Usually people are sent a bill when they owe money, but here’s a case of thousands of photographers who owe money not because they borrowed it, but for being overpaid. Sounds strange, but that’s what’s happened to 9,000 iStock photographers. Due to payment irregularities by Getty Images, which owns iStock, the photographers in the partnership program received extra royalties during September and October last year. The problem wasn’t discovered until December, and the company couldn’t notify participants until January, Getty Images says. Instead of writing it off as a business loss, however, Getty Images has informed these photographers that it wants the money back, and expects to be repaid over a six-month period. Naturally, this probably came as a shock for the photographers.
Photographers affected received a standard notification that reads:
“We have calculated the over payment amount to be $XXX.XX. 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 $XXX.XX. 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.”
As Pop Photo points out, Getty might be in the right to ask for the money back, but the whole situation is murky. The photographers don’t invoice Getty every time their images are used, so they rely on Getty to keep track of that information. So, the overpayments didn’t occur because the photographers deceived the company. If a photographer has already spent his/her income, this puts them in a bad place, one that was created by Getty (photographers aren’t paid that much, since iStock retains 85 percent of all sales, but the repayment fees could be in the hundreds, if not more). Getty has not offered an explanation or proof for the payments, so, once again, photographers are expected to take Getty’s word for it. Somehow, we’re thinking the photographers affected aren’t going to take Getty’s claims without putting up a fight. If there’s a lesson, perhaps it’s that there needs to be more transparency, and not to spend all that money before you know it’s yours.