Yeah, We Do That.
3023 Ash Court Mason, Ohio 45040-1400 Gregory A. Troy Owner (513) 544-7069
July 18, 2012
The Honorable Mike DeWine Office of the Attorney General 30 East Broad Street 14th Floor Columbus, Oh 43215
RE: Getty Images Main Office Getty images 601 N. 34th St. Seattle, WA 98103 1-800-972-4170 D. Bieker and Copyright Compliance Team Getty Images 605 5th Ave South Suite 400 Seattle, WA 98104 1-206-925-5000
Dear Attorney General DeWine: My name is Gregory Troy and I am the owner of a sole proprietor remodeling business in Mason, Ohio called Yeah We Do That I am writing to you today asking for your assistance in dealing with and the investigation in a stock photo company located in Seattle, Washington called Getty Images. I feel that this company along with an individual working for this company by the name of Douglas Bieker are using unethical business practices to try to extort money from individuals and small businesses by making claims of copyright infringement along with overinflated an exaggerated settlement demands while at the same time refusing to provide any proof upon request that they have rights to the image in question. Below is a chronicle of the experiences I have had to date with Getty Images and Mr. Bieker. On March 29, 2012 I received my first letter from the Getty Images Copyright Compliance Team, the tone of this letter was designed to instill a sense of fear in the individual receiving it, and basically states that I was guilty of copyright infringement and only have 14 days in which to pay a settlement demand of $875 for the use of one image found on my website. The letter also included a screen capture of a blog
page on my website containing the image in question. I was informed that this image was owned by GK and Vikki Hart and that Getty Images has exclusive rights to this image. This letter was of course very disturbing to me as I firmly believe in respecting the rights of artists and their work, and as such thought I had been extremely careful in selecting a few images on my website that I did not own as being free and non-copyrighted work. I of course immediately removed the image in question along with two other images I did not own since I could no longer be sure that they were copyright free as I was led to believe. I replied to the Getty Copyright Compliance Team on April 1, 2012 stating that I had remove the image in question while also providing screenshots of the website where I had obtain the image. The image was obtained from the website which contained several image gallery folders, one of which was labeled public folder. Inside this public folder I found the image in question. All of the images in this folder appeared with the owner of the website’s name and a title for each image making it appear that each image was the work of the owner of the website. The image in question was labeled "Greg Mankiss-Dog Days of Summer". I provided the screenshots to the Getty compliance team showing that this image appeared to be owned by Greg Mankiss and was offered up for free in a gallery folder labeled public. Mr. Mankiss also had several other galleries which were not public and all required passwords to access them. I also told the compliance team that this was an innocent infringement and that all of my online research suggested that in cases of innocent and non-willful infringement a simple cease and desist letter is all that is required unless the image is not taken down. I informed him that I felt that their settlement demand of $875 was unreasonable in the light of the circumstances. I received a reply back on April 16, 2012 from Mr. Bieker in which the topic of my claim of innocent infringement is totally ignored. Mr. Bieker goes on to explain how they have exclusive rights with the photographers and if they allowed infringers to be "excused" with a cease and desist letter it would not be fair to the rights of their photographers. After the initial letter with a settlement claim of $875 Mr. Bieker now states that after careful consideration Getty Images is willing to accept $625 as full and final settlement, but again only if paid within 14 days or the offer goes back up to $875. I replied back to this letter letting Mr. Bieker know that I still wish to settle this matter amicably between us but I still fundamentally disagreed with him on this issue. I requested since he was presenting me with the demand and claiming that Getty had exclusive rights to the image that he provide me with the following information. I requested to see the copyright of the image in question proving that it had been registered with the United States copyright office, I requested to know if this copyright was for the individual image or for a group of images, I requested to see a signed copy of the contract between Getty and the artist transferring copyright and giving them exclusive rights to the image as Mr. Bieker had stated his company held, I requested to see the sales history and records of the image as well as prices they had received for the image justifying the settlement demand amount and finally I wanted to see the precise formula used to arrive at their settlement figure. I then informed Mr. Bieker that I had gone to Getty's website where I looked for and found literally hundreds of similar images all of which were available ranging in price from $10-$25 for the size of the image used on my website. While I still firmly believed I had done nothing wrong I wanted to settle this matter amicably and offered him $75 which was three times the amount similar images sold for on Getty's site. I also let him know that his deadline of 14 days sent with each demand letter was unacceptable in that I would take a fair and reasonable amount of time necessary to research and reply to his letters.
While trying to research the situation and trying to find help on the Internet I came across a website called extortionletterinfo.com. This website has close to 1000 members all of which have received these letters from stock image companies asking for outrageous settlement demands, with Getty's recipients being the most numerous. This site is owned and run by a gentleman named Matthew Chan who like me, had received a letter from Getty although his was four years ago. He started the site to provide information to help others receiving letters like this. I found the site to be full of valuable information and soon realized that what Getty Images was doing was not truly trying to enforce copyrights and protect their artist but rather has turned this into a business model based on profit and greed. Getty Images and Mr. Bieker use artificial deadlines and the fear of eminent legal action to extort monies from innocent infringers far in excess of their fair market value. As I had mentioned in my response above to Mr. Bieker's letter of April 16, 2012 I had requested proof that Getty Images had exclusive rights to the image as Mr. Bieker had claimed he had in his letter. Mr. Bieker responded to my letter on May 1 of 2012 stating that he would not provide the proof requested except through means of discovery, in other words the reasonable request for proof would only be provided to me when Getty Images sued me and took me to court. Since I'm being presented with the demand for $875 and have provided Getty with proof that this is at worst a de minimis and non-willful infringement I feel that the information requested be provided me is more than fair and reasonable. As a businessman myself I could never get away with telling a client requesting an explanation of how I arrived at the amount on my invoice by telling them I will only show you when I sue you, now pay me. Yet this is how Mr. Bieker and Getty Images chooses to conduct business on a daily basis. My case is not the only one nor am I the only one in this situation, the Getty Images forum on extortionletterinfo.com is filled with person after person after person making the same claims and not knowing what to do. They have all received a letter almost identical to mine in which is installed the fear of an eminent lawsuit and all requests for information regarding the images are denied, yet they are told they must pay within 14 days or risk escalation to their legal department. I also believe the reason that Mr. Bieker and Getty Images refuses to provide any information requested is that they cannot. One of the members of the Getty demand letter forum on extortionletterinfo.com posted a reply received from Getty to their request for information, the reply was from Getty Copyright Compliance Team member Nancy Monson, in which she states: “Getty Images has contracts with its contributing photographers who are the copyright holders and the owners of the images. The contributor agreement contains representations and warranties that the contributor is the sole copyright owner. Consequently, Getty Images does not require the contributors to provide Getty Images with certificates of registration and leaves the option of copyright registration to the individual photographer.” Here Ms. Monson is stating that they do not even know if these images that they are asking $875 and more for are even registered! Furthermore, while researching Getty's business practices online I found that they had recently sued in advertising company called Advernet for $24,275 over the use of 35 images on their website(s), the case is listed as Getty V. Advernet 09CV1895. This is a very interesting case as Getty actually won this case by default. Even though Getty won this case by default the court ruled that they would receive none of the monies they had requested, the court ruled that for every image Getty was
suing over they could not prove that the images were registered, registered properly, that the sales contracts giving Getty exclusive rights to the images were correct as well as various other issues. In short, every single one of the images had enough issues that the court refused to grant them any monies because Getty did not have the legal grounds to pursue damages for the images. So again, I feel that my request for this information is more than reasonable and Getty's refusal to provide it to me shows that they do not have the rights they claim nor do they even know if the artist has registered their work. The last letter I received from Getty Images was dated on June 1, 2012 and was from the license compliance team. Once again this letter totally ignored even mentioning the request I had made showing that the settlement demand they are making is justified but instead state that they are giving me: “…. One last chance to resolve this claim through payment of the attached settlement demand. Ceasing use of this image does not eliminate liability for payment. Payment details are included on the demand in the previous letters attached. Your failure to make payment immediately will result in the escalation to our legal department and the possibility of legal action being commenced for damages exceeding the amount presently being offered by way of the settlement”.
Since less than a year ago court ruled that Getty Images despite having won their case by default, ruled that they were entitled to no monies as they did not have the rights to the 35 images they sued over as they claimed, I feel that my request for Getty to provide this documentation and proof to me is more than fair and reasonable. Getty Images also is currently facing a $12 million class-action lawsuit in Israel for making the same kind of settlement demands on images that they have no rights to make claims on. The fact that they refuse to provide any proof especially in light of the recent court ruling in my opinion not only constitutes unethical business practices but should by definition be labeled extortion. In conclusion of this letter I would like to thank you for your time and again ask you to please consider investigating what Mr. Bieker and Getty Images are doing, I truly believe this this is tantamount to extortion; they are using a combination of fear, unenforceable and unrealistic deadlines, and the constant threat of legal action to make people pay unreasonable sums of money on cases of innocent and nonwillful infringement because it would be cheaper to simply pay them than to hire a lawyer. In any other circumstances if they did not have the copyright law to hide behind what Mr. Bieker and Getty Images are doing would be considered extortion, I can't imagine how many innocent people have just rolled over and paid from fear of being taken to court by what Getty claims is ”The World's Largest Stock Image Providing Company ”. When Mr. Bieker and Getty images are offered reasonable settlement amounts they refuse, requests to provide proof of claim are refused, and as in my case, in addition to the refusal I was told to just go to the Getty's website and view the image there as that should be all the proof I need that they had rights to the image and that I owed them the money. In all my research into this matter I have not found once were Getty has sent these letters to large companies with legal staff that can actually defend themselves, they are always sent to individuals, mom-and-pop companies and small businesses, all settlements require the victims to sign releases prohibiting them from speaking about the terms of their settlement so Getty is able to continue to do this by operating under a veil of secrecy. In addition to and in
light of the fact that Getty threatens legal actions but does not follow through shows that this is just another form of intimidation to extort money from their victims. While Getty Images compliance team cranks out thousands of these letters every month only once recently did Getty actually take someone to court, the case I stated above were they won by default and yet received know monies because the court ruled they were not legally entitled to pursue claim on the images. The percentage of letters versus actual lawsuits is so low that the number cannot be distinguished from zero, so again using the threat of legal action to get money but not following through in my opinion meets the definition of extortion. What I would like to see as a result of this letter since Getty Images refuses to provide proof of claim or negotiate in good faith is the following: First, I would like this claim against myself and my company dropped. Getty continues to make claim yet refuses to show proof of claim or justify the amount and at this point the release of the claim is the only resolution I would deem satisfactory. Second, I would like to see an investigation into the business practices and the legality of what Mr. Bieker and Getty images are doing. In addition to the fact that the extortion letter info website has nearly 1000 members who have received these letters and found their site for help, the 62 complaints filed with the Washington State Better Business Bureau against the company and everything I have outlined here in my letter I am sure the fact that this company is sending these extortion letters across state lines warrants some type of action or investigation. Any assistance you can provide in helping to resolve this matter would be greatly appreciated. I do feel that this company should be scrutinized and investigated more thoroughly for their unethical business practices. I am providing copies of the letters I have received to date from Getty Images as well as copies of the letters I have sent in reply to Getty. I'm also providing screen captures of where I obtained the image showing that this image appeared to belong to the owner of the site and was made available in the public folder with no mention of licensing or claim of copyright. I am also enclosing a copy for your convenience of the ruling in the Getty V. Advernet case as I have cited in this letter. Should you require any additional information or documentation please do not hesitate to contact me as I will be happy to provide you with anything I am able. Respectfully,
Gregory A. Troy e-mail: Greg [email protected]