Sunday, August 02, 2015

Internet Trolls: Why Getty Images Will Die A Natural Death Online

The Business Model of Extortion by Getty Images 

On July 23rd 2015, I received an email from telling me that I'm infringing on their copyright for using Ailica Silverstone's image without a valid license and I need to remove the image within 10 days and / or pay them $510 for the said image.

I run a website I co-founded that inspires people to eat better through a whole food plant based lifestyle

I used Alicia Silverstone's image as part of a testimonial she gave us for one of our plant-based cookbooks we published a few years ago.

I Googled her name and picked an image randomly. There are hundreds, if not thousands to choose from, non of which are watermarked.

August Image which is the same as Getty Images is claiming that we used an unauthorized image of Alicia Silverstone on our website. 

The image in question measures exactly 176 X 176 pixels with an exact replica of the size in question below.

IMAGE ONE - Front of Getty Image's Letter  (click to enlarge)

IMAGE TWO - Back of Getty Image's Letter  (click to enlarge)

August Image is really Getty Images because the listed physical address on the letterhead is exactly the same as the physical address for Getty Images. 605 5th Avenue South Suite 400, Seattle, WA 98104

On July 30th, exactly 5 days after I got the email, I responded by immediately removing the image from my website and wrote Getty Images back to tell them I have complied with their notification.

They wrote back with this response: 


While we appreciate the removal of the imagery from the website, the prior unauthorized use of the imagery on the website is considered copyright infringement. Since copyright infringement already occurred, payment for that unauthorized use is necessary.

Samantha Clemens

LicenseComplianceServices, AUGUST Image

P: 1.855.387.8725 E:




Two days ago on July 31st 2015, I received the same letter as image one above via snail mail demanding payment.

A quick search on other stock photo sites revealed that the smallest image (which measures bigger than my current image) 318 x 480 px for Alicia Silverstone would cost less than $14.99 to buy. 

In fact, here's the cost from other stock photo sites;

  • On a similar image and size costs 2 credits with monetary equivalent of $2.72
  • On a similar image and size costs 2 credits with monetary equivalent of $1.06 
  • On a similar image and size cost 1 credit with monetary equivalent of $3.50
  • On a full sized image cost $39 

Not only is Getty Images a troll with a business model based on extortion, their inflated pricing structure seems to be based on total rubbish.

In Getty Image's claim of my copyright infringement, they are offering me a 20% discount so I owe them $408 dollars instead of the full amount of $510. Oooh, how nice and gracious of them!

A quick search on Google for "getty images extortion letter" reveals hundreds if not thousands of results of blog posts people have written about Getty Images and their slimy tactics.

In fact, a whole website called Extortion Letter Info was created in 2008 dedicated to helping people deal with this very issue.

IMAGE THREE - Same celebrity image cost from another stock photo site (click to enlarge)

Why Online Trolls Like Getty Images Will Die a Natural Death.

1. People don't want stock images anymore because they're sterile, boring and corporate looking. 

The problem with stock images is exactly that. They look like stock images and when you're building an online brand or website, using stock images is going to make your website look about as interesting as a doorknob. Plus the fact that one can tell within 6 seconds that it's a stock image

As mentioned, I run a whole food plant based lifestyle website. Take a look at these stock images from Getty Images for that genre. There is nothing in this portfolio of images that makes me inspired to eat more plant based food (no offense to the photographers)... they're just blah.

2. There are a ton of amazing free hi-res images you can use that are are real, conveys emotion and authenticity. Here are a few off the top of my head.

3. Using extortion, intimidation and harassment as a strategy is a sure way to cap your growth.

Sure you can make millions in the short term by preying on unsuspecting "violators." This strategy will only last as long as you win the potential lawsuits or scare enough people into paying up. 

Think about this. If you were threatened into paying for an image you didn't even know you were infringing on copyright wise, the next time you need a stock image (heaven forbid), would you really go back to Getty Images and buy one from them? Just take a look at Getty Images' Yelp reviews for starters.

The law of diminishing returns will eventually set in. 

Here's a data point to prove this.

One just needs to take a look at the music industry in the late 90s and early 2000s as a yardstick who employed the same method -- suing consumers for sharing digital music files.

That strategy was about as successful as Watergate was.

The only reason why the music industry got out of that rut was because Apple came out with iTunes. 

4. The business model of selling images is outdated 

Anyone with a smartphone can take amazing images these days. Take enough shots of the same image and you're bound to get a good one. 

I know this for a fact because I have absolutely zero training in photography except point and shoot. Even so, I've managed to create a website with hundreds of thousands of visits both from providing good content and images. 

I shot the cover image of my partner and lots of the food photos on the blog itself. Tons of them were taken with a smartphone. Not too shabby for zero training. 

To prove my point, just take a look at Go Pro's Instagram account to see what regular folk around the globe can do with a simple point and click camera that's smaller than a deck of cards.

This is exactly why I can't wait for Getty Images to go belly up and disappear completely. 

Their services in preying on others through intimidation and harassment do not serve a greater good and their business practices do nothing but bring misery. 

Perhaps Getty Images needs to look at how they can innovate their business and find ways to make money instead of resorting to extortion as a strategy. 

At the end of the day, how much you make as a business is in direct relation to how much value you bring to people's lives.

Getty Images has become a pathetic business model that no longer serves today's needs. The worst part is, they hide behind different names and companies to continue their extortions. 

Here is further proof that it's the beginning of the end for Getty Images.

"The Times, They're a Changin..."

- Bob Dylan


Anonymous said...

I agree that Getty is the prototype copyright troll. The problem is their activities will not go away until one of two things happens:

1. Either, our government will need to modify copyright laws to remove the incentive for companies like Getty to extort money from innocent infringers under threat of law, or

2. Getty will need to be erased from the face of this earth. I, for one, hope bankruptcy will do this to them, because I do not believe our lawmakers make laws for the common good, but rather for the good of the vested interests that support them.

Getty's recent campaign to take the focus off their name, by going after copyright infringers under a variety of other corporate names is a weak PR move at best. Anyone familiar with their activities knows who is behind the curtain.

Pamela Patrick said...

An excellent, in depth, thoughtful and insightful response to this phenomenon....Your points are well supported. Thank you for shedding light on this travesty! Best wishes.

Saloma Furlong said...

Yep, I got a letter from Samantha Clemens, too. Except it was from "Alamy Compliance Services." So it makes two of us who didn't cave to their tactics. Hang in there, Sister! I still received a few letters after I stopped corresponding with them, but not in a few months. Intimidation is the name of their game... and it's all the power they've got. Take it away, and they have nothing.

Thank you for sharing the information. Let's keep exposing this...

Anonymous said...

I responded to the second letter from her at LCS Global in NY - She gets around!

Pretty much the same except my image was first on my website in 2006 and can be downloaded for free.

She sent me a long tome on copy right law and a pdf with the contents saying I need to settle.

Do I respond?

Anonymous said...

Sorry I made a mistake - She is from Seattle not NY

Anonymous said...

Here is a good answer to ponder on

Toko said...

Glad to see you wrote this. There are others besides Getty who are in on this racket - Masterfile being among the most notorious along with "". Sadly, these people have found an easy way to make money and I don't see them changing until the law is revised. Common sense law would require a cease and desist letter to go out before demanding money. If people ignore that then obviously legal action would be fair game. These low-grade lawyers, however would never try to change the law because it would cut off their cash spigot.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I got a letter from Samantha Clemens but at LSC global saying they work n behalf of cartoon stock. My lawyer has seen things where this company has gone after people for illegally dwindling videos from the net but never this.

Are these people really legit? I'd love to here back from anyone. I got the 10 day letter. My lawyer suggested I pay because it's only $178 they r asking. And apparently f they sue me it can only be f the$200. But where doesn't stop. We've had the cartoon fo sometime. Unsure where it came from, or by whom but I won the company.

Los said...

It is Dunn and Bradstreet, debt collectors, which are harassing me. I purchased several hundred photos several years ago to set up a few of websites (business).

Then the other day I had this accusing call from them. Where is your licence number, you are using this image in breach of copyright. They were VERY offensive and weren't pleasant at all. I was getting a mouthful from a dominant aggressive foreign worker, probably a backpacker, and getting upset.

I immediately thought extortion from an Indian call centre, like I have had them in the past demanding my credit card details for an unpaid bill otherwise they were going to disconnect me. After all they are asking over $600 and I hadn't received anything in writing.

Well I asked them to email me if they are legit.

They said that I would have received a letter from Getty Images. No I did not.

Anyway if this continues I am quite open to discussing their business model with my contacts at the ABC and also request an ACCC investigation into their business model.

They sound like quite evil people and should go back into their hole.

Anonymous said...

Getty are rapacious and certainly the US government should look at the practices under Anti-Trust Laws. In Australia for example Getty has bought up small agencies and now dominates the market. They use very aggressive photographers who seem to adopt Getty's arrogance. They try to squeeze out small freelance photographers and to obtain éxclusives, do deals with promotions and PR companies so that they are the only agency to cover events. They then try to make all publications take the photographs they decide to distribute. This is not 'news', it's propaganda and some media are coming to realise that by allowing Getty to operate this way, they are doing themselves out of business in the end

BS_Getty! said...

Clean Food Dirty Girl (Molly Patrick) wrote,

“There are a ton of amazing free hi-res images you can use that are are real, conveys emotion and authenticity. Here are a few off the top of my head. Unsplash, Death To The Stock Photo, MorgueFile, [and the linked site].”

Very sorry to read about your BS Getty demand letter!

I’ve come to realize that very few things in life are FREE, including using photographs, songs, art/graphics, etc.

I no longer trust websites that offers FREE media, including those works marked with Creative Commons licenses—-they could have been mislabeled or posted by a third party without the owner’s permission.

If my project needs an image (video, music, or graphic) to tell its story, I’ll research Flickr and other photo sites. If I find a particular image that fits my parameters, I’ll email the owner to verify that the image is rightfully their property and copyright ownership. I’ll also ask them to confirm that it’s OK to include their photos in my projects, blogs, and business. Finally, I’ll perform a Google image reverse search to see if the image tracks back to the copyright owner (and not necessarily back to the site displaying the image). By doing all these checks, I feel a lot more safe about using content marked as “free.”

If I can’t find the owner because there isn’t any watermark, metadata, or other credit-line attributions, then I’ll skip using that image altogether—it’s too risky!

On the flip side, by paying a “few dollars” to buy stock images, including from shithead Getty, you can protect your business. I’m also reading that Getty has free photographs that can be embedded to non-commercial sites. Alternatively, photographs specifically prepared by US Government official photographers are in the Public Domain (again, I’ll double-check to make sure of its provenance before using those images).

I’ll try and take my own photographs or borrow friends’ artworks with their permission—-it’s just way too dangerous to rely on FREE photographs posted to the Internet.