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iStock Photo Overpaid Photographers, Wants Money Back

According to PetaPixel, some iStock Photo photographers were notified recently that they were paid too much in September and October of 2013. Not surprisingly, Getty wants their money back. Apparently this was discovered in December, 2013 by the iStock Photo accounting department, prompting them to notify a reported 9,000 of the 25,000 contributors, seeking reimbursement.

Below is a sample "Recoupment" email sent anonymously to PetaPixel:

Partner Program Recoupment Notification

Hello XXXXXXXX,

We discovered that there were some irregularities with September 2013 and October 2013 Partner Program royalties payments. There were a number of contributor accounts that were overpaid royalties over these two months. Unfortunately your account was one of the affected accounts.

We have calculated the over payment amount to be $896.88. Rather than take this amount out of your royalty balance in one adjustment we have decided to schedule the removal of these funds over a 6 month period. Starting before the end of February 2014 we will begin removing $149.48. Once per month for the next six months we will recoup the balance of the over payment. You will receive a monthly notification as immediately after the funds are removed.

Over Payment Total=$956.66

Monthly Recoup Amount=$159,44

While the amount will differ from person to person depending on the number of licenses sold during the months in question, iStock is offering to recoup the cash over the course of six months in order to cause less of an inconvenience.

Understandably, photographers are upset at iStock and it's owner, Getty, prompting some to leave the agency altogether. Assuming the email reported at PetaPixel is fairly representative of the amount owed by all 9,000 photographers who were notified, this could mean iStock overlooked a $9,000,000 accounting blunder and is looking to get it back from the photographers.

What do you think of the way that iStock Photo / Getty is handling this financial mistake? Should photographers be responsible?

[Via PetaPixel]

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45 Comments

Jorge Duarte Estevao's picture

I was one of them. One of those to be hit by this email. Not happy about it

the_pro_amateur's picture

A company tried to do this to me, and too bad for them. Walk away, don't pay. It's their screw up. I doubt you have time to go through everything and see if they're correct.

independentskeptic's picture

If this was an individual instead of a company, would you pay them back if they indeed overpaid you?

the_pro_amateur's picture

I see where your argument is going. You want me to say it's stealing if it's from an individual, but a big bad company can take the hit.

Not falling for it, and shame on you. If a single person paid me some small amount over what they owed, over the course of a bunch of regular transactions, and neither of us noticed for going on 4 months now, I'd expect they'd say "don't worry about it", because that's what I'd do if the situation was reversed. Especially if it was a regular client/contributor. I don't know what these people are making, but the person above didn't seem to realize it was an over payment until they got the email. If I was making $20 a month and for only 2 months, I got $1,000, I'd think something might be up, but that doesn't seem to be what happened.

These photographers weren't personally contacted and hired for individual assignments, they get money in their account. It's fire and forget. Many of them probably thought it was great news and used the money to buy things or pay things off. Now 4 MONTHS LATER they're being told, through no fault of their own, the money is being taken back. That money is gone, sorry. If you want to try and work something out, expect to recoup half of it, and fire who's responsible. Better yet, why don't you have them write the check?

independentskeptic's picture

I wasn't trying to trick you. Some people genuinely feel different if they're overpaid by a big company or a person.

I know I would feel differently if the power company gave me a big refund versus a friend who overpays me for something.

Still, In both circumstances, the issue is the same - you've been given money that isn't yours and you know it.

james johnson's picture

" - you've been given money that isn't yours and you know it."

Therein lies the problem. If you are relying on the accounting of Getty, and you are relying on them if you are selling stock through them, you are trusting them to get it right.

The fault has yet to be explained. It's possible that they were over reporting sales, which means that you "knew" that they owed you that money.

I get what you are saying, and ethically you might be right, but Getty also has the responsibility to get the accounting right (they spend millions to do so), so there is also an ethical responsibility on their part not to put the burden of recovery entirely on the photographer

That is what I think @the_pro_amateur:disqus is getting at. Getty handles all the sales, accounting, and auditing— the photographer doesn't really have the ability to audit such a large company— so unless there were red flags, Getty is entirely responsible for this.

Personally, I would be more worried as a contributor that they could make such a screw up in their accounting. Now that we know they have dramatically overpaid some people, how can we trust they haven't dramatically underpaid others?

independentskeptic's picture

Excellent point. Photographers rely on Getty to deal in an honest way. If it were to come out that Getty was under-reporting sales and consequently ripping off contributors, can you imagine the damage done to its reputation?

I'm sure they can.

the_pro_amateur's picture

I didn't even consider that. I think if they expect the money back in full, months later, it's only fair to do an audit of every photographer they have and prove to them that they've never been underpaid. Unrealistic? Definitely.

I'd be interested to see if anyone who has been underpaid, has had Getty come back to them after 4 months and say, "Here you go! We were double checking our records to make sure we gave everyone what they deserved, and saw we owe you $900."

the_pro_amateur's picture

I apologize then. So many smart asses on here, I can never tell. The major issue is that it doesn't seem as if the photographers knew, maybe some did. The payments were spread out for a couple months and blended in with the rest, then weren't even noticed by the company for 4 months. I know if I overpaid someone by 400% for 2 months straight, I'd notice. If I overpaid 9,000 people... I can't imagine not picking up on that immediately, and feeling pretty foolish.

I didn't even consider the point below, that if they overpaid, they most certain underpaid. Dangerous realization for their photographers.

Burt Johnson's picture

Gee, I wonder if you would use the same argument if they discovered they had UNDERpaid you. Would you then also say "well, tough luck, I guess they get to keep it"?

You can't have it both ways. You want accurate accounting. If they underpaid, you would expect them to pay you instantly upon discovering it. If they overpaid, they could do the same, but are being generous and taking it out over 6 months.

Grow up and act like a professional, instead of a child just wanting it in your favor, whatever happens.

And yes, I got that email and they are taking back a small amount of what they paid me last year.

the_pro_amateur's picture

So is your argument based on the assumption that I'm one of the photographers that is having money taken, because of someone elses mistake, and I'm stomping my feet about it? That's not the case.

First, a key part of this is that it was 4 months before anyone noticed. Too late. And yes, I have noticed I was underpaid by a small amount, and it had been so long that I did let it go. At that point it's MY fault. This is completely different than, again, me regularly getting $20 and then one day I get $1,000, followed by an email saying "oops, we overpaid you yesterday." Then of course I'd give it back. If you contact me months and months later, and the amount of over payment blended into the rest, and it wasn't 1 time but 50, that money is gone and now you're messing with peoples' finances.

This is like an argument I saw before about a "photographer" trying to collect money after months or even a year after accidentally undercharging his clients. Yes, they could have gone back to see they paid less, and yes they technically owed him money, but that's his fault. How about when you make a mistake, you "grow up" and take responsibility. Pay more attention, as I do now, and let it be a lesson to you.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

Are you with IStock as a contributor? Have you seen how completely opaque their sales reporting is? There is no way for you to verify the numbers.

Burt Johnson's picture

Yes, I am. If you don't like the transparency, then don't work with them. That has nothing to do with whether they should be able to recover overpayments.

Aaron Mangiapane's picture

I think one of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed here isn't how many months ago it was or "too bad it's their loss for not catching it" but, where is the proof. The burden of proof in such a situation falls onto the one making the claim. In this case Getty. Just receiving an email saying "We overpaid you, you're paying us back." would not be enough. I would most certainly need to see some proof. How much money it costs to provide that proof to the 9000 photographers involved is not relevant. If the tables were turned and I sent an email to Getty saying " You underpaid me $900.00 and I'll be nice and let you pay me back over six months." Do you think I would just start seeing checks arrive? No they would ask for proof that I was underpaid. A little off subject but in the same regards, I received a notice from my cable/internet provider stating that they had been undercharging me for my internet service for 3 years. After several meeting with my municipality(they provided cable and internet at the time) where I asked them to prove it. They could only pull records for the last 6 months and admitted they were just assuming they were undercharging me the entire 3 years. I agreed to a payment plan for the six months that I was undercharged and the matter was settled.

james johnson's picture

Essentially, they are asking for a payment without presenting an invoice.

Veldask Krofkomanov's picture

When I deal with businesses, if they make a mistake, they take the hit. Go into a Walgreens, for instance. If something is charged incorrectly, they take the loss and fix it afterwards to prevent it from happening. Good companies hold themselves accountable for their own mistakes.

These guys don't. They make a mistake, and then set out to recoup every single dollar they lost because of their ineptitude. The only people who should be punished/educated/trained are the ones at istock. Yet, the only people who are actually being punished are the photographers. How many of these people already spent the money, and now they're being told they have to pay a certain amount back? I'm not sure how familiar you are with us photographers and our incomes, but 99.9% of us aren't doing it for the money (mainly because there is very little money in it).

daddy o's picture

i on the other hand received a letter stating that i was underpaid and istock credited my account within days

Ricky Lincoln's picture

The amateur want something for nothing which make him a typical welfare queen. Unfair benefit is what cheap and low class people look for instead of being decent upright Christian citizen. The pro amateur if watch a man miss his back pocket and drop his wallet would pick it up and keep it saying "it's his screw up" for dropping it. Morally speaking you are a thief.

Graham Marley's picture

You sound positively miserable.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

You're out of your mind!!!

james johnson's picture

"Morally speaking you are a thief."

Ethically speaking. This is a matter of ethics, not morals.

Also, a straw man argument, so your word usage is irrelevant anyway.

Veldask Krofkomanov's picture

I hate to jump into an argument to only talk about language, but if you're going to criticize someone on the use of morally vs. ethically, then you should probably know exactly what a straw man argument is. I suppose I can see how the mistake can be made if you've heard the term on internet forums before and wanted to use it, but in reality what he said is technically not a straw man.

james johnson's picture

'The pro amateur if watch a man miss his back pocket and drop his wallet
would pick it up and keep it saying "it's his screw up" for dropping
it.'

Okay, I guess that statement could just be a poor analogy and not a straw man argument, but it also misrepresents the position of the person he is supposedly refuting by implying that the one situation is similar to the other. Whereas the two situations are similar on the surface, the analogy he uses ignores the deeper issues unique to this discussion. I would call that a straw man argument, if not by a direct statement, then through an implied one.

But, hey, what do I know. I've only heard the term on the internet somewhere.

Jon Winkleman's picture

As an upright atheist raised and Bar Mitzvah'ed in a Jewish household. I have returned 2 lost wallets with all cash inside and a 0.75 CT diamond ring in a gold setting that I have found on the streets and subway platforms of New York City over the past 25 years. It was the ethical and legally right thing to do. I have been stolen from and cheated by more than a few church going self identified "good Christians" most of whom were not "low class" and came from a strong pedigree. In NY State we have had good moral Christians assassinate doctors in their own driveways for working at women's health clinics.

Ethics and good values is hardly the monopoly of "good Christians."

john pritchett's picture

Isn't this discussion about how a company is recouping overpayments from photographer contractors? Your atheism stance and Christian bashing has no relevance here. Tell us what you think of the iStock subject at hand.

john pritchett's picture

Much of the world is not Christian and, as a Christian, we cannot apply our standards to others who don't share our beliefs. Please rethink your statement. That said, it would be nice to keep comments relevant to the issue at hand-iStock overpayment.

Stacy Baugher's picture

I'm not familiar with their processes, but should you not be able to go back and check for yourself what sold and for how much? I'd then request an itemized invoice from them of the same information and compare them. Was it a simple overpay, or items marked as sold that actually did not?
If there was a mistake, the money should be paid back. It sucks, but it's good business.
I'm not sure simply walking away is an option, is it? That might be a pretty big bridge to burn, and I am not sure all photographers will be willing/able to do it. Also, I can almost bet that there is something in their terms of service that would cover something like this.
Either way, I see arbitrations and lawsuits in the future.

Anonymous's picture

I agree. I'm too am not familiar with how their process works, but I do get paid from Google AdWords every month and the amount is fairly consistent. If I went from a couple of hundred dollars a month up to $9,000, as an example, I'd be suspicious that something wasn't correct.

It was a mistake and if there was a huge jump in someone's income from the site it not unreasonable for them to investigate what happen. You're in a business relationship with this company. They made a mistake and I would guess that many of the people who were overpaid know they were overpaid. I don't see a difference here between this and a client who mistakenly sends you a check for more than your amount due.

If you were owed $500 for a job and they mistakenly sent a check for $5,000 would you try and keep it and burn your relationship while risking being sued or would you contact them and point out the error?

Professional people act in a professional manner. Mistakes happen.

james johnson's picture

My question is this: What kind of mistake was made? This matters because it is the accounting/invoice that would raise the red flags, not the income.

Even if my income jumped dramatically, if Getty (or Google) gave me a list of sales they said they made on my behalf, wouldn't I trust them? Personally, if the sales looked suspicious (like duplicates or something), yes, that would make me question it, but if their accounting seems legit, I would just chalk it up to a very good month.

Poster999's picture

The problem is the lack of accountability / transparency. They are not sending out any details on files / sales / royalties involved. All contributors have is their word that they were overpaid and how much they are pulling back, and it is in many cases significant, and many reporting that they can't account for it in the figures that they themselves keep. In the meantime, contributors are still waiting for underpayments from the first of the year because of one of their other screw-ups.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

So just like we bailed the banks & rewarded them for ruining peoples lives, we should bail another company instead of holding it responsible for its own mistake!!!! Screw them! Looks like they hired their accountant off craigslist! You get what you pay for.
Shameful!

Doug Gray's picture

That isn't how the real world works. If you work for someone and they mistakenly overpay you, you are required to return the money. A mistake doesn't just make something yours.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

Ohh, I agree with that, but this is several millions of dollars were talking about....what kind of "mistake" is that?

Doug Gray's picture

A small one with 50,000 employees. Small mistakes that happen over very large groups add up very quickly. If they had 15 people they were paying, that wouldn't have even noticed it. But since they have so many people that they are paying, it took longer to find the issue and track down the problem.

Alexandra Giamanco's picture

This is really horrible!

Poster999's picture

In the real world if someone overpays you, there is some proof to be shown. You aren't expected to just take someone's word.

Doug Gray's picture

Unfortunately this is kind of how it works. You are placing your trust in them that they are reporting your numbers right. If you don't trust them, you can try elsewhere. When you are allowing someone else to sell your stuff for you, you are taking the risk that they mess up somewhere.

Jason Ranalli's picture

This analogy makes zero sense. I don't think you can draw any parallels here to bank bailouts.

RUSS T.'s picture

I'd have noticed if I was overpaid. I keep track of things like payments, amounts, for what and when etc..
But, were I put into this situation, I'd check their records. If I found I had been overpaid, I'd give the company it's money back..

Burt Johnson's picture

I am one of those that was overpaid, and got that letter. The amount overpaid was not a "huge jump" in royalties. It was small enough that I didn't particularly notice it. If they paid too much, they have a reasonable right to have it returned. They are being generous in asking for it over a 6 month period.

If I make a deposit into a bank account, and a glitch puts an extra amount of money in, you can be sure the bank will want to rectify the problem and recover the extra -- it has happened to me in the past. This is no different.

I doubt very much this was sloppy accounting. More likely a bug in the calculation software that was discovered after someone noticed a disproportionate jump in payments. As a software developer myself, I can easily see how that could happen.

Grow up. Get over it. You would want them to instantly pay the balance if they discovered an UNDER payment. It is only fair that they recover for an over payment.

Eric Lefebvre's picture

I have no issue with them asking for the money back ... the lack of transparency is the problem.

Photohiker's picture

Just like always, the comments are better than the article.

Vladimir Ladev's picture

Can they prove that this is the exact amount that is overpaid? Somehow an email saying we screwd up we gave you more money give it back is not enough to make me think they are not charging additional.

Nicholas Hrycun's picture

I wonder though if the photographer accepted the price for the selling the photo differs from what they were paid.

If iStock offered the photographer a certain price regardless of the calculation and the photographer accepted that offer, than contract law says iStock must pay the price that they offered and was accepted. They can not go back and say, "oh, we got a bad deal lets see if we can get less for the photo."

If the price they offered was lower than the price they paid, then the photographer should give back the money.

Poster999's picture

Again, you are assuming that the contributor has access to the records, and can calculate every sale. None of the prices are set in stone. Contributors do not see to whom or for how much the sale was made -- all the contributors see is the amount of royalty, the image and the date of the sale. And in the case of special programs like this, they are paid out once a month, well after the sale took place.
In the case of this recoupment, no figures have been or will be given by iStock in terms of files / royalties involved, or any of the details. Just a lump sum "this is what we're taking back from you, but we're gonna be good and take it out over six months." No way of verifying the amount. None at all. If it was indeed an overpayment, then iStock should be able and willing to show some details.