoto veterans, founded Stocksy – a rapidly growing photographer’s co-operative where the photographers own equity in the company, with a finely curated collection of stock photos and a distinctive aesthetic driven by a relentless ambition to make stock photography better than it has been before. Where this industry often pays photographers around 20 percent of profits from each license, Stocksy passes on 50 per cent on all photos, as well as paying dividends.

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Stocksy is home to a highly curated collection of royalty-free stock photography that is beautiful, distinctive, and highly usable.

We’re also a cooperative! (Think more artist respect and support, less patchouli.) We believe in creative integrity, fair profit sharing, and co-ownership, with every voice being heard.


We are a photographer-owned cooperative founded on the principles of equality, respect, and fair distribution of profits. Our contributing photographers receive 50% of a Standard License Purchase and 75% of an Extended License Purchase – and every single Stocksy contributor receives a share of the company.

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The model has competition elsewhere, but its co-op structure means each of Stocksy’s 600 contributing photographers directly benefits from year-end profits.

“After a year of operating, we’re getting close to that magic number of $200,000 in royalty payments per month,” Livingstone says. “We hit profitability after eight months, started spending again and now we’re in profitability again. It’s evidence that we’re there. After a year, for any business, it’s kind of unheard of, especially for an online start-up.”

“The co-op model helps set up a new paradigm, but it doesn’t help the other 95,000 photographers out there struggling,” Livingstone says. “But we wanted to create something sustainable first and then worry about big numbers after that.”

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