My Story

DSC_0098My name is Greg Troy and am the owner of a sole proprietor remodeling business in Mason Ohio called Yeah, We Do That which offers custom remodeling and handyman work.

I had never heard of “Extortion” Letters or Getty Images until March 2012 when I received an extortion settlement demand letter from Getty Images for an image used in a blog offering free DIY/how-to tips for homeowners on my website. Getty was demanding $875 for a picture of a beagle sitting in front of a fan. Since I understood and respected copyright law and thought I had been very careful in selecting the image in question, I felt certain that this was a mistake or misunderstanding. This was one of two images on my website that I did not take myself. I found this image on a website, in a free public directory, where the owner of the website placed his name and a title (Dog Days of Summer) on the image. Everything pointed to this person owning the image and offering it for use.

 

Just to be safe while straightening out this misunderstanding I immediately remove the image from my website. I sent Getty a reply explaining the situation. While waiting for a response I started doing research online and came across a wealth of information about Getty Images at ExtortionLetterInfo.Com (ELI). I started devouring this wonderful resource and quickly concluded my letter and explanation would fall on deaf ears. Getty would surely continue to bully me.

 

During this time I also started doing more research on the image in question and found that it appeared not to belong to the person I thought it did after all. I also received a response from Getty as expected reducing the amount to $625 but still demanding payment. Understanding that copyright infringement is a statutory offense even when it is a case of innocent infringement I wanted to try to negotiate a fair settlement. I did not consider $875 or even $625 a fair settlement when similar images are on Getty’s site ranging from $10-$25.

 

I replied to Getty’s letter informing my new Getty pen pal Douglas Bieker that I wish to settle the matter amicably but since I was presented with an invoice, I requested proof of Getty’s claim, that the image was registered properly, a copy of the signed contract transferring exclusive rights to Getty enabling them to pursue and collect on infringement claims and sales history with prices showing the value of the image. I let Mr. Bieker know I was willing to settle this matter amicably even though I felt I did not owe Getty anything. I offered $75 which was 3 times the highest amount charged for similar images on Getty’s site. I also let Mr. Bieker know that whether he accepted my offer or not no monies would be paid unless Getty provided proof of claim.

 

It was not very long before my pen pal replied back informing me that my settlement offer was being denied and that I could go to Getty’s website and see the image there as proof of claim. I found this laughable as that is how I obtained the image the first time, from a website where the owner claimed it was their image. Mr. Bieker also informed me that no other proof of claim would be provided unless it was through discovery, in other words they are presenting me with an invoice and only will provide proof when they sue me. That sounds like an ethical company doesn’t it?

 

Still trying to settle the matter amicably I contacted a local copyright attorney and showed him all the letters and screenshots from the site where the image was obtained. Letting him know I still wanted to handle this matter myself but wanted to keep him in the loop should Getty decide to sue. I had him draft a letter to my pen pal, in this letter we offered to sign a confidentiality agreement to get the proof of claim from Getty enabling me to continue negotiations.

 

While waiting for Getty to reply to my lawyer I planned what my next response would be if Getty refused and still pursued their claim. I knew once they realized I was not going to budge I would either be getting a letter from NCS solutions or McCormack IP Law. Not one to back down from a fight when I see an injustice or believe what I am doing is morally right, I drafted a campaign designed to make Getty provide the proof of claim I reasonably requested, sue me in a court of law or go away. Before Getty replied to my lawyer I received their last chance letter before legal escalation.

 

It took Getty almost 2 weeks to reply to my lawyer and when I saw Mr. Bieker’s response I actually laughed out loud. Mr. Bieker actually replied that they would not be providing proof of claim unless it was compelled by the court through discovery because To provide this information beforehand would take additional time as well as additional costs.” I never realized how much time it took to hit the print button and how expensive postage had become. J

 

At this point I sent my final communication to my pen pal. I let Mr. Bieker know I was giving them the same 14 days they had so graciously given me to pay, to drop their claim or I would file complaints against Mr. Bieker and Getty Images with the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, The Washington State Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, my Congressman and my Senator. I also enclosed a rough draft of the letter I intended to send to let them know I was serious. I also told Mr. Bieker that I realized Getty’s next step if they chose not to accept my offer would be either NCS solutions (a collection agency) or McCormack IP law. Realizing how short of time Mr. Bieker is, being unable to take the time to hit the print button, I let him know I was including a letter he could forward to NCS solutions should he desire to send my case there. The letter was the standard “This is a claim not a debt do not ever contact me again letter”. I also told him should he decide to forward this to Mr. Timothy McCormack of McCormack IP law that I had complaint letters ready to go against him in his office to all the agencies listed above plus the Washington, Idaho and Oregon State Bar associations where he was licensed to practice law.

 

The deadline came and passed in my case was not dropped so I filed the complaint letters as promised. Every time Getty responded to one of my letters I sent off a follow-up letter pointing out where Getty failed to address issues raised, inaccuracies and lies. From receipt of my initial letter to the launch of my letter writing camp plain about 3 months passed. It has now been 2 years since my first letter I have not heard a word from Getty.

 

While all this was going on I became very active on the ELI website and still am to this day. I have not stopped in my efforts to learn about Getty images, their business model and report on what I find. I am at the point now where along with my sister site CopyrightAntiBullyingAct.Org, my friends and allies I am going to fight to try to change the copyright law so that it is fair not only to the artists who deserve to be paid for their work but stop companies like Getty Images and McCormack IP law sending out these letters without providing proof, demanding far more than the image is worth in far more than a court would award.

 

–Greg Troy

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