Extortion is the practice of obtaining, or attempting to obtain, something through force or threats and without sufficient legal right to do so. This definition is based on commonly accepted concepts.
Based on my personal experiences and knowledge, I can say that there are striking similarities between how Getty Images, Inc. ("Getty Images") and the U.S. Department of Education practice extortion, and there are also some important differences. Similarly, the solutions that I recommend have similarities and differences as well.
In extortion instances, both Getty Images and the U.S. Department of Education started out with long, detailed, scary and threatening letters that are supposed to seem very authoritative, but contained, at least in my experience, very little actually relevant information. The objective seems to be to overwhelm the addressee. Overwhelm and create fear.
When you analyze an extortionist’s arguments, they fall apart like house of cards, because these arguments are not supported by facts and existing laws. Instead, these arguments are mostly supported by wishful thinking and circular logic. In extortion instances both people at Getty Images and the U.S. Department of Education assume that they have already proven what they are trying to prove, and proceed accordingly.
When you communicate with the extortionist and point out the fallacies, then after a while the scary arguments are reduced to mere opinions without internal integrity, logic or legal validity.
For example, Getty Images may use an argument stating that the penalty for breaking copyright laws can be as high as $X (substitute a five or six digit dollar figure for X). According to Getty Images records, you have broken copyright laws. Therefore, if Getty Images asks you to pay to them an amount of money that is less than $X, they are making you a very generous offer that you should immediately and gladly accept.
The above argument is about as good as my saying that, "Dear Reader, there have been instances, where people tweeted after reading an online article. You are currently reading an online article. Therefore, you must tweet after reading this article."
There can be a link between reading an article and tweeting, but that does not mean that you necessarily must tweet after reading this article. (You can, if want to :)
I could make up more examples (and more bizarre ones), but, hopefully the point comes across. The conclusion does not follow from the premises and there is no clear connection between the addressee and the argument. Getty Images assumes, that it has already been proven (1) that you broke copyright laws, and (2) that Getty Images has the legal right to demand from you the given amount of money. That is, Getty Images assumes what they want to prove, and in the process creates circular arguments. It goes something like this: Given, that we are right, we are right. Because you should take for granted that we are right, you should pay us what we are telling you to pay us.
However, in reality neither (1) nor (2) has been proven. That is, with the letters that I am familiar with, Getty Images has not proven (1) that the addressee actually did break copyright laws, and (2) that Getty Images has the legal right to demand any amount of money at all from the addressee, let alone demanding anything beyond the alleged actual damages.
By the way, if you are facing monetary demands, I want to stress here, that I am not suggesting what you should, or should not believe or do. These choices are yours to make. However, I am suggesting that you do have some options, some alternatives to consider, and, generally, that is a good thing.
So, given that you did not knowingly copy and use licensed images without having a corresponding agreement, you have a choice to make. You can buy Getty Images arguments and pay them. However, if you have reasons to consider the demands to be unvalidated, then, instead of buying Getty Images arguments, you can legitimately question every part of the arguments made. Cases and articles published on this website provide additional examples and information on this.
Similar logic applies to unvalidated monetary demands made by the U.S. Department of Education.
It is unlikely, that the extortionists invalid arguments and poor logic are accidental. It is far more likely, that these are deliberately used tools for scaring people and creating distress in their lives, in order to increase revenue.
Again, this applies both to Getty Images and to the U.S. Department of Education unvalidated monetary demands.
It is both amusing and sad, that these two otherwise different entities operate in a similar manner. The sad part is that they are allowed to operate this way, and that there are people who knowingly support such operating models.
Considering the similarities between how these two entities operate, should the people who work for Getty Images feel proud to belong into a "good company," or should the people working for the U.S. Department of Education feel ashamed that their employer engages in extortion, and that in the realm of extortion they are on the same level as Getty Images is? Or both?
There are also some significant differences between how these entities practice extortion.
Getty Images is a for profit company. When they see that the probability of making money on one victim is low and that they have to engage their resources unproductively, they move on to the next one.
People at the U.S. Department of Education apparently couldn’t care less about making economical or legal sense. They have vast resources of taxpayer money at their disposal and high levels of job security, as long as the current administration is in power.
(This applies on both micro and on macro level and, in my opinion, is a leadership issue. Effective leadership is able and willing to think about their intended customers well-being in advance and makes sure that the organization functions effectively as well. Ineffective leadership gets us where we are now with different aspects of higher education related problems. Of course, people who are willing to do so, can find a plethora of excuses for why we have the current problems, but without realistic solutions, whom will the excuses benefit?)
There are also some other differences between how these two entities practice extortion.
People at Getty Images at least attempt to pretend that they are working for a noble cause (of protecting copyrights). Whether or not you buy these excuses for their appetite for making outrageous monetary demands, is up to you. After all, these demands are in many instances far out there and are detached from what the people at Getty Images in reality legally could ask for in these instances when they can actually validate their demands.
People at the U.S. Department of Education seem to feel proud to practice extortion and to stay the course, even when it’s clear that they do not have the necessary legally valid base for making their demands. They operate by using the special governmental powers granted to them. Thus, sadly, they practice government sponsored extortion.
Perhaps the people at the U.S. Department of Education would say that they are simply following the rules that they have. If that is the case, it would be good to know who, when and why established for them the rules that mandate their making coercive demands for unvalidated debt for which they do not have proof that borrowing took place and debt exists? Who, when and why established for them the rules that mandate their purposeful usage of unqualified documents, misleading statements and threats, and usage of unpaid forced labor for handling debt validation case that the Department of Education should handle with its own labor resources? All of this is precisely what they are doing, and I can provide proof for every part of these statements.
What the people at the U.S. Department of Education do is wrong, and this is what I have been addressing.
(Here’s a thought. If the people at the U.S. Department of Education are following their operational rules in the instances like the ones listed above, let’s make it public, what these rules are, and who, when and why established these rules of operations for the U.S. Department of Education, so that we can have a debate over whether or not such operating mode actually serves the interest of the general public.)
Both people at Getty Images and at the U.S. Department of Education are quick to cite laws, as long as they believe that these laws can benefit them. The laws cited can be either partially or completely irrelevant to the actual case in question, and may be blended with fallacious arguments.
However, people at Getty Images do show some respect for the relevant laws, and (generally) they are not trying to feed you the same nonsensical arguments again and again.
People at the U.S. Department of Education show disrespect for the legal framework, when it turns out that the laws that actually are relevant to the case in question do not support their arguments. They are happy to repeat over and over again the same combinations of irrelevant, illogical and unvalidated arguments that are not supported with legally binding documents or laws.
On a personal note I will add that for me, the last two years has been a great growth period. Two years ago I knew next to nothing about the laws and complexities regarding student loans, about common law and commercial law (Uniform Commercial Code) role in the process, debt validation, and promissory note and contract requirements. I just knew that the demands that I was facing and the information that I received could not be right. Every letter and StopExtortion.org article that I have written since then has been part of my exploring, learning and growing process."
However, people at the U.S. Department of Education function in a very different way. There is very little progress toward anything. Apparently, people at the U.S. Department of Education function by doing the same over and over again, and expecting different and improved results. (Again, this applies both on micro level, to my individual case, and on macro level, where legions of student loan borrowers have been rendered into financial servitude year after year with the U.S. Department of Education having a pivotal role in the process. Without making the relevant full disclosures, for years the U.S. Department of Education has been participating in promoting educational services that do not produce the expected value and have serious harmful financial side effects.)
All of this makes me wonder, are the people at the U.S. Department of Education practicing extortion knowingly, purposefully and deliberately? That may be the case, if this is their leadership’s preferred way of operating and it trickles down to other levels of the organization. Or are the people at the U.S. Department of Education practicing extortion simply because they don’t know any better and because they aren’t able to come up with any realistic and constructive alternatives? Or, all of the above?
I am not a legal expert, so, I am not providing legal advice – just recommendations that are based on my opinions.
The solutions that I recommend when you are facing extortionist demands are both in essence based on requesting validation that the other party has the right to demand from you the monetary amounts in question. Further, because dealing with the U.S. Department of Education is a long-term process, it requires an extended solution as well, so that you can benefit from your involvement in the process, instead of wasting your time and resources on it.
Of course, it would be preferable not to have to deal with an extortionist at all, but in situations when confrontation is inevitable, let’s fight the extortionists by giving them some grief, and let’s do it well. Doing so can contribute to reducing extortion, and that is a good thing.
Starting with Getty Images, in extortion instances the solution in a nutshell is to make the people associated with Getty Images well aware that they aren’t going to make any money on you. Do so, by using valid arguments that point out the invalidity of the other side’s arguments and by making legitimate requests for legitimate and relevant information.
Ignoring Getty Images may only embolden them and may not be in your best interest. Instead, engage Getty Images in communication flows. Keep in mind that every instance where people at Getty Images (or their contractor lawyers) have to communicate with their potential victims, but do not make any money, ties up their time and reduces their earnings. Accordingly, I would use written communication instead of phone calls, and traceable letters instead of emails (in the US, USPS Priority Mail, for example). Doing so can also create easily traceable records for you.
For example, you can - and certainly have the right to - ask from Getty Images (1) how precisely did they came up with the specific amount that they are requesting from you and (2) what valid legal base do they have for making the specific demands. There are other types of information that you may want to request as well that is related to Getty Images validating that they have the right to make any monetary demands from you at all. Case 2 and Case 3 provide more information and examples of this.
When you analyze the numbers and the relevant laws, the extortionist’s arguments fall apart pretty soon. Thus, you can point out the laws and arguments that actually are relevant to your case. I will provide more information on this in the consequent articles.
Because in extortion instances people at Getty Images cannot validate their demands, they realize that they are wasting their time and resources. After all, they are business people who want to make money at their victims expense (nothing personal), and they are not stupid.
The solution that I recommend when dealing with the U.S. Department of Education extortionist demands is to request debt validation and, when you are faced with a long-term struggle, to approach the situation entrepreneurially. You have to find a way to turn the evil that the extortionist does into something beneficial that helps you to create value, aligns with your interests, energizes and motivates you, and is sustainable. Then, when the U.S. Department of Education continues to prolong the problems, continue to harvest energy from the situation and use it for building value.
Case 4 provides an example of this approach. However, Case 4 was only a starting point for a venture that is under development now. When comparing the two, Case 4 is like a pebble, compared to developing a scalable, value producing mechanism that will be connected to a loudspeaker.
Further, because the people at the U.S. Department of Education and associated with the U.S. Department of Education may continue to make monetary demands even when it is clear that they do not have the legally valid base for doing so, you may have to build your plans so that whatever people at the U.S. Department of Education do or don’t do, will have little impact on what really matters to you.
At the same time, continue to request debt validation, and continue to make legitimate requests for legitimate and relevant information. In the process point out the invalidity of the other side’s arguments. Do so in a manner that is traceable and creates at least some pressure for the other side. This approach can create options for you. You can then decide how to pursue the case most effectively at the time that is suitable for you by using legally acceptable means.
When dealing with the U.S. Department of Education, you have to analyze the arguments, the relevant materials and the relevant laws extra carefully. Based on my own experience I can say that when the people at the U.S. Department of Education are trying to support their arguments, they may make any kinds of statements and generalizations, which may be only partially related to your case, but are used as if the statements and generalizations definitively apply to you as well. Similarly, they may state that in the past, on such and such dates you received such and such loans, which you may previously not have been aware of. However, the statement made may contradict other available information, and may not be supported with any conclusive documentation. Case 1 related articles provide additional information on this.
Therefore, unfortunately, without conclusive proof, you can never, ever take what the people at the U.S. Department of Education say at the face value. This is a big part of the problem.
Similarly, instead of providing actual proof of borrowing and proof of existence of debt, the people at the U.S. Department of Education may send you anything, including irrelevant materials, and call it debt validation. The good people at the U.S. Department of Education seem to be taking advantage of lax regulations of what constitutes debt validation, and seem to be under an impression that all they need is a checkmark: yes, we sent something, so, this task has been successfully completed and all is good, and we at the U.S. Department of Education are always right.
So, again and again, you have to take the relevant situations apart and point out all the invalid arguments and fallacies of logic, and the laws that support your position and do not support the U.S. Department of Education’s position. However, that can be a useful learning process, and a source of motivational energy that you can put into good use.
Below is a copy of a letter that is related to these subject matters and to my case, and I sent to Mr. Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education.
Most likely I will need to send many more letters to Mr. Duncan while he remains in the office. So, I will address the above topics in more detail the next time – and thereafter.
A copy of the letter published below was delivered to the following people and institutions:
Mr. Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue S.W.
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Mr. Duncan,
Thank you for your letter dated 01/07/14 that your assistant sent to me on your behalf regarding your coercive demands for payments of a nonexistent debt that the Department of Education does not own, your purposeful usage of unqualified documents, misleading statements and threats, and your usage of unpaid forced labor for handling debt validation case that the Department of Education should handle with its own labor resources.
Please note that this is an open letter that I will publish on the Internet, on StopExtortion.org so that it is accessible to the general public and to other institutions.
As I have previously informed you, I am invoicing you for forcing me to work on a debt validation case that the Department of Education should handle with its own labor resources. Enclosed are (1) the latest invoice and (2) list of past due and outstanding invoices. You have not disputed the validity of this debt, and you have not showed why this debt is not owed. Thus, I conclude that this debt is valid.
As I have previously informed you, whether or not you will agree to paying this debt voluntarily, or we will need to go to court over this issue, and I will have to hire a collection agency, are different issues that we will address separately.
Please note, that as of 03/24/14 interest on all outstanding invoices will be capitalized. The capitalized interest will accrue interest as principal starting 03/24/14 at the same rate that the rest of the principal is accruing.
You can avoid interest capitalization by paying all invoices due in full by 03/20/14.
I hope that this information is helpful to you.
Mr. Duncan, in my letter dated 06/15/13 I already stated that I will not communicate with any of your business partner-collection agencies regarding the nonexistent debt issues. Once again: you do not have the legal right to demand that I must contact a collection agency regarding unvalidated student loans that I did not receive as a student, and for which you have not provided legally binding documents demonstrating that any debt actually exists.
I do not owe any grant, work-study or other type of financial aid money that I did receive. I did not receive bank loans, and I have not signed any legally binding promissory notes. I only signed financial aid applications.
Accordingly, Section 484A(b) of the Higher Education Act of 1965, as amended, and 20 USC 1091a(b)(1) that you cited are not applicable. Similarly, terms of nonexistent promissory notes are not applicable. Nonexistent = not applicable.
You initiated a dispute based on faulty records, without having legally valid documents and actual base for making outrageous monetary demands and threats. To put it bluntly, you screwed up. Whether you like it or not, no matter who else you will decide to blame, this is a fact: you screwed up.
Denial of your obligations is not the solution. You should accept, admit and own your mistake! It is your obligation to provide mutually acceptable means for finding suitable solutions to this dispute. Similarly, if you want to communicate through a third party, you must find mutually acceptable communication channels for such communication purposes.
Mr. Duncan, in the letter dated 07/01/13, that your assistant signed and sent to me on your behalf, I was advised to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Department of Education.
Following the instructions that you sent me, I submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Education first on 07/15/13. I received a response stating, that I must sign a specific statement. I did so. Then I received yet another request to sign yet another statement, where I had to declare under penalty of perjury that the information that I have provided about this case is true to the best of my knowledge. I did sign that specific statement as well.
After my third FOIA request, I received the United States Department of Education FOIA REQUEST ACKNOWLEDGEMENT, which states that the date the request was received was August 20, 2013. The FOIA tracking number of my request is XX-XXXXX-XX.
I have to repeat the question that I asked in my letter dated 12/16/13: Where are the results of my FOIA request?
In your response dated 01/07/14 you did not provide any explanation why I have not received my FOIA request results.
In my request I specified the information that I am looking for:
In my FOIA request I specified further what documents I am looking for and the nature of the documents that I am looking for. Similarly, I specified that as far as promissory note debt instruments are concerned, I am not looking for copies of documents that are made from copies. If you do not have the original two-sided (duplex) Application and Promissory Note documents that I signed, please state so.
Similarly, if you do not have documents that I signed and that render the Application and Promissory Note financial aid applications into legally binding promissory notes that meet the requirements set for the legally binding promissory note debt instruments, as defined in Article 3 of the Uniform Commercial Code, please state so.
Mr. Duncan, in your previous correspondence you stated that the Department of Education has in its possession the original legally binding promissory notes. Given, that this is the case, why does it take you over 6 months to furnish copies of the needed original documents that already are in your possession?
Or, is it the case that your previous statements were false? Further, if you do not have any legally binding documents and documents that demonstrate when and how I supposedly received the alleged loans, you have been running your operations and making monetary demands without any legally acceptable proof of validity. Please explain this. Unless you provide a thorough explanation, supported with evidence, I will continue to ask you to explain this.
Mr. Duncan, our communication process so far has shown in detail the following:
Apparently, the Department of Education has difficulties with coming to terms with the above. Further, it seems that despite of having substantial resources at your disposal, you simply do not know how to solve this dispute.
If you and your colleagues at the Department of Education are unable to specify what further clarification you need on the above, feel free to send me yet another response where you state that in your opinion you have already provided sufficient proof on the existence of debt, and that I should contact a debt collection agency. Such responses demonstrate, that you are still trying to evade your responsibility to validate your monetary demands and to solve the problems that you have created. As a result, I will have to continue to explain to you the same topics again. If you choose not to resolve the issues addressed here, for you this dispute will continue at least for as long as you are in the office, and on the Internet I will have to continue to document your failure to solve the problems that you created.
Mr. Duncan, you chose to continue this dispute, no end in sight.
Under your leadership the Department of Education has been making unvalidated monetary demands, accompanied with threats. Because you are relying on the special powers granted to the Department of Education, I consider this to be government sponsored extortion. The debt collection infrastructure that you have been building and maintaining helps you to enforce your government sponsored extortion actions. These are sad contributions to higher education.
Through our communication over the next two years, in 2014 and 2015, I will seek answers to the following question: are you practicing government sponsored extortion knowingly, purposefully and deliberately?
While making debt validation requests, I will keep asking you, whether or not you need further clarification. Every time when you send me a response that demonstrates, that you are still trying to evade your responsibility to validate your monetary demands and to solve the problems that you have created, I will explain to you the same topics again, that I have explained to you over the last two years and demonstrate, that your demands are unfounded.
If you still continue this dispute without validating your demands, it is likely, that you are knowingly, purposefully and deliberately practicing government sponsored extortion. These actions will be part of your legacy, and will help to support the argument that the Department of Education is abusing its debt collection role and powers. A higher education financing solution, where a major institution first inflates the need for its own services over the market equilibrium, and then sells problems, masked as solutions, and contributes to creating increasing number of debtors who overpay for the services received, and consequently contributes to economic problems that affect large numbers of people, and in addition can act as a tyrant and sponsor extortion, is not responsive to its intended customers needs. Further, such a government-centric solution is not flexible enough, so that it has the intrinsic motivation and ability to keep pace with the changing socio-economic conditions. These critical flaws can be insurmountable obstacles.
Unfortunately, Mr. Duncan, you and the rest of the current government seem to be neither willing nor able to make any meaningful, progressive, real changes in higher education financing and debt collection areas.
My objective is to support candidates during the next election, who most likely will be able and willing to make real and constructive changes to the higher education financing and debt collection infrastructures. You have made me to realize, that contributing to this objective and working toward this objective is worthwhile to me.
Accordingly, in the second half of 2015 or in the first half of 2016 I will reevaluate the situation and will decide, what the best legally acceptable course forward is, that will most likely help to support the objective listed above.
Similarly, as I stated above, as long as this dispute continues, you will continue to receive debt validation work related invoices. Please note, that I am continuing to invoice you for forcing me to work on a debt validation case that the Department of Education should handle with its own labor resources. This includes StopExtortion Case 1 and these parts of EffectiveHigherED Case 4 that are related to research and development of the U.S. Department of Education led debt collection problems and solution alternatives.
Please note, that I am not invoicing you for EffectiveHigherED development work that is related to developing effective higher education attaining and financing solutions. The relevant long-term project forms a separate area of work.