I have seen many extortion letters over the years. Some upset me more than others. There have been frequent suggestions about taking the fight to the stock photo agencies which is one of the reasons why ELI exists to begin with to help educate the public about how to defend themselves against extortion letters.
For a long time, I have taken the position that the extortion letter scheme the stock photo agencies run is legal but now I am not so sure. The reason why I am not so sure anymore has a lot to do with my broader base of readings in the P2P/Bittorrent lawsuits and the resulting conversation and comments coming out.
In that arena, there is much more talk about going after the sleazy lawyers who represent media companies that help perpetuate and enable the extortion schemes. The issue at hand there has to do with whether a collections effort is an “honorable” attempt to resolve an issue vs. executing on an unethical and questionable business model whereby the legal system is being hijacked to do the extortionists’ bidding.
It is my contention that in some cases, the lawyers themselves are the extortionists, NOT the stock photo company they represent. For example, collection lawyers typically collect a 50/50 or 40/60 split of settlements they extract. There is nothing wrong with that except that in the broader context, the lawyers systematically and on a large-scale continue to extract extortionate settlements from their legally-ignorant victims as a business model which was is universally condemned and hated by judges as shown in the Righthaven lawsuits.
It is a fact that Getty Images has little stomach to file lawsuits against most extortion letter recipients. But, they perpetuate the notion that a lawsuit is likely and could be filed at any time which has been historically been proven to be untrue. So, we now have a company that lies to the public. Nothing new about that.
What becomes a more potent and riskier issue is for Attorney Timothy B. McCormack as a lawyer supposedly in good standing who KNOWINGLY lies and misrepresents Getty Images intentions through his extortion letters. For him, this is his business model as is evidenced by so many of his extortion letters going out. There are so many issues with McCormack’s letter, it is simply outrageous.
To illustrate my points, I believe there are pearls of wisdom in the 2003 California case against the lawyers of The Trevor Law Group.
Essentially, the lawyers of The Trevor Law Group were accused of abusing a statute of a consumer protection law. I won’t summarize the article here because too many important points were brought up to list here.
I have said that if people must complain, they should complain to the Attorney General’s office who track various types of complaints. There is no question in my mind that McCormack is a good candidate for reporting to the Attorney General’s office and let them take a good reading of the extortion letter which could be damaging to both McCormack and Getty Images in Washington State.
The New York Times article reports California went after The Trevor Law Group because of numerous reports they received.
”The law firm sent letters that were extortionate to businesses demanding settlements,” Attorney General Bill Lockyer said. ”We’ve asked for complete restitution to anyone that sent in settlements, and also a $1 million fine against Trevor.”
The State of California filed a lawsuit against The Trevor Law Group asking for an injunction, restitution, other equitable relief, and civil penalties.
The California State Bar eventually suspended 3 lawyers in The Trevor Law Group
The California State Bar has suspended three Beverly Hills lawyers who filed thousands of lawsuits against small businesses before offering out-of-court settlements.
In a 127-page ruling on Wednesday, Judge Richard A. Honn of the State Bar Court found that there was clear evidence the lawyers, the sole members of the Trevor Law Group, had engaged in misconduct that caused significant harm to clients and to the public.
I understand there are many finer points of this case that don’t necessarily match up with the shenanigans by Timothy B. McCormack but no one can convince me that his extortion letter doesn’t cross the line. Professional lawyers and attorneys are expected to hold themselves to a higher standard of conduct than the clients they represent. Their law license sanctioned by the State Bar demands this. They cannot knowingly commit questionable business practices based on their clients say-so.
I would posit that some of the lawyers in stock photo extortion letter business crosses that line. For example, staff attorneys like Lisa Willmer and other legal counsel within Getty Images knowingly farm out and sanction the dirty work to someone like Timothy B. McCormack.
To me, McCormack is the easy target being outside counsel. But the staff attorneys and legal counsel (with law licenses sanctioned by the State Bar) are also culpable. Staff attorneys should be smart enough to oversee and instruct McCormack as to where to draw the line and to not step over it.
As I said, collection lawyers can play their heavy-handed game but is it worth dinging their record with state bar complaints and possibly their law license? If enough complaints and extortion letters were submitted to the Washington State Attorney General’s and state bar, I think it would be very persuasive for them to change their behavior and the way they operate.