Getty Images has filed copyright infringement and other claims against an Ohio man who allegedly downloaded as many as 3,400 high resolution images from Getty’s servers without authorization, and then sold them illegally to unidentified buyers through a private Facebook group.
Getty says in its claim against Walter A. Kowalczuk, filed June 8 in US District Court in Cleveland, that he and other members of the group allegedly bought and sold images using euphemisms for the sources of those images, such as “Spaghetti” for Getty and “Apples” for Associated Press. Getty says one of its licensing partners reported the Facebook group activity in March.
That licensing partner provided copies of posts to the group that were made by Kowalczuk, Getty says in court papers. One post said, “Spaghetti and Apples served all day at the lowest prices around.” In another post, shown above, Kowalczuk allegedly offered the images for as little as 75 cents. Getty alleges that Kowalczuk made “dozens of posts” between late 2015 and spring 2016, inviting group members to contact him by private message to make purchasing arrangements.
According to the lawsuit, an employee of Photo File, which is a Getty distribution partner, contacted Kowalczuk in March about purchasing six images. (Photo File and Getty both license a photograph of a Chicago Blackhawks hockey player that Kowalczuk had offered for sale.) Kowalczuk allegedly told the Photo File employee that the source of the images was Getty, and “gave specific instructions for ordering the images, directing that each image be identified by the catalog number assigned by Getty Images,” according to court papers.
The Photo File employee complied with the instructions to purchase the images, and Kowalczuk sent a link to the images, which he had uploaded to a file transfer website.
Getty subsequently purchased 29 other images from Kowalczuk on three different occasions—March 29, April 1, and April 29—and each time, the process was the same. Kowalczuk gave instructions, Getty identified the images it wanted to purchase by its own catalog numbers, then Kowlaczuk allegedly delivered them through a file transfer website.
Getty says Kowalczuk had downloaded the images illegally from its website using using login credentials of two unidentified Getty customers. In both cases, the customers “confirmed that Kowalczuk was neither an employee…nor authorized to use its login credentials,” Getty says. It is unclear how Kowalczuk obtained the passwords.
Most of the images that Kowalczuk downloaded and offered for sale “consisted of sports imagery,” including images from NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL games, according to Getty. The stock photo agency alleges that Kowalczuk sold the images to sports memorabilia companies. Getty is trying to identify those buyers so it can name them as additional defendants in the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Getty is seeking damages from Kowalczuk for willful copyright infringement, contributory infringement (i.e., aiding and abetting copyright infringement by those he illegally sold images to), computer fraud, and Digital Millennium Copyright Act violations.
Kowalczuk has not yet filed a response to Getty’s claims, and efforts to locate him for comment were not immediately successful.