Getty's French Office Sends Out Letters To US Websites Demanding They Take Down Anything Linking It To 'Legalized Extortion'

from the call-it-like-you-see-it dept

Getty Image’s long history of copyright thuggery can be found all over Techdirt. This litany of uncivil public discourse finally resulted in it being force-fed its own medicine by a plaintiff who demanded $1 billion from the image licensing service for taking her public domain photos and adding them to the Getty library.

Thanks to some serious misjudgment, and incomplete knowledge of how national laws work, Getty has now (briefly) earned a reputation for another form of thuggery: censorship.

Matthew Chan runs Extortion Letter Info (ELI), a site that specializes in collecting threatening letters for various entities (usually copyright-related) and gives guidance on how to fight back against this form of speculative invoicing.

Chan, along with others, has been loudly critical of Getty’s tactics. Getty likes to send out threatening letters and demand licensing fees for images it happens to see in use around the web. Visitors to ELI’s forums are no less disdainful of the company than Chan is. And, the internet being the great communicator it is, this sort of criticism isn’t limited solely to Chan’s site.

Chan’s site — along with a couple of others — somehow flew onto the radar of Getty’s French office, which sent out a completely ridiculous letter demanding not only that Chan’s criticism of the company be removed from his site (and others), but EVERY DEROGATORY COMMENT made by site visitors to be taken down as well.


I am the legal adviser of the company GETTY IMAGES.

The company GETTY IMAGES is the biggest global database. Its main activity is the supply, development and worldwide distribution of online images, videos and music under which many communication professionals made use.

Indeed, it enjoys an established reputation both domestically and internationally. However, my client found many comments which seriously jeopardize its practice on your web site …..

Indeed, the combination of the words «GETTY IMAGES» and «extortion» or «arnaque» (fraud) on the search engine Google bring us directly to your web site.

Furthermore, the regularity of the methods and of the proceedings used by our client had also been questioned, which have been described as «legalized extortion» and «Extortion Letter Scheme».


According to the judgment given by the First Civil Division of the French Supreme Court on the 12th of July 2012, this is particularly intolerable and reprehensible.

Those acts of gross disparagement seriously damage GETTY IMAGES’ image.

A similar letter [PDF] was received by The Hacker Factor Blog and Chan and The Hacker Factor both responded in detailed fashion to the French legal stupidity apparently resulting from Getty Image France’s legal rep Vanessa Bouchara’s Google search for “reprehensible” terminology. (The third site took down the image/criticism, but left up a notice telling readers about Getty’s censorship.)

Both responses to Getty pointed out the obvious: parlez-vous US law, motherfuckers?

From Chan’s response:

Regardless of which corporate entity you represent in France, I inform you of the following:

1.   I am a U.S. Citizen who lives and work in the U.S.

2.   I do not have any business interests in or solicit any business from France.

3.   My websites are hosted in the U.S., written in English, and primarily targets American readers.

As such, any content you or your client may object to on my website all firmly within the realm of U.S. laws and the First Amendment. I do not see how you can threaten me with a lawsuit being brought in a country in which I have no contact, connections, or involvement.


French law might have jurisdiction over you, your law firm, and your client operating in France. But I cannot see any way whatsoever how French law applies to me or my websites.

From the very detailed and well worth reading response by The Hacker Factor:

As noted in the 2014 letter from Getty Images, they list their address as “605 5th Ave S, Suite 400, Seattle, WA 98104 USA”. Moreover, they sent their letter to my address in Fort Collins, Colorado, United States. Neither of these addresses is in France.

My 2014 blog entry includes my response letter. At the top of the response letter are the addresses of the sender and the recipient. Again, the correspondence was from a US citizen in the United States of America and to a company in the United States of America.

At no time was there any mention of France or Getty Images in France. The country of France has no jurisdiction in a discussion between a US citizen and a US company. Your repeated citations of French laws have no basis since this falls under the jurisdiction of US laws.

Someone at Getty’s US HQ is now in a terrible mood. Getty’s reputation in the US is far from impeccable, and now they have to deal with a French interloper throwing a one-lawyer Streisanding via international mail. An apology and retraction has already been sent to ELI and a few other sites that were affected.

Dear Sirs/Madam,

Whilst operating as Getty Images’ French legal advisor, we sent you a formal letter dated December 23th 2016, asking you to cease and desist perceived libelous activity on your site.

Please disregard our previous letter, it was sent in error and accept our sincerest apologies.

Yours sincerely,
Vanessa Bouchara

It’s hard to say how many people were involved in this debacle as Vanessa Bouchara uses the royal (and somewhat exculpatory) “we” in her communications, but whoever was behind it needs to spend a bit more time getting to know the limits of their local laws.

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Comments on “Getty's French Office Sends Out Letters To US Websites Demanding They Take Down Anything Linking It To 'Legalized Extortion'”

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John85851 (profile) says:

So no one thought this was a bad idea?

So let me get this straight: someone in the French office thought it was a good idea to send notices to websites in the US? And someone else signed off on it. Then someone else typed up the notices. Then the legal department sent out the notices.
Yet not one single person in this entire chain thought it was odd to send a notice to a website in another country? Now Getty US has to apologize and clean up this mess.

They should all be fired for “we were just doing what we were told”.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

*That* is the way to handle it

Kudos to Chan.

That is the proper way to reply – no whining about not being able to afford a lawyer, no rolling over, no backing down.

Firmly rely "You have no case – go jump in the lake".

Politely, of course.

It makes my blood boil to watch cowards back down in the face of toothless threats. If nobody stands up for their rights, soon nobody will have any rights left.

Matthew Chan (profile) says:

Re: Thank you, I appreciate it.

When I saw the letter, I felt that I did not want to waste time going down a rabbit hole. I wanted to get to the heart of the matter. As far as I was concerned, all the French law citations were both gibberish and noise.

My time was far too valuable to spend on the ridiculous claims made by the French lawyer.

I spent more time getting the word out than I did on my response to Vanessa and I am quite fine with that.

I wasn’t sure if this warranted Techdirt’s time because it came and went so quickly. But I am happy that Tim Cushing and Techdirt thought it was worthwile to mention. Thank you to both Techdirt and to Tim Cushing!

Matthew Chan (profile) says:

Re: Come, Sir - Surely 'Twas Jest!?

Honestly, there were many things in the letter to mock as well as the mocking Vanessa. But I largely bit my tongue on many of the things that crossed my mind.

Yes, that letter has MANY items to mock. This has got to be one of the dumbest things released in the Getty Images name.

Vanessa Bouchara got thrown under the Getty bus by her employer for sure.

Greg Troy (profile) says:

This Is Typical Getty Behavior

In my opinion this is the same old Getty. I received one of these censorship letters too and I found it laughable. The fact that Getty will use these tactics to try and scare, bully and intimidate people into removing their articles and blog posts really gets me going. I sent a letter to Vanessa Bouchara demanding an apology letter from her and Getty Images, I have since received one from her but not from Getty as of yet. I do not buy for a minute Getty’s story they knew nothing about it.

Like Matthew Chan I am a staunch supported of First Amendment rights and with this latest stunt Getty has once again crossed the line. It will be interesting to see how this plays out, needless to say it is Getty itself damaging their reputation not the letter recipients reporting on their activities.


Toestubber (profile) says:

SEO genius

The letter also featured this comedic gem:

Indeed, the combination of the words «GETTY IMAGES» and «extortion» or «arnaque» (fraud) on the search engine Google bring us directly to your web site.

That such a specific set of search parameters might turn up a site critical of Getty is shocking, to be sure. Admittedly, when I Google myself, that’s not usually how I do it.

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