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My name is Joe Stangarone.  I am the president, and a founding member of an international software company.  I have been with this company since 1981.  As a software company, we are extremely aware of things like copyrights and licenses and the like.  We abide by all copyright laws to the best of our ability.

That’s why I was shocked to receive a letter dated February 13, 2012 from Ms. Lauren A. Kingston an attorney at accusing us of copyright infringement.  This letter was the first communication of any kind regarding said copyright infringement from either McCormack IP Law or Getty Images.

A reasonable business person, like myself, might think that if there really were a problem here, that a human being from the company in question, (Getty Images) might contact us first, before resorting to attorneys.  The letter contained three enclosures:

1.   Instructions for Immediate Settlement
2.   Settlement and Release Agreement
3.   Proof of Images Copied and Displayed Without Permission.

Taken in their entirety, my first reaction was that this struck me as similar to the Nigerian Oil Minister scam that had been making the rounds for years.  But this was different.  This emanated from the United States.

I have never been one to trust attorneys who write Release Agreements that require confidentiality of both parties.  This thing smelled like a scam.  But they did go to the trouble of delivering this letter via FedEx, so I looked into it a little further.

When I got to the Proof of Images enclosure, I immediately knew where this had come from.  They included 54 images that we did use in our monthly customer newsletter from 2005 till 2007.  Those images were still on our website, in case anyone referenced an article in one of those newsletters.  The only way to get to those newsletters was to know the specific URL, which we never published.

The immediate settlement price tag was a quick $40,300 which included $1000 in legal fees, all payable to McCormack IP Law for the benefit of Getty.

There was no question in my mind that we had used the images.  In fact, I remembered giving my marketing director, at the time, the ok to do so.  I also remembered the day (2 years later) she came into my office and told me that either Getty had changed their policy, or they had seriously mis-led us and lots of other people into thinking the images in question were a loss leader for them and were free.

She asked, at that time, if she should remove all the images from our servers.  I made the wrong decision.  I told her that we should immediately cease using images from that source, but that I didn’t think we needed to remove the history of what we had done.  After all, it looked to us like Getty had changed their policy with respect to the images.  I knew that there were no direct links to the newsletters on our web site.  The only way anyone would ever see such an image was through a google search or knowing the exact URL.

Naïve me.  Never did I think that they would employ bots to scan our computers looking for those images 5 to 6 years later.  If I were not still here, they would likely have been paid off by my successor.  But I knew that we had been had.  And this was not going to be easy for them.  Thus began my three year battle with McCormack IP Law.

I am not going to take the time here to detail that three year battle.  Instead, I am going to summarize what I think I learned in those three years, in a way that might be helpful to anyone else caught in a digital image copyright trap.

Before relying too heavily on my observations, remember that this world is a changing.  Technology changes, laws change, google search results change, Getty or McCormack IP law can change what they choose to do and how they choose to do it at any time.  What I am detailing for you is the state of this market as seen through my eyes from mid-February of 2012 through mid-February of 2015.  Taken in that context, I hope that these observations will be of great benefit to you.

Things I learned in my 3 year runaround with Getty and McCormack

1.   Getty is a for profit business.  They are in it for themselves.  Though they may claim to be working on behalf of the artists they represent, make no mistake, they pursue Getty’s agenda, not the artist’s.

2.   Getty is not necessarily well managed.  This does not mean that upper management is in any way stupid, rather they have neglected a number of details along the way.  Those details are the reason individuals have a fighting chance against Getty’s copyright trolling practices.

3.   Getty’s Copyright Compliance group remind me of the salesmen in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross.  I expect, based on what I have seen, that they are paid next to nothing for their time, and mostly on commission (for results).  The poor grammar, misrepresentations of the law, and utter failure to address any issue other than how much money they will bring in, attests to the fact that they are not well managed – and focused only on their end game.  Note:  I have had no interaction or communication with this group.  What I know about Getty’s Copyright Compliance group was learned from monitoring their activities through a number of different web sites over the last three years.  I was getting myself ready in case McCormack IP Law ever referred anything back to Getty.  This never happened in my case.

4.   McCormack IP Law is where the elite survivors of the Copyright Compliance group might end up, particularly if they are willing to get a law degree.  In researching Ms. Lauren Kingston (the attorney who contacted me on Getty’s behalf), I learned that she used to work at Getty (maybe in the Copyright Compliance Group), before going to law school and ending up at McCormack IP Law.

5.   As a businessman, I consider the McCormack IP Law group to be the dregs of the legal industry.  Getty may treat them with the same disregard.  In over three years of following these guys, I have never seen McCormack IP Law represent Getty in court.  McCormack appears to be used as a collection agency.  They can get around collection agency laws because they are attorneys (allegedly representing their client (Getty Images)).  The legal threat that goes with that helps them collect in a certain percentage of cases.  I believe that Getty likely pays them more like a collection agency than like a law firm.

6.   It appears that McCormack IP Law uses the name of their firm to scare people into paying.  In many cases (not mine), the Copyright Compliance group says if you won’t pay by a certain date, we will escalate it to our attorneys.  Then a letter or two from McCormack IP Law makes it look like that escalation has taken place.  Many people likely cave in to this tactic.  My belief, is that the McCormack IP Law group is also paid on commissions based on cash collected.  They seem to look for low hanging fruit.  Let them know that you are not a pushover, and they reduce the time and effort put into collecting from you.  Show fear and a conscious and they will be on you like a pack of hyenas.

7.   When I got started talking to people about my case, many cautioned that I should negotiate the best settlement I could and pay up because a case involving 54 images was certainly economically worthy of going to court.  People thought it would be worth Getty’s while to spend the money on court filings and attorney’s fees because they stood to collect millions.  So why didn’t they sue?  I think because Getty is smart enough to know that they do NOT always have their ducks in a row.

8.   A good example is the ruling in the Getty v. Advernet case ( ).  Here, you have a defendant who vacated the case, yet the judge would not hand Getty an over the top victory.  Instead, the judged dismissed the action, with prejudice.

9.   Getty doesn't register all of its images. 

10.   Getty registers many of its images improperly.  Some jurisdictions have ruled that collections of images don’t count as a way of registering just one.  Getty has used collections to avoid tedious and cumbersome paperwork.

11.   Getty's claims of "exclusivity" in its contracts with its contributors are not always true.  Although their click through agreement might state exclusivity, said exclusivity doesn’t really exist under the law if the photographer signed a similar agreement with another agency, because only one entity can legally have exclusivity over any digital image.  Some jurisdictions have even questioned the validity of the click through agreements, because you cannot have a valid legal agreement without a signature for both sides, and Getty never signed or clicked through on each image and each agreement.

12.   Getty knows that their strategy has evolved over the years with the growth of the internet and the changes that have gone about in their business.  Where their strategy has changed, they have covered their tracks by doing things like instructing the Wayback Machine (online internet archive) to remove certain of their pages from the archive prior to 2009.  Why would a company in the business of selling internet images ever want to remove their history?  Maybe they changed their strategy to no longer offer “loss leaders”?

13.   Although I do not always agree with his politics, it is clear to me that Oscar Michelen is an excellent attorney and an extremely nice human being.  He stands by what is right and I have seen him stand by his friends and those he never knew, to right wrongs committed by the legal system.  In many cases, he has done this pro bono and self funded his expenses.  These are not things he had to do.  These are things he did to make the world a better place for others.

14.   I would not hire Timothy McCormack or any attorney working for him to do any legal work on my behalf and I would strongly warn any friends or acquaintances away from them.

15.   I am not one to make negative comments about people, but based on the things that I have seen Timothy McCormack do in this industry over the last 3 years, I would stay far, far, away from him, as a person, as well.

16.   Getty and McCormack’s pursuit of copyright infringements has changed through time.  I believe that some of that change results from business not going their way.  Some of that change results from court decisions and changes in the digital image industry world-wide.  Much of that change also results from people and organizations, like ELI, standing up to them. 

17.   Oscar Michelen’s letter program has modified Getty’s approach.  Lately, Getty seems to have lowered their asking price for single infringements enough to  try and lure people away from Oscar Michelen’s letter program and into directly settling with Getty.

18.   Ian Cohen’s (Scraggy on ELI) victory in Israel has changed Getty’s tactics in Israel at the very least, and likely in many more countries.  Here is one link.  Feel free to search ELI for more on this battle.

19.   Matthew Chan’s PR and SEO campaigns to expose Getty and McCormack IP Law have not only caused pain to both those firms, but have changed the way they operate.  It’s easy to see.  Just Google McCormack IP Law.  The results do not paint a flattering picture of a law firm.

20.   Greg Troy’s campaigns to get the tactics of Getty and McCormack on the radar of lawmakers and legal overseers at all levels have not only changed how Getty and McCormack operate, but have slowed them down tremendously, because they can see what they have to lose by continuing their behavior.  I apologize for the length of its thread, but if you are caught in the Getty-McCormack web, I think it is worth reading TWICE.

21.   Robert Krausankas’s campaign to expose those who work for these firms has cost both firms employees and the time, effort, and money it takes to train and re-hire positions.  Robert is also a Search Engine Optimization wizard.  His efforts to discredit trolls he crosses paths with are legendary in ELI circles.

22.   Each and every person who has ever put up any kind of fight, or who has supported another in their fight, has certainly been noticed by Getty and McCormack.  That’s quite clear by their change in behavior over the last three years.

23.   Don’t react to anything you may get from the likes of Getty or McCormack IP Law emotionally.  This is what they want.  Don’t be driven by false deadlines they give you.  Take the time to distance yourself enough from their accusations to remove the emotion from your decision making.  Take the time to educate yourself on exactly what is happening before responding. 

There are lots of options.  Find the option that best suits your style and your situation.  Now, 3 years later, I am so glad that I did not take the advice of people advocating that I should settle because of the sheer size of their claim against me.  It was well meaning advice, but I could not, in good conscious, give in.

I do not know where this industry is going to go in the next three years.  I do know that for a while I thought there was so much activity that this would certainly get in front of lawmakers and the opportunity to extort monies from innocent infringers would be removed from the law.  Now I am not so sure.  Things seem to have slowed to a point where the impetus might not be there.  I do know that even though my Statute of Limitations is up, I was so riled by this business that I will keep my eye on what’s going on and lend my support to friends that I have made in this industry for years to come.

Here is an older article I came across in which both Matthew and Oscar are quoted regarding Getty's recent case filings.

I just came across an interesting article that I had to share.

Kevin O’Connor, FindTheBest‘s CEO and founder is using RICO laws, originally passed to deal with organized crime, to put a stop to patent trolling.  Will it work?  Only time will tell.  But their are some interesting similarities to copyright trolling.  Here are a few out takes, but I recommend you read the whole article.

Patent trolls described
O’Connor described patent trolls as the “parasites” of the tech industry. They are generally shell corporations that buy up patents, not to use them in business, but merely to file lawsuits against other companies that allegedly infringe upon them. The patents are often extremely vague and the suits “frivolous,” O’Connor said. However, defending a lawsuit in court is so expensive that companies will write settlement checks, regardless of the validity of the claims.

I am betting most of us can see some similarities to copyright trolls.

Why he is doing it
“Business isn’t always about making money,” O’Connor said. “It’s also about doing what’s right, which is why I am using my own money. Most startups don’t have that luxury, but we are getting a ton of support. I am not sure if we are going to see a fix, but I don’t like this uncertainty. These court cases have doubled in the past few years, and they will double again. When does it end?”

How he is doing it
Rather than just defending his company in court, he is filing a civil RICO suit against Lumen for engaging in mail fraud, wire fraud, and extortion, “attacking the defendant’s attempts to extort money out of the company based upon false, objectively unreasonable, and baseless claims of patent infringement.”

With the statistics that we are beginning to compile on Getty, the shoe just might fit here.

What do you all think?

Getty Images Letter Forum / I miss Matthew Chan
« on: August 08, 2013, 02:33:23 PM »
I know Matt has had some issues that will take some time to sort out thru the court system, but I just wanted to say that I, for one, seriously miss his posts on this forum.

Matt is such an outside the box thinker, that even if he didn't come up with the best solution to an extortion letter issue, he spurred others to think outside of their normal scope.  Often, that was enough to help delineate better alternatives.

Matt, I for one hope that when the time is right for you, you will be back with a vengeance.

Ryan Healy a blogger, troll victim, and contributor here, responds:

I discovered an interesting page today while reviewing the white house web site that lets citizens sign petitions designed to get the government to act on things deemed necessary by the people.

I am not sure how well this works, but am wondering if there is any interest in pursuing this in the ELI community.  Here is a link to the page.

This may all be rendered moot by the next election.  However, this kind of thing is catching on around the world.  Here is an article about how the concept of getting people more involved in government is catching on in Finland.

At least this subject might be worth some discussion.

Getty Images Letter Forum / Let's turn up the heat
« on: June 18, 2012, 05:00:41 PM »
The last week or so has provided a lot of momentum on this site aimed at getting the word out about what we've been dealing with what with:
  • April's activities with the Dash poem including blogging about it and getting radio coverage
  • The Oatmeal's activities raising money for charity in the name of truth, honor, and all things non-troll
It seems to me that this would be a great time to step up the pressure and make those parts of the world we touch aware of the "troll problem" before it hits them square in the face.

Let me start by adding my blog post aimed at over 35,000 business people to the equation.

And I challenge each and every one of you ELI members and readers out there to ask yourself this question.  What can I do to make the world aware of this troll problem, so that maybe people will get motivated to do something about it?

Although we may think the internet should be open to expression in a free society, this article says "not so much".

Getty Images Letter Forum / Don't get mad, get even
« on: February 23, 2012, 03:44:58 PM »
If you haven't already done so,
  • Sign this petition
  • Ask your friends on social network sites to sign the petition.
  • Tell them if they don't know why they should, just google Getting images extortion letter and they will know.
  • Ask them to share the petition with all their friends

Although I cannot be 100% sure of this, both myself and my ex-marketing director believe that in 2005 Getty's royalty free images web site:
  • did not speak of license fees, and
  • allowed visitors to search for pics, with no copyright notice, right click and save them to their device.
I am in the software business and decades ago was warned by attorneys to never let the case be made that our software was in the public domain, because if we did, we would lose our copyright.

In April of 2007, we stopped using photos from that site.  Both my ex-marketing director and myself remember him coming into my office to tell me that the free photos were no longer free and were exorbitantly priced.  I think that was when Getty changed the site to a shopping cart.

I tried to verify what we remember by going to, but Getty will not allow them to archive that page prior to 2009.  Is there anywhere else I can go to see what that page looked like in 2005.

I feel like a complete sucker.  They put the pics out there, told us they were free, said nothing about copyright, then changed the rules and now are demanding close to $50,000 for infringements that stopped taking place over 5 years ago.

Does anyone else recall getting their images free from getting and now being trolled?

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