Getty Bullies Photographers After Buying Agency

- - Stock

In this example Getty buys Mediavast (Wireimage) where photographers have a 50/50 royalty split more or less and after several months realizes that’s not their standard split and that they’ve been “overpaying” all this time. The solution of course is to charge them 80/20 until you recoup your money and then apply the standard 60/40 (as far as I can tell because these agency terms are not easy to interpret). I love how they say “If you prefer to pay off the overpayment in a lump sum” …cause we know how you can’t wait to pay us back.

Dear Contributor,

Our internal audits and reviews recently identified an error in how we calculated the royalty rates and home territories used in reporting and paying your Getty Images royalties, since our acquisition of Media Vast.

As a result of this error you were overpaid royalties on previous statements. To correct this situation we will begin deducting the amount due as a result of the overpayment, from your January 2009 royalties, at 20% of the royalties due to you for that month, and from future royalties, until the overpaid amount is fully recouped.

Section 1 – Corrections

Our system reverses (reporting a negative amount in parentheses) all transactions prior to January 2009 that have been reported and paid at an incorrect royalty rate on previous royalty statements.  Each transaction is then re-reported on this statement as a positive amount at the corrected royalty rate.  Since the total for the negative transactions is higher than the royalty rate for the positive transactions, the result is a negative balance, or the amount we have overpaid.

Section 2 – Jan 2009 Royalties

January 2009 royalty transactions are reported in this section and separated into US and Non-US sales and totaled.

Earnings Summary

A summary is provided at the end of the statement to show that 20% of your royalties (total of section 2) are being applied to the corrections (total of section 1).  The remaining overpaid balance will be added to your next royalty statement as an advance and 20% of royalties will be applied to reducing the balance each month until it is zero.  The remaining 50% of the royalties will be paid to you according to the normal royalty payment schedule.

If you prefer to pay off the overpayment in a lump sum or at a higher monthly percentage, we are happy to accommodate you.

If you have any questions, please contact royalty.questions@gettyimages.com

With apologies for this inconvenience,

[redacted]

Email 2:

Hi all,

Thank you all for your understanding in the matter.  There was a lot of deliberation among [redacted] at what a fair recoup amount would be.

Granted this was not easy news to give and likewise for you to receive.  It is our hope that 20% is fair and won’t be felt negatively in your monthly earnings.

There was a typo in yesterday’s communication in the below paragraph.

Earnings Summary

A summary is provided at the end of the statement to show that 20% of your royalties (total of section 2) are being applied to the corrections (total of section 1).  The remaining overpaid balance will be added to your next royalty statement as an advance and 20% of royalties will be applied to reducing the balance each month until it is zero.  The remaining 80% of the royalties will be paid to you according to the normal royalty payment schedule.

Best regards,

[redacted]

There Are 31 Comments On This Article.

  1. Is it even legal to retroactively change the terms of a contract? How did Getty’s acquisition of Media Vast affect its contracts with existing photographers?

    Anyone thinking of signing with Getty better lube up generously; you never seem to know when the probe is coming, only that it WILL come eventually.

  2. There are a lot of us who have heard these horror stories over an over again. Yet they clearly have some good photographers working for them still despite all this. I’m assuming those photographers don’t get this treatment? Or do they have some other kind of arrangement with Getty and similar stock houses? Can anyone say anything good about Getty?

    I don’t see the point in shooting stock at all with the way they want to treat us. Maybe *that* is the silver lining. The end of stock?

  3. But I bet there’s still a long queue of photographers wanting to sign up with Getty. Glad I’m not one of them

    Unfortunately, we photographers have a long history of idiocy

    Btw, Michael Sebastian (post 3) makes a valid point about contract amendmends

  4. Until photographers finally get some gumption/backbone this will no doubt continue to slid further from their side of the positive equation.
    However, after years and years of this folly I must conclude that we are a sniveling spineless lot.
    The Getty photographers owe themselves greater respect (WHNPA examples) – the stock people need finally find their “balls”.

  5. The way I see it, the reason that Getty and Corbis are doing well is that it’s one-stop shopping, for the most part, for busy art buyers. There are also bulk discounts for heavy duty buyers of photography. These larger agencies also offer up actual humans to do image searches for you — just say “large field in California, at sunset” and the art buyer can walk away; someone else does the searching. How many one-person shops can offer that?

    What I’m waiting for is a virtual shopping mall portals for stock, where there can be giant department stores like Getty and Corbis, but also smaller spaces for boutique shops as well. But where the main Interface allows the user to search all the shops within that mall equally. That’s the only hope that a small boutique can have, to compete against Getty and Corbis.

    Face it, Art Buyers are busy and shorthanded, and they’re doing two people’s jobs. (The other one got laid off). So anything that they can hand off to another person, (within Getty), they’re going to take advantage of that.

    I’d also love to see a chart that shows a percentage of Original Content shot for stock, versus that of just “sending in your outtakes”. I just can’t get the math to work, for shooting original content. I’ve avoided ever joining one of those agencies, to avoid being thought of as a commodity.

    • @Reader,

      In comparison, Corbis is not doing well. They generally run about $700 million behind Getty annual revenues. Gates has sunk over a billion dollars into Corbis without yet turning a profit.

      Re: original content – If you are taking one of the agency deals where they front the money and you get a small percentage, it can never work out in your favor. If you are producing the shoots yourself, depending on content, it can be worthwhile, however this does not happen overnight. It is a gradual progression. Photographers also need to keep stock they produce very different from their assignment work. Otherwise, why would an art buyer ever hire them when they know they can get what they need from a stock agency. The most successful stock images are very generic. And that is what most photographers are capable of – very generic images. Unfortunately, the stock business had a great run of about 15 years and it is not the same industry and they’ve reached critical mass. At least for the time being. There will always be people who will do well in stock although we will not see the same amount of successes present through the 90′s.

      Debra Weiss

    • @Reader,

      We can and do offer live image search that part is easy.
      We have a problem with the huge discounts because our mission is to be a photographer friendly agency. You can’t do subscriptions for buyers without pretty much screwing your submitting photographers. The PhotoShelter collection found this out pretty fast.

  6. Is it just me or does this Getty letter seem deliberately worded to be confusing?

    Yesterday it was a “typo” excuse to lower royalty rates. Now it’s an alleged “overpayment” of royalty rates. Color me suspicious.

  7. Good point about the contracts – well as much as everyone complains they still run to a place where continually there is a lack of respect it seems the rules dont apply to Getty – i mean contracts, monopolizing – what’s next?
    good luck to anyone who is bound by contract or who is dumb enough to sign a new one

  8. Just to clarify the payment things…

    “20% of royalties will be applied to reducing the balance each month until it is zero”

    The way the explanation reads, its not they the will be doing an 80/20 split until paid back… it’s that they will be charging the normal 60/40 split, but taking an additional 1/5 of the 40% they pay out in royalties… Which, if my math is correct, is more like a 68/32 split (in effect).

  9. simple bait and switch! not a surprise. i knew an accountant that would pay a bill with a check on time and not sign the check. it is then returned by those due the funds which in turn buys the accountant 30 more days. simple “type-o”…. accidently forgot to sign the check…. dishonest business!

  10. Choice Number One: Like it.

    Choice Number Two: Lump it.

    If you choose to Lump it, that means that you can’t work with Media Vast (Medieval Vast) or Getty. Resign. And if they call, tell them that you’ve chosen to Lump it. And tell them why.

    We are unique. We (corporately and individually) are very talented and we ourselves are a business. We need to, in all ways, act like a business.

    Wallmart wouldn’t say to Coke: We’ve mistakenly overpaid you. Coke would pull its products.

    If you allow people/entities to disrespect you, they will. You don’t have to Like it.

  11. this isn’t just effecting stock photographers – wireimage had celebrity event photographers and music shooters – well lets stay tuned for tomorrow’s news on what happens next – it is time we stop going for the quick buck on photo sales and remember the art and the integrity – the getty contract has more fine print then any other – we can all complain but once again the big boys win

  12. Wow, so much to comment on. First of all, both of the big agencies pull that type of stunt. They buy up small agencies that have fair contracts and treat their shooters well and then change the deal. The photographer can’t get out of it (because they can’t afford the legal muscle to match either Getty or Corbis) the only thing they can do is stop submitting. But for folks like me who have been around a while and have thousands of great images with them that means that a huge portion of our income is gone. I went from making about $120,000 a year through The Stock Market to making less than $10,000 a year through Corbis overnight (same images). Both because they cut my percentage and because they undercharge (by 1/4 or worse). Plus they aren’t perceived as having great images so no one looks there for anything besides shitty brochure usage and the like. I wish photographers would grow a pair and stop submitting to Getty and Corbis, then they would eventually wither and die and leave an opening for decent agencies to thrive again. Also, I would suggest that we all require a clause in the contract with any new agency, that we have the right to opt out of any sale (of the agency) and have all our images removed from their files before transfer.

  13. agreed! anyone signing a contract can ask to have it written in as a 30 day get out clause upon ownership change –
    well our agency is small and we pay 50 percent to everyone – black and white cut and dry
    i wish all the photographers the best but i really feel sad its hard enough to make bills and now they are having the food taken right out of their mouths so to speak
    uggggggg is all i can say on this tonight

  14. I’ve heard too many stories like this having worked for Wireimage and then surviving the take over into Getty. The handover/takeover was a mess and noone knew what was going on or happening. Getty scrambled a few months after to get Wireimage trucking along the same shady highway that they always have. Not that wireimage were really much better to begin with!! I’m glad to have escaped the whole thing, and am now slightly ashamed to admit to other photographers that I was associated with either of them. People are still banging at their doors to shoot for them though!

  15. Hey – look on the bright side – this sets a pretty great precedent in the grand scheme of things. I’m already drafting my letter to my bank:

    Dear Bank,
    Due to a typographical error, we have been overpaying our mortgage to you by a rate of 150%. As a result of this error, we have been overpaying you interest for the past 10 years. We are adjusting future mortgage payments downward by 90% until the overcharged fees have been fully recouped, after which we will continue paying our mortgage at a rate of 1% APR for the remainder of our 30 year fixed rate term.
    With apologies for this inconvenience,

  16. notjustaphotograper

    Why would a person want to do business with a company that is untrustworthy?
    A company that will aggressively work against your best interests to further their own.
    Why would one want to do business on a regular basis in this type of environment?

    Is ignorance enough reason to want to enter this den?
    Want or need?
    Is it financial need or emotional need (validation)?
    What errs in reasoning would enable a person to enter into business with this company?

    I don’t use the term “agency” because Getty is not an agency. They removed the term from their contracts early in the decade (around 2000), because legally an agency has to represent the best interests of it’s clients (now termed: “content providers”). This allowed Getty Images to hire students to compete against their”content providers”. Hired at a day rate (about $800) +10% of sales to create images art directed by their editors. Image selection, priority, and placement often resulted in these Getty hires to be ahead of the rest of the rank and file “content providers” . (At this time microstock was nonexistent. The contention was between RM, RF, and commissioned work).

    To truly understand Getty Images one has to look at the history of their business with photographers. Going back to the last decade when they owned Tony Stone Images and little more, their relations with photographers was outstanding. But then they got greedy, issued that infamous contract which 600 photographers disputed -hiring an IP attorney in NYC to fight (aprox $250K). (This is also when the monopoly buying between Getty & Corbis was happening).

    This is what borne the SSA . The problem was these 600 photographers caved. In fact one of the photographers which is created with starting SSA maintained a collection of RF images with Getty – which he never would address (or freely acknowledge). Had these 600 drawn a real line in the sand, it may have had some effect – but the character of Getty management was already clear.

    fwiw – I did not sign that agreement. Let my existing agreement come to term and terminated my relationship with Getty Images (about 5 years ago). Numerous other interactions (on a regular basis) shed light on how Getty operated. I did not care to be involved with a company which had to be second guessed, and took more time than they were worth.

    • notjustaphotograper

      @notjustaphotograper,

      Typo Correction:
      Should read: SAA (stock artists alliance)

  17. Surely, Getty, or any other agency, can’t arbitrarily disregard contracts
    that photographers have in place with acquired agencies?

    I would assume that they are legally bound to honor the terms
    laid out in these contracts until the original term expires after which
    they would require adherence to their own contract.

  18. Many of your comments are the idealised scenario, but the reality is that the editorial (celeb and music) photographers who contributed to WireImage (& Film Magic) can’t afford to be all high and mighty and walk away from Getty or play hardball and refuse to contribute any more.

    In the UK with the current economic climate many agencies have cut back on their photographer numbers (which I’m sure is the same around the world). As a result there are huge lines of photographers desperately searching for work. They are waiting and hoping for someone to either leave or be fired from an agency in the hope that they can then get work from that agency.

    The music photography industry has pretty much collapsed in the UK as there are so many wannabe music photographers that it’s not a viable option to just be a music photographer when the newspapers/magazines aren’t paying as well anymore. The prestige of shooting bands and gigs is a great way to get started in a career in photography. However in order to earn a living many music photographers have now had to diversify and mix it up covering Celebrity Events and what Getty calls: ‘Celebrity Sightings’, which is their clever terminology for Paparazzi work.

    They have WireImage and Film Magic contributors to supply this work which keeps it separate from the main Getty brand so that it doesn’t upset any deals they have in place with Pr’s and clients and I imagine it also keeps them clear from any reprisals or potential court cases from celebs. That said I believe they have strong guidelines on what kind of ‘celebrity sightings’ their contributors can give them e.g. no celebs with their children etc.

    I have heard that some photographers are paying back £3,000 – £16,000 and upwards. They are forced to agree to this situation because of economic factors and because they believe no other agency has the reach and power of Getty. Few other agencies can grant them the kind of accreditation and access that Getty offer.

    If you take a wander around London on a given night, the number of paparazzi on the streets (which at times seems like there’s one on every street corner!) will give you an idea of the current situation.

    Paparazzi numbers have increased dramatically over the past year. Many have been made redundant from agencies and so they are being driven out onto the streets to try to earn a living as a freelancer. Some who may have worked for other agencies such as the likes of Big Pictures, Matrix Syndication etc are now attempting to set up their own agencies. Others are teenage kids who are new to the industry and are hired as cheap labour by agencies. Many of them don’t have a clue about the business or the legal aspect of photographing people in public or on private property. They live at home with their parents and have little to no overheads. They then mix with the seasoned pros and the freelancers who desperately hope to contribute work to the agencies. This has bred desperation and animosity between the different groups.

    The result is a newer aggressive group of photographers who don’t just get into a frenzy when A-list celebs are in town but do the same to C-list and Z-list celebs leaving clubs and restaurants on a nightly basis. They are so driven by money that this new breed have little respect for celebrities and are being driven to get the image at any cost. The disgraceful behaviour of physical fights that break out and the pushing and shoving that goes on has at times seen celebrities nearly being knocked down or mauled and has resulted in several letters from their lawyers who are not happy with the situation.

    There are still many outstanding paparazzi photographers in the UK who deliver the most amazing imagery to picture editors on a daily basis and should be applauded for the work they do in these difficult times. The aggressive and bad behaviour of the few has made their job that much more difficult and has further painted these talented individuals in a bad light and has added to the perceived view of paparazzi as an annoyance and scum, a view which many do not deserve.

    Getty are not completely to blame for the current scenario, but they and other agencies have consistently driven down the value of photographers work as they try to outbid each other for contracts and deals with clients who claim they have no money anymore (cost cutting lies, lies, lies!!). Getty just happens to be one of the worst offenders at the moment! Many UK newspapers have recently dropped their image rates by about 60% yet the agencies have agreed to the terms. See: http://www.bjp-online.com/public/showPage.html?page=839772

    What Getty have done to these contributors may be morally wrong and a disgrace but they are not completely to blame for the amoral behaviour currently taking place in all sectors of the business.

  19. I’ll be watching carefully as Getty takes over JupiterImages where I’m a RM contributor to the Botanica brand. There’s been an acquisitions progression: Botanica started independent, was purchased by Picture Arts, which was purchased by Jupiter, which has now been purchased by Getty. My contract has consistently been 50/50 royalty split. Will this change? Getty I’m sure will want it to. Will the editor I deal with change? Who knows. She hadn’t been told anything last week when I inquired.

    I shoot mostly stock, licensing through age fotostock, Garden Picture Library, and direct from my office as well as through Botanica/Jupiter. My own direct sales produce a larger share of my income than the distributors, but it’s a lot of work. Having timeless images helps. I sent a bunch from 1999 to a customer yesterday.