Code words and a private Facebook group weren’t enough to keep Getty Images from uncovering the illegal resale of as many as 3,400 of its photos. The stock image company filed a lawsuit on June 8 against an Ohio man, Walter A. Kowalczuk, who allegedly downloaded and then resold images through a private Facebook group.
Kowalczuk appears to have gained access to those images through the unauthorized use of a paid account, though how he obtained the login information is unclear, according to Photo District News.
According to the court documents, he allegedly used code words within the Facebook group, like “spaghetti” for Getty and “apples” for Associated Press. A screenshot included in the court paperwork indicates the images were resold for about 75 cents a piece in bulk quantities.
Getty discovered the resales when Photo File, a distribution partner of Getty’s, contacted Kowalczuk last year about purchasing some Chicago Blackhawks images offered for sale through the Facebook group. According to the lawsuit, Kowalczuk then “gave specific instructions for ordering the images, directing that each image be identified by the catalog number assigned by Getty Images.”
Getty then conducted its own investigation into the matter, purchasing 29 images from Kowalczuk’s Facebook group on March 29, April 1, and April 29, 2015. Most of the images that were allegedly resold were related to sports — including NHL, MLB, and NFL games. According to Photo District News, Getty is still working to identify some of the buyers. Getty is known for pursuing even the smaller offenders when it comes to unauthorized image use.
Kowalczuk is facing charges for willful copyright infringement, contributory infringement, computer fraud, and Digital Millennium Copyright Act violations. The case is being reviewed in U.S. District Court in Cleveland.