Extortionists Prowling the Net
Many website owners have been contacted for unwittingly posting pictures copyrighted by Getty Images. Getty sends exorbitant bills and legal-sounding language and threats that scare some people into compliance, making the enterprise profitable for these scandalous bullies. Time to end.
We recently received an update from MidEast Truth, relating a story familiar to us and many others:
This is a call for help.
I am writing to you, hoping that you may be able to help me. I am respectfully asking for a contribution to defray legal costs which I have incurred, and I am hoping that you will be able to assist me. This is the situation:
I am the founder and director of the website MidEastTruth.com for over 16 years. The site is a non-profit which I fund from my private, modest income. Like many others, I spend my time, energy and funds (several hundred dollars annually), on something I believe in — bringing the facts that support Israel’s position in the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the public arena. The site was founded out of frustration and the desire to do something, small as it may be, in the face of one-sided press coverage of the conflict, especially after Camp David in 2000. Those days were long before social media, YouTube etc.
Over the years, the site reached millions around the world, were mentioned in the US, Israeli and Canadian press, including on American television. One of our videos – “Where is the REAL Apartheid in the Middle East?” – were watched by more than 1.6 million people on YouTube alone. I published the story of the site’s foundation on its Bar Mitzvah year, here.
As I mentioned, the site is non-profit (advertisements from Google help defray costs, but expenses far exceed income for the site), and I do this as an act of personal commitment.
I always request permission in writing from authors, before I include their publications on my site.
My problem is this: I requested permission from a journalist to publish his excellent and informative op-eds and articles, which appear on a non-governmental organization’s website, on MidEasttruth.com. He kindly responded that we could do so, as long as we fulfilled the reasonable requirement of indicating below his name “Originally published by” with a hotlink to the original source. I assumed, in good faith, that the photos in the articles, as published by the organization itself, were an integral part of the articles. With this understanding, I published several of his pieces over the last two years, always providing attribution to the author and to the organization.
Unfortunately, it seems this was a mistake. About a week ago I received a threatening letter from an Israeli law firm. A cropped portion of a photo taken over 11 years ago, published in one of the journalist’s article, was featured on my site about a year ago. The publication on my site is considered a violation of copyright by an Israeli photo agency, who represent the photographer.
When I received the letter from the law firm, I notified the journalist and asked whether his organization might have a license that approves 3rd party postings, hoping this would help my case. Thus far, I haven’t received a reply from him; the photo, however, was removed from the organization’s site.
The lawyers demanded I pay 40,000 NIS (about 11,000 dollars) immediately, or else they will sue me for 100,000 NIS. It felt like extortion. The letter came to me like lightning on a clear day. I have lost much sleep in the last week.
I have hired a lawyer who has reached a compromise with the opposing counsel. The settlement is costing 7,000 NIS (about 2,000 dollars). I have decided to settle, even though there are many arguments on my side: I acted in good faith, asked and received permission to reprint the article, the website is not commercial, there was minimal damage, if any, to the photo agency. However, a court case can be long and expensive, and given my limited resources and even more limited appetite for a legal battle, in the end, after much deliberation and with a heavy heart, I have decided to settle and make this problem go away.
Over the last 16 years I have been funding the site, with some small donations. I do it willingly and proudly, but this settlement is a very heavy and unexpected expense.
If you find our work meaningful and useful, please consider making a small donation and help us stay online and grow…
Thank you for your support!
Victor wrote back:
In 2014 we went through a situation similar to what you describe in your June 11th newsletter (“Call for Help”) with Getty Images, an American firm well-known for using unscrupulous extortion tactics. There is much good advice on the net for dealing with these outrageous claims, although the laws may be different in Israel and you’ll need to take that into account.
Nevertheless, the overriding principle is that these people use threatening fear tactics to bluff their way into your wallet, shaking you down for an unwarranted cash settlement. It is criminal activity and it’s not right to cave to them because it only encourages more of this predation on other innocent victims.
In our case, they were asking $1,700 and dropped it to $1,360 after we apologized for the unintentional use of what they claimed was their copyrighted photograph (which we had promptly removed from our website). A friend then wrote to the CEO of Getty, Jonathan Klein, on our behalf, speaking directly to the issue:
Are you the architect of your company’s policy of harassment and intimidation over the unauthorized use of images? How insulated are you from the harm being created by this unjust and predatory practice of Getty Images, which demands outrageous fees backed by threats of lawsuits? You need to read this letter.
Friends and business associates of mine have been the recipients of said outrageous demands and threats. Here are the facts:
They are a family-owned business, with about ten people working full time, one outside paid person and seasonal workers.
They designed and maintain their website, learning how to do so themselves.
They put a couple images in their newsletters, which images had no identifying copyright or notification as private property for sale, though they looked for them. The images weren’t used to sell anything and generated no income. They wouldn’t have been chosen and posted on the website had they been clearly marked for sale.
I realize the latter point isn’t necessarily your company’s fault. I include it because it establishes motive and intent, a critical aspect that has been completely disregarded by your company in its presumption of theft and assignment of fantastic damages. These damages aren’t assessed by an impartial third party according to any just measure, but are imposed by your own biased and arbitrary determination. It is nothing less than scandalous bullying and profiteering. It is sheer wickedness.
As a Jew, have you no conscience or knowledge of the Law of God? Are you not at all familiar with what is written in the Torah? Here’s what God gave Moses for a just measure:
“If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep… If the stolen beast is found alive in his possession, whether it is an ox or a donkey or a sheep, he shall pay double” (Exodus 22:1, 4 ESV).
In the case of stolen cattle, those who make money off their theft pay back four to fivefold, whereas those who knowingly steal but haven’t sold the goods pay back double.
Leviticus 6:1-7 GNB
(1) The LORD gave the following regulations to Moses.
(2) An offering is to be made if any of you sin against the LORD by refusing to return what another Israelite has left as a deposit or by stealing something from him or by cheating him
(3) or by lying about something that has been lost and swearing that you did not find it.
(4) When you sin in any of these ways, you must repay whatever you got by dishonest means. On the day you are found guilty, you must repay the owner in full, plus an additional 20 percent.
(5) (SEE 6:4)
(6) You shall bring to the priest as your repayment offering to the LORD a male sheep or goat without any defects. Its value is to be determined according to the official standard.
(7) The priest shall offer the sacrifice for your sin, and you will be forgiven.
Yet you demand, without proof or evidence, somewhere along the lines of fifteen to twentyfold in damages, from people who had no idea they were taking something that belonged to someone else. You are the thief, not those who inadvertently use your images. You should immediately change your policy and make amends for the sin you’ve been committing against God and man.
I’ve read about your upbringing in South Africa in the 60’s and 70’s, and the shame you felt on account of apartheid, Jonathan. You didn’t approve of a blanket law of discrimination against blacks, yet here you are prosecuting just such a campaign against ignorant users of your images, persecuting them as criminals for your company’s financial gain. You have caused many much suffering and sorrow. Shame on you; and double shame for being a hypocrite who avows to know better.
Furthermore, as a Jew, the evil you’re doing reflects poorly on all Jews. You’re feeding into the stereotypical money-grubbing Jew image propagated by anti-Semites who are chomping at the bit for their day of wrath. That day is at hand – don’t think you’ll escape. There will be much blood on your hands besides your own.
And Ms. Davis, has your salary blinded you to the evildoing you perpetrate on innocent people? Please ensure Mr. Klein receives this letter.
Jonathan wrote back saying his company would resolve the matter to our satisfaction, notwithstanding what he called the abuse in Paul’s email.
Are you serious, Jonathan? My letter “abusive”? You certainly aren’t getting the message. I’ve only held up the mirror to you and your company. Plainly you are the abusers.
If you want to resolve the matter, then reread my letter and start dealing with the real issue – your company’s misapplied strong-arm tactics. [END]
Within an hour a representative of Getty wrote back giving notice the charges were dropped and the case closed, though Jonathan never answered for himself or his company.
Lior wrote back letting us know that he paid a settled sum to make the matter go away. What needs to happen now is that Getty Images and those who follow their illicit practices go away. The Lord, in His perfect timing and justice, will see to it.
June 29, 2017