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May 12

List of Attorney General Complaints Filed against Getty Images and McCormack IP Law

WSAG SealI have finally received the last of 9 CDs of complaints filed against Getty Images and McCormack IP Law from my public records request of the Washington State Attorney General’s office. As many of you know each year for the last three years there has been a request for these public records filed against these two businesses.

In the past I have just taken the complaints, removed the fluff (to see what I removed see below) then made the complaints available through my Scribd account doing nothing more than reporting on the number of complaints and commenting on one or two that stood out to me. This year I decided to combine all my data together making a master index of complaints so you can see at a glance when it was filed, who it was filed against and who filed it.

On June 18 of 2012 I launched an educational and letter writing campaign aimed at readers who like me, tried to negotiate with Getty but felt that they were being treated unfair, unreasonable and/or unethically by Getty Images and/or McCormack IP Law. It encouraged readers to take a stand and fight back by letting the Attorney General and other agencies know of predatory practices which I consider to be a form of legalized extortion. This campaign was acknowledged shortly thereafter by Getty Images when the following two paragraphs were added to their standard form letter response to complaints filed against them.

“The complainant characterizes our attempts to settle our copyright infringement claims as “extortion.” However, our communications with them do not in any way constitute “wrongful threats” within the meaning of extortion statutes. On the contrary, demand for payment and satisfaction of a legal claim is not wrongful conduct.

We understand that copyright law can be confusing; however, the campaign to file complaints against us is misguided and misdirected. We encourage review of the license compliance information provided on our website at: http://company.gettyimages.com/license-compliance/.”

While I agree with the statement that demand for payment and satisfaction of a legal claim is not wrongful conduct, I do strongly disagree with the practice of demanding more than an image is worth or they could expect to win in court, as well as the absolute refusal to provide documentation proving that Getty Images has the legal right to collect on behalf of the artist. Getty will tell letter recipients who make it clear they are willing to negotiate, but are requesting proof of claim, that said proof will only be provided when compelled by a court of law through discovery. In other words letter recipients are told that the information they are requesting will only be provided when they are sued by Getty. This statement is usually followed by another demand for payment with threat of escalation to their legal department if payment is not made. So I say that demanding payment, refusing to provide proof of claim and then threatening legal action qualifies as and meets the definition as a form of extortion.

It is this practice by Getty, McCormack IP Law, Masterfile, Corbis and others that has led me to start Copyright Anti-Bullying Act and attempt to change the current copyright law so it not only protects artist’s rights but closes loopholes and quashes predatory behavior from companies like these.

 

Breaking Down the Numbers

If you look at the index of complaints the dates that are listed in black represent the seven years yay-9865464prior to the education and letter writing campaign. The dates listed in green are eighteen months of complaints filed after the start of the education and letter writing campaign. You may also click on the headers below to see the complaints displayed graphically on year-at-a-glance calendars.

 

Getty Images:

54 complaints in 7 years prior to campaign

117 complaints in 18 months after campaign

 

McCormack IP Law

3 complaints in 7 years prior to campaign

30 complaints in 18 months after campaign

 

1.2 Index of Compaints by Copyright Anti-Bullying Act (CABA Law)

 

What Is the Fluff That Was Removed?

 I mentioned above that the complaints I posted online had the fluff removed. Each disc received from the Attorney General’s office contained 250 pages worth of complaints lumped into one file which had to be separated, stripped of the fluff and re-saved into individual complaints. In addition to the meat of the complaint which is what I post online there is a lot of form letter responses going back and forth between the Attorney General, the complainant, Getty Images and McCormack IP Law which generally counts for 90+ percent of the complaint. It generally goes like this:

  • complaint is filed
  • form letter acknowledging complaint from AG
  • form letter to Getty/McCormack passing along complaint
  • form letter from Getty/McCormack refusing to drop claim
  • form letter from AG acknowledging response and complaint will be kept on file
  • form letter to complainant passing along response and closing case

Other than the initial complaint these letters are all the same with the exception of the name of the complainant and there is really no need to include them in the file. I do retain the CDs so I have the complete complaints fluff included should I need to review them.

5 comments

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  1. Robert Coscarelli

    I just filed a complaint with the State of Washington Attorney General’s Office this morning. I am a retired teacher and maintain a webpage for my students. I placed some images there from Vistaprint’s web gallery and about a month ago received a letter from GettyImages that I was in violation of their copyright for one small photo of the back of a public speaker. The photo hasn’t been on my site for nearly a year because the page has long since been updated. I contacted them immediately and received a demand for $815 for use of the photo. They added that they would make this all go away if I purchased their annual subscription service. I began to think, “This doesn’t not sound legal. It sounds like extortion to me. I investigated how much they charge for images like the one that was on my site, and the price was anywhere from $12 – $33 per image. I offered them $20 for the short term use of the image which no longer appears, and they declined the offer. They have threatened to sue me.

    1. Greg Troy

      Robert,

      I would not worry about this at all. Getty will not take you to court over this especially since they know you acquired the image from those available with your Vista print Web service. I know the letter sounds intimidating and threatening but that is the whole point of their letter accompanied by an unreasonably short date to settle the matter. They are trying to panic you and get you to pay before you have a chance to research them.

      In my opinion Getty images is not an ethical company as they have been sued many many times by photographers who say that Getty has taken their images without permission, licensed them for use by others as well as being sued by their own contributors and even their stockholders back when they were a publicly held company. A good example is a case from just a couple of years back where a photographer won a $1.2 million settlement against Getty and AFP (French press) for taking without permission and selling and licensing the images he took of the devastation and tragedy after the Haitian earthquake.

      I believe filing a complaint with the state attorney general’s office was a good move and Getty will most likely leave you alone after their response. I would just ignore any future communication from them should they send you any.

  2. bansi Shah

    Greg
    we are an IT company in NEW YORK.
    we have our web site designed by a company in India many years ago.
    we just got e mail from Getty or their collection agency demanding compensation.
    we have removed all the images on our site.
    can you help us out ?
    my # 917 807 1911
    bansi827@gamil.com
    Website in question is uciny.com

    1. Greg Troy

      Greetings,

      I am not a lawyer so I can not offer legal advice, however, I am very knowledgeable with Getty and their demand letter business model. I would be more than happy to offer you my opinion but I need more information to help me offer the best opinions and options. I need to know how many images are involved, what they were, where they were used etc. I will also need to see a copy of the letter and any/all correspondence (if any) between you and Getty. I also, need to know who the letter was from (LCS, a lawyer etc.)

      Once I have this information I will be more than willing to offer you my opinion and options.

      Regards,

      Greg

  3. Mark

    I applaud your activism on this issue, copyright trolling is a scourge across the country. When attorneys are involved in sending letters or emails with deceptive or misleading statements I think they may be subject to discipline from their state bar. Higbee is a new guy making a big splash with trolling and questionable statements, the ethics rules the trolls may be vulnerable on are listed at http://www.extortionletterinfo.com/forum/getty-images-letter-forum/if-you-want-to-file-a-complaint-against-higbee/

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