Some iStock Photographers Told That They Were Overpaid, Will Have to Pay Getty Back


iStock, which is owned by Getty Images, is in the process of notifying some nine thousand users that they owe Getty money because an error with the payment system overpaid them in September and October of 2013.

According to a post on the iStock forums, the problem was discovered in December by the company’s Finance team and was initially thought to affect some 25,000 members. The good news is, only 9,000 were affected. The bad news: those 9,000 now owe Getty Images all of that money back… but don’t worry, they’ll take it out in installments over the next six months… because they’re being considerate…

We were notified about the situation by an anonymous user who emailed us yesterday night outraged that he would have to pay back over $900 back to Getty Images/iStock over the next six months. Here’s what they and 8,999 other members were greeted by in their email Inbox:

Partner Program Recoupment Notification


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 $956.66. 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 $159.44. 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

Obviously the amounts differ, but the general message is the same: we overpaid you, you owe us money, but don’t worry we’ll ‘remove’ and ‘recoup’ those funds over a six month period so it’s not quite as much of an inconvenience.


This is just a horrible situation all around, from the original issue to how Getty is handling it. Photographers who already feel they’re being taken for a ride by Getty (iStock keeps 85% of every sale for non-exclusive members) are now being told they have to pay back money they were given, and are going to be understandably upset. But then again, does anyone really expect Getty to let what might be millions in overpayments go uncorrected?

Well, if they did, it would certainly make for some great PR for a company that doesn’t exactly inspire goodwill and happy thoughts in the majority of the photo community, but we somehow doubt that’ll happen.

You can head over to the forum post (or read the attached image above) for more details, but what’s your take on this whole debacle? Let us know in the comments down below, especially if you were one of the unfortunate nine thousand who are affected.

  • Benoit Evans

    The affected photographers should request an itemized, detailed breakdown of the transactions in question so that they can verify the amounts claimed.

  • Mark Brown

    This is where a company with integrity would say “Oops, crap, we screwed up, entirely our fault, sorry about that, we’ll take the hit, you don’t owe us anything.”

  • Renato Murakami

    This. iStock’s error, not the photographers. If they want the money back so bad, there should be way more justification than what the above e-mail is stating.
    Like a full list on where and why the errors were made.

    My guess is that there will be plenty of photographers closing account and refusing to pay, and I don’t know if iStock will be able to do something about it.

  • Cameron Whitman

    I’m one of the affected contributors. Sadly, this is what I’ve come to expect from iStock since being taken over by Getty Images. The whole deal is sour with iStock, which is why I no longer supply them with my images. But I do have quite a lot of legacy images that remain in the collection, which I’ve been content to continue scraping up pennies with. At this point I just take what I can get and look the other way. I’d be crazy to think they were at all looking out for anyone’s interests other than their own, and so would you.

  • MarvinB7

    Do you still shoot stock? Where is it hosted? I’ve long entertained the concept of shooting stock, but just never jumped in. It seems really ‘messy’, like this article shows.

  • Jo Ann Snover

    iStock contributors have for years been asking for detailed accounting of sales – and the accounting for the “Partner Program” (what Getty calls the sales on sites other than iStock of iStock content) is even less detailed than for regular sales.


    Some iStock contributors are still awaiting repayment from iStock of under-reported royalties from the beginning of 2014 – somehow less of a priority than recovering potentially $1 million or more from this claimed overpayment.

    There isn’t even a right to an audit in the artist/iStock agreement, so frustrated contributors who aren’t confident that the numbers are now accurate have no recourse to get things looked at.

    If a bank behaved this way, regulators would shut them down. iStock effectively holds onto customer cash for a while before paying it out to contributors, but there are no requirements for them meet in terms of transparency in reporting transactions to the artists whose work they’re licensing

  • thenewno12

    I fail to see what is so wrong about what Getty is doing. Photographers received money that they didn’t earn. Why shouldn’t they pay that back?

  • Mark Brown

    True, but Getty is effectively asking contributors who didn’t knowingly err (ie. receive overpayment) (so far as I can tell) to pay for Getty’s mistake. There’s nothing wrong with asking for the money back in theory, but making other people pay for your mistakes is never good business.

  • Rob S

    So put another way Getty is saying “Hey listen, we over paid for some stuff we bought from you and then sold at a profit. We still sold what we bought from you for more and we still made a profit but not as much as we had planned. So we want you to make up the difference.”

    Yeah, great company. I have never regretted my decision NOT to allow Getty to license my flickr photos or EVER do business with iStock.

  • Rob S

    key words – “if” and “integrity”

  • Marie

    Agree, but dont mention it, the angry mob will vote you down. All the money overpaid is probably already spent on candy and now they are upset they have to pay back money that wasnt theirs in the first place.

  • superduckz

    As far as I know, if I receive almost anything in the mail addressed to me that I didn’t order or ask for I’m under no legal obligation to return it. It’s an old law again AFAIK. Don’t know how that would apply here being as contracts are agreed to but there may be something.

  • Jo Ann Snover

    I think the big issue is uncertainty that this is the case. At first, contributors thought they had been underpaid for prior months.

    At a minimum, specifying which items were “not earned” would go a long way to clarify what happened. Did a customer return something? Were single sales counted twice? Were prior month’s sales inadvertently included?

  • Fuzztographer

    No wonder everyone hates them. Shuffling liability of your own mistakes to your customers is a dick move.

  • Fuzztographer

    Oops, should be: “liability for…onto your”

  • pillybilly

    A lot of photographers requested a detailed breakdown of the transaction but i doubt they will reply

  • Eric Lefebvre

    The problem is the lack of accountability. IStock is just saying “you owe us this much” with no data to back it up or explanation of how they came to this figure. Hell, there’s no explanation on what the problem even was … just vague mentions of irregularities. If the bank were to send you a letter sayin they are taking back several months worth of interest from your account due to irregularities, you’d be asking for details.

  • Hanna Fate

    Considering how bad their image is at the moment, I think it would be better business to just suck up their loss and shut up about it.

  • Lisafx13 .

    As someone who has been told Getty will be “recouping” over $1500 from my future earnings, I would have liked to see some sort of itemized accounting of the overpayment. It isn’t the idea of being overpaid by mistake and having to pay back the money that is so alarming. It is the fact that we are not being given any information about what happened, either in the form of specific details of how the amount owed was reached, nor even a generalized explanation of what happened and how it will be prevented in the future. $1500 is a lot of money to have to pay back with no explanation and no assurance of accuracy.

  • Sue

    I can’t believe that anyone would agree to an 85/15 split in the first place! That’s the most outrageous part to me.

  • Brian Powell

    The logical problem is that a few months ago, Getty effectively paid photographers by saying “here is the money you earned this month through us” — so the photographers had every right to believe them, take the money they ‘earned’, and spend it how they chose.

  • Jo Ann Snover

    Almost no one agreed to that in the first place – various changes have been made over time that resulted in lower and lower royalty splits. The 80/20 they started out with (before exclusivity was even an option) is standard Getty RF terms, so it’s not without precedent

  • Courtney Navey

    Bend over, grab your ankles and prepare for Getty…they did this crap to me a year ago. They overpaid me by about $250 except they just took it all at once from my sales in the month of January. Complete crap the way they treat us. I haven’t uploaded anything new since Getty took over, just riding the residual income wave and contributing newer content to other companies.

  • Sue

    We used to be with Tony Stone some years ago and it was 50/50. Then moved to The Stock Market and still 50/50…then Corbis took over and price pressure versus quality was all that mattered and they tried to do a 60/40 and we left. I was shocked to see that 85/15! It would be hard to do stock for a living of any kind with that split. We were able to get an audit once from Stock Market, but difficult. Makes the 55% that Amazon takes out of our books seem like a great deal.

  • ramanauskas

    So these shameless gonophs claim that they overpaid an amount that they _can’t even calculate accurately_, and the photographers are expected to simply accept that?

    Two words: Class Action. The amount in dispute is clearly several million dollars, so it’s worth it, and I’d give odds that Getty will settle rather than face discovery.

  • Steph

    How so? The photographer is the employee here, and “if” you are overpaid by your employer, you are expected to repay the money.

    I do think that the 85% cut that GettyiStock gets is nuts, Last time I checked iStockGetty is a business, not a charity.

  • Jimmy Fartpants

    Correction: Photographer is the “Freelancer” here. Not an employee.

  • Mark Brown

    Maybe, not always. The company I do bookkeeping for lets employees keep any accidental overpayment. Most have been there 10+ years, others 25+. It’s a big boost for loyalty and morale.

  • Fed Up with weirdos like you

    THEY ARE TRYING TO RECOUP MONIES from their lost court case for STEALING…..DO NOT PAY THEM

  • Terry

    Looks like iStock will be making quite a bit of money in the 6 month payback period, since any sales for photographers will be offset by money being owed.

    They owe every photographer a detailed accounting of what happened when and where in their account. After reading the forum, it’s obvious they are not a company to be trusted anyway.

  • PaulDD

    Its not rocket science DON’T WORK WITH GETTY Simples!

  • Daniel Walldorf

    This cannot be compared to an employee or a freelancer. A freelancer writes a bill and the customer has to pay it. An employee has a contract. Here, iStock sells your images gives you your share. Now they just claim that they made a mistake and they want money back but it can’t be that easy. They don’t even tell you what went wrong and where and how this amount of money comes together.

  • dave andrade

    Wait they take 85% and they overpaid? Um, GOOD!! So that equates to what? 50% for the photographer who took the picture? Perfect! Not ideal, but hell if you are letting these people promote it and not yourself, well then deal with it, but wow, by them screwing up, they are actually paying the photogs more fairly. They “steal” 85% and want some of THAT money back. Wow, enjoy going out of business…..

  • Andres Trujillo

    sure, after a detailed explanation of how much, how, and when, were you over paid. But IS is offering nothing of the sort, just a thinly veiled “we screwed”, and your payment schedule… seems a bit shady

  • Douglas James

    Having never shot ‘stock’, I’m not sure I’d want to now after reading this. Getting pennies on the dollar for an image? There has to be a better way to make a living.

  • Guessed

    I’m sure I’m misunderstanding this whole story as I can’t believe anybody would have the gall to pay somebody 15% of a fee and then go running back to them claiming that person has been overpaid.

    Methinks somebody’s shareholders are not happy with the dividends they are getting and the companies management are looking for a way to improve that situation though would have to question the cost to the company in reclaiming this money both literally and in relation to the reputation.

    However it was a senior member of staff at Getty who said the pricing model wasn’t working a while back and that image fees should be based on how a client would benefit. I thought he meant they were planning to charge as most of us do now and not with some silly package deal but maybe this is what he meant.

  • Jim Johnson

    You are right. This is more of an agent/client relationship with iStock working on your behalf and taking a cut. They are a middle man that has full responsibility for reporting and paying for sales.

  • Jim Johnson

    “no assurance of accuracy”

    And how does anyone know whether or not they may have underpaid you in the past?

    Without transparent accountancy, there are no assurances of anything.

  • Terry S.

    I owe iStock a measly $10.98 in relation to this debacle according to them. I do think that they should provide in writing the details of the financials of exactly what happened, especially to those that are having to now pay back hundreds or thousands of dollars. It has all been explained a little to vaguely for me.

    I didn’t have much of a library of images on their site but am now in the process of deleting my account with them. They just aren’t worth the hassle to submit to anymore and do not treat their contributors well.

  • Frank O’Leary


  • Eric Lefebvre

    ” it was a senior member of staff at Getty who said the pricing model wasn’t working a while back and that image fees should be based on how a client would benefit.”

    That makes me sick … currently, a typical image at web size can sell for as low as 2 credits with an average value of 1.75$ / credit (depending on how many the buyer bought) that means that the sale is 3.50$ of which Getty keeps 85% so the photographer gets a whopping 0.52$

    At full resolution (20MP) that same photo sells for 7 credits or 12.25$ minus Getty’s 85% cut leaving the photographer with 1.83$

    And the end user gets a perpetual worldwide license to use the image on web or 500000 reprints (but not for resale items).

    So pricing should be based on the benefit to the buyer? I think it should also you know, cover the photographers costs! 1.83$ for a picture that, at the low end, should fetch the photographer at least 100$!

    MicroStock has it’s purpose, after all not every mom and pop shop can afford to hire a photographer to do a custom shoot and not everyone needs exclusive images but the price point is WAY TOO LOW! You need to sell hundreds of images form a shoot just to cover the costs of the shoot!

    Getty needs to die a swift yet painful death!

  • Eric Lefebvre

    Yup … simply do the math … 25000 members owed them money … once they filtered out the chump change (less than 10$ they were left with 9000 users.

    25000 – 9000 = 16000 people who owed less than 10$. Let’s say they all owed on average 5$ … some more, some less. 16000 X 5 = 80,000$ they just “forgave”.

    Now, I’ve seen numbers going up to 2000$ being clawed back. Let’s say that when you average it out, the 9000 user owe on average 200$.

    9000 X 200$ = 1,800,000$ they are recouping!

  • Eric Lefebvre

    The PHotographer isn;t an employee … the photographer is a SUPPLIER! They are not in any way, shape or form an employee.

  • Fabier

    Getty images is one of the worst companies I’ve ever had the displeasure to work with. I made the decision about two years ago to never work with any Getty related company ever again. They have no regard for their customers, their potential customers, or (clearly) their photographers.

    As far as I’m concerned, the world would be a greener place without companies like Getty Images.

    They throw their legal team around like a weapon. They’re basically patent trolls (minus the patents — so they’re just trolls).

    There are much better companies out there which photographers should invest their hard work into. Support companies that don’t use their legal department as their account management team.

  • Bob Evans

    I do not agree with the whiners that want iStock to take the hit. Sure iStock screwed up, but the extra cash the whiners got was not legitimate. If a bank screws up and gives you too much cash do they say oops our mistake, go ahead and keep the money.

  • Vaske

    I don’t see any problem here. Affected photographers received interest-free 6 months credit. Return that money in 6 months and be happy.

  • Marie is fat

    You eat alot of candy huh? How fat are you?

  • Dutchess

    I think the majority of contributors agree with this. Where we are all at odds is that iStock is not providing detailed stats of actual earnings and downloads for those months affected…until they do the number they take is arbitrary. As of right now, they have not provided this info and have stated they won’t. To recoup without this information is criminal.

  • Bob Evans

    I agree with you about the stats that should be provided, but there are a lot of contributors that think they should be able to keep the cash that was not rightfully theirs to start with.

  • ron

    If they could overpaid, they could underpaid or made other kinds of mistakes. Who is looking out for that? What steps are they taking, or do they plan to take to avoid future mistakes and make contributor feel it is an agency has reliable accounting?