CixxFive Concepts, a digital marketing company based in Dallas, Texas, has filed a class action lawsuit against Getty Images over its alleged licensing of public domain images. The complaint, which was first reported by TechDirt, accuses Getty of violating RICO and the Washington Consumer Protection Act, among 'other claims.'

The lawsuit, embedded below, alleges Getty Images has been...

...fraudulently claiming ownership of copyrights in public domain images (which no one owns) and selling fictitious copyright licenses for public domain images (which no one can legally sell), including operating an enterprise of third-party contributors to perpetrate this egregious scheme.

Though CixxFive acknowledges that it is not illegal to sell public domain images, the company alleges that Getty's 'conduct goes much further than this,' claiming it has utilized 'a number of different deceptive techniques' in order to 'mislead' its customers -- and potential future customers -- into thinking the company owns the copyrights of all images it sells.

The alleged actions, the lawsuit claims, 'purport to restrict the use of the public domain images to a limited time, place, and/or purpose, and purport to guarantee exclusivity in the use of public domain images.' The lawsuit also claims Getty has created 'a hostile environment for lawful users of public domain images' by allegedly sending them letters, via its License Compliance Services (LCS) subsidiary, accusing them of copyright infringement.

In listing examples of Getty's allegedly deceptive actions, the lawsuit states:

One aspect of the deceptive nature of Getty’s and/or Getty US’s licensing scheme is that Getty and/or Getty US claims copyright on all of the content on its website. For example, the bottom of each page of its website states: “All contents © copyright 1999-2019 Getty Images. All rights reserved."

Also, specific public domain images are overlaid on Getty and/or Getty US’s website with the © symbol followed by an entity or contributor name, indicating that the image is protected by copyright. The same © symbol and information is also provided next to the public domain image.

CixxFive claims it has licensed public domain images from Getty, pointing to two images specifically that are available for free from the Library of Congress and NASA. The lawsuit claims that Getty's licensing of public domain images has 'injured CixxFive and the public, and will continue to do so unless brought to a halt by this court.'

It's doubtful CixxFive will prevail in its lawsuit against Getty, as it's legally allowed to sell public domain images, as unethical as it may be. Getty has previously won two past lawsuits related to image licensing: one from photographer Carol Highsmith filed in July 2016 and another from press agency and wire service Zuma in August 2016.