Getty Images, the “leading provider of digital media worldwide, creating and distributing a range of assets that help communicators around the globe tell their stories” sound like a big bunch of mobsters.

Let me tell you why: So, I get an email from a friend’s friend name Hazar Bayindir who’s designed a webpage for his client, a doctor, and bought a 3 month license for 3 Getty Images. The images expired while Hazar was abroad. Upon returning, his client sent him a letter from Getty Images trying to get $4,000 from him for a lapsed license.

Hazar says that Getty Images’ Terms of Use states that you can be charged, at most, 5 times the going rate for stealing images. However, in this case he wasn’t even stealing; the renewal had just lapsed. And what’s more devious is that Getty Images is going after the doctor who owns the site rather than Hazar, even though Hazar is the one who made the deal in the first place.

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For 2 images, he was past 3 months, 25 days, and for the 3rd image, he was passed due 3 months 15 days on the contract. From September 1st, 2011 to October 14th, 2011, Getty Images sent Hazar 3 separate letters with 3 different amounts ranging from $2,900 to $3,625 to settle this matter. These images were $39 a piece. Getty Images is requesting he pay approximately 10,000% of the original price. This is the one and only incident of infringement within Hazar’s ten plus years of membership with Getty Images.

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So, Hazar immediately took the images offline and contacted Getty Images saying that he’d screwed up and was willing to pay $1,000 for his unintentional oversight. Janea Davis, the Copyright Compliance Specialist of Getty Images wrote back:

After careful consideration, Getty Images respectfully declines your $1000.00 settlement offer. We are, however, willing to accept $2300.00 as full and final settlement of the demand that was recently presented to La IVF Clinic: West Los Angeles Fertility Center.  This offer is made conditionally and it will automatically be withdrawn if full payment is not postmarked by November 2, 2011.  The terms of this settlement offer shall be kept confidential, except as may be required by law. Getty Images expressly reserves all rights and remedies available under copyright law.

Is it just me or does that sound really shady? Go after the presumably rich doctor first? Making someone (who’s been a member for a decade, nonetheless) pay 10,000% of the original price for a photo that was 3 months over due sounds worse than the behavior of a mobster. After doing a quick Google search for “Getty Images” and “Extortion” it seems that Hazar’s case is far from extraordinary. In fact, there’s an entire website dedicated to extortion letters from Getty Images called Extortion Letter Info.

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I haven’t found anyone who’s actually been taken to court by Getty Images yet. I’ve contacted Janea Davis, the Copyright Compliance Specialist of Getty Images, Inc. over email as well as reached out to Getty Images twice over Twitter (since there’s no media relation contact listed on their site and they didn’t pick up the phone in their New York office) for further elucidation. My email is currently in Getty limbo.

Getty “John Gotti” Images says, it is “deeply committed to protecting the interests, intellectual property rights and livelihood of the photographers, filmmakers and other artists who entrust Getty Images to license their work.”

The only thing I see Getty Images being deeply committed to is its own pockets.