Getty Images makes 35 million images free to use

The stock agency’s controversial move is set to draw professional photographers’ ire at a time when the stock photography market is already marred by low prices and under attack from new mobile photography players. Getty Images’ reasoning is that it is the best alternative given that the agency is not strong enough to control how the internet – and, with it, users’ online behaviour – has developed.


“We’re really starting to see the extent of online infringement,” says Craig Peters, senior vice president of business development, content and marketing at Getty Images. “In essence, everybody today is a publisher thanks to social media and self-publishing platforms. And it’s incredibly easy to find content online and simply right-click to utilise it.”

In the past few years, Getty Images has found its content was “incredibly used” in this manner online, says Peters. “And it’s not used with a watermark; instead it’s typically found on one of our valid licensing customers’ websites or through an image search. What we’re finding is that the vast majority of infringement in this space happens with self-publishers who typically don’t know anything about copyright and licensing, and simply don’t have any budget to support their content needs.”

To address the problem, Getty Images has chosen an unconventional strategy.

“We’re launching the ability to embed our images freely for non-commercial use online,” Peters explains.

In essence, anyone will be able to visit Getty Images’ library of content, select an image and copy an HTML embed code to use the image on their own website. Getty Images will serve the image in a embedded player – very much like YouTube currently does with its videos – which will include the full copyright information and a link back to the image’s dedicated licensing page on the Getty Images website.

More than 35 million images from Getty Images’ news, sports, entertainment and stock collections, as well as its archives, will be available for embedding from 06 March.

“Images are the communication medium of today and imagery has become the world’s most spoken language,” says Jonathan Klein, co-founder and CEO of Getty Images. “Whether via a blog, a website or social media, everyone is a publisher and increasingly visually literate. Innovation and disruption are the foundation of Getty Images, and we are excited to open up our vast and growing image collection for easy, legal sharing in a new way that benefits our content contributors and partners, and advances our core mission to enable a more visually rich world.”

Online power

“What we’ve decided to do is to provide through the embed player the capability to use this imagery, but there’s a value for Getty Images and the content owners,” says Peters. “And that value is in three parts. First, there will be attribution around that image, and since we’re serving the image, we’re actually going to make sure there’s proper attribution.

“Second, all of the images will link back to our site and directly to the image’s details page. So anybody who has a valid commercial need for that image will be able to license it from our website.

“Third, since all the images are served by Getty Images, we’ll have access to the information on who is using and viewing that image and how, and we’ll reserve the right to utilise that data to the benefit of our business.”

While more than 35 millions images will be available from today, Getty Images says that the Reportage and Contour collections will not be included. News images sourced from Agence France-Presse and distributed by Getty Images will be available to all for non-commercial use in the next few weeks.

Blogs that draw revenues from Google Ads will still be able to use the Getty Images embed player at no cost.

“We would not consider this commercial use,” says Peters. “The fact today that a website is generating revenue would not limit the use of the embed. What would limit that use is if they used our imagery to promote a service, a product or their business. They would need to get a licence.”

A spokeswoman for Getty Images says that editorial websites, from The New York Times site to BuzzFeed, will also be able to use the embed feature as long as images are used in an editorial context.

Peters, aware of the controversial nature of this decision, claims that Getty Images had no choice but to open up its collections of images.

“What we’ve seen is a significant amount of infringement online in an area, unfortunately, that we can’t control because this is how the internet has developed,” he says. “What we’re trying to do here is to put a legal method in place for that to happen and that actually benefits our content owners.”

Advertising avenue

He adds that Getty Images’ existing licensing business will not be affected and that the stock library will continue to “pursue online infringing use as we’ve done traditionally.”

Getty Images will also look to generate additional revenues from its player through advertising.

“We reserve the right to monetise that footprint,” Peters explains. “YouTube implemented a very similar capability, which allows people to embed videos on a website, with the company generating revenue by serving advertising on that video.”

And while Getty Images has yet to determine how these ads will appear, Peters is confident that this capability will be introduced in the near future.

The stock agency will also use the data it will draw from the player to perfect its collections. “We’ll be working with the creative and editorial teams at Getty Images to better understand how our imagery is being used and how they can better create imagery.

Getty Images’ move is expected to have drastic repercussions across the entire stock photography market, which has been forced, in recent years, to compete against the number one stock library by slashing its prices. Peters believes some agencies might want to follow Getty Images’ example – Magnum Photos, in recent months, for example, has toyed with the idea of allowing non-commercial use of its collections of images – and he says Getty Images is open to conversations to share its player with others.

“We think this is a bigger decision and a bigger issue than Getty Images,” says Peters. “We’ve always been opened to using our platform to benefit other content creators.”

As for Getty Images’ own photographers, the new embed programme won’t have an opt-out clause. “If you’re a Getty Images contributor, you’ll be participating in this.”

BJP will analyse the full impact of Getty Images’ decision in a series of articles. Stay tuned.