The full implications of Getty Images’ decision this week to make 35 million pictures from its catalogue free to use will take some time to digest.
The world’s largest picture agency, Getty appears to have taken a nuanced ‘if you can’t beat them …’ approach to online use of its pictures, allowing website owners to display pictures, such as the one above, without paying a licensing fee.
“The principle is to turn what’s infringing use with good intentions, turning that into something that’s valid licensed use with some benefits going back to the photographer,” Getty’s Craig Peters told The Verge, “and that starts really with attribution and a link back.”
The change is made possible through the company’s new embed feature and means that a massive chunk of its library can now be freely (and legally) embedded to blogs and websites.
It works in much the same way that content from Twitter, Soundcloud, YouTube, Flickr and a host of other sites can quickly be added to websites and it comes with similar branding and attribution, in this case for Getty’s photographers.
— Getty Images (@GettyImages) March 7, 2014
Looking to the future the company is keeping its options open for how it might use the tool for data and advertising, with terms and conditions that note:
Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetise its use without any compensation to you
But for now it’s just advertising for Getty that’s on the agenda and a great shot at becoming the iTunes of stock photography, in the process stealing a march on Flickr.
Commercial use of embedded images
The move appears to offer some clarification about ‘commercial use’ of images in an editorial setting, as opposed to uses such as advertising.
Although aimed at the sharing of its images on blogs and social media, mainstream media outlets will also be free to use the embed tool.
“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 license,” Peters told the British Journal of Photography.
Whether I’ll be using it on PMLiVE.com – certainly without the ability to resize images – remains to be seen, and uncertainty about future advertising would have to be a consideration for that site in a way that it isn’t for this blog.
But the new direction is a huge step for the company as it grapples with how to operate in the evolving digital world and its rampant disregard for traditional concepts of copyright. Nevertheless, it’s not giving up on its PicScout image recognition technology, the engine behind Getty’s recent deal with Pinterest, any time soon.