Business Models

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
embedding, photography, stock photo

getty images

Getty Images Decides It's Mostly Better To Compete Than Sue, Frees Up Millions Of Images

from the a-step-in-the-right-direction dept

Getty Images has something of a reputation as a copyright maximalist. The company's representatives have testified before Congress and pushed for copyright expansion in the past. It's also well known for filing copyright lawsuits on those it claims illegally used its images. Hell, just a few weeks ago, some were debating if Getty should be described as a copyright troll after filing a flurry of copyright infringement lawsuits.

So it's fairly big news to find out that Getty is trying to get ahead of the curve by making millions of its photos free for sites to use via an embed code -- a la YouTube, Twitter and lots of other sites. Basically, it looks like the company is admitting to reality and adapting (though, apparently freaking out photographers in the process...):
But according to Craig Peters, a business development exec at Getty Images, that ship sailed long ago. "Look, if you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply," he says. "The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there. And that's what's happening… Our content was everywhere already."


"Before there was iTunes, before there was Spotify, people were put in that situation where they were basically forced to do the wrong thing, sharing files," Peters says. Now, if an aspiring producer wants to leak a song to the web but keep control of it, they can drop it on Soundcloud. Any blog can embed the player, and the artist can disable it whenever they want. And as Google has proved with YouTube, it's easy to drop ads or "buy here" links into that embed. "We've seen what YouTube's done with monetizing their embed capabilities," Peters says. "I don't know if that's going to be appropriate for us or not." But as long as the images are being taken as embeds rather than free-floating files, the company will have options.
That sounds positively forward looking for an organization with a history (both long term and recent) of being anything but forward thinking. There are some caveats. It is not all of Getty's images, as the Verge article linked above implies. It appears that some of the key collections will still be fee-only. And, you can argue that Getty already has some experience in the free stock image game, seeing as it owns iStockphoto which offers up some free options. This is a little different on two fronts. First, most free stock image banks are... well, pretty crappy. The quality just isn't there. Second, while free stock photo services often let you copy and use the photos, Getty requires this embed, which has some potential issues in that you really don't know what they might do in the future with that embed -- as the quotes above make clear. That may worry some.

There's also the fact that the company claims that they're only allowing this for "non-commercial" usage. Now, as we've discussed for years the line between commercial and non-commercial is painfully blurry -- as it's possible that almost anything people do can be twisted to argue it's a commercial use. Thankfully, it appears that Getty is making it clear upfront that it's taking an extremely (surprisingly) open view on what counts as "non-commercial" noting that any use for "editorial" will be considered non-commercial, even if done by a commercial enterprise, including the NY Times and Buzzfeed:
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 license.” A spokeswoman for Getty Images confirms to BJP that editorial websites, from The New York Times to Buzzfeed, will also be able to use the embed feature as long as images are used in an editorial context.
At the same time, the company admits that it's not dropping its lawsuit strategy, and will continue to sue those it feels go too far, which may make things a little dicey for some users. Hopefully, the company will be as explicit in its official terms that embedding for editorial purposes will always be deemed legit.

While we're a little wary of Getty given some of its past actions, the company should be applauded for actually recognizing reality, and trying to adapt accordingly, recognizing how it might better serve people who otherwise would automatically go somewhere else.

Not too long ago, we had actually explored various stock photography offerings that were out there, even talking to Getty about its program (which was insanely expensive). Instead, we decided to focus on situations where Creative Commons images and/or fair use situations would work best. However, with this move, we may take another look at Getty for our own image needs.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 5th, 2014 @ 8:28pm

    There are plenty of places on line that are Royality Free to have to deal with Getty. I have the ability to remove the watermarks but why bother with the time it takes to do that when I can just go somewhere else for images every bit as good with no hassles in having to screw with the image before being able to put it to use.

    As far as I am concerned, Getty has a reputation of suing everything that moves. I've long ago figured out where to go for legal images that don't involve them. Since I have this habit, I think I will just keep it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    madasahatter (profile), Mar 5th, 2014 @ 9:40pm

    Stock Images

    As AC noted, there plenty of free stock images available online. Unless one needs a very, very specific image there probably is a free or at worst very, very cheap stock image available. The problem that many photographers are facing is the Internet has made access to previously inaccessible images possible. Photography is very tough business.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    LAB (profile), Mar 5th, 2014 @ 10:53pm

    I feel for the modern day professional photographer. I was at a conference recently and a gentleman that represents photographers says they are getting killed. They post an image and people just rip it and don't pay them anything. He was actually lamenting that they would have more power to collect monies if they had something akin to the performing rights organizations that music has.
    Getty sues because they run a business based on licensing. If they don't sue, why would anyone license use of their images or videos, especially businesses that can afford to/need to use their services. I find this pretty smart and it seems they are looking towards the future trying to strike a balance between revenue and reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    Sonja (profile), Mar 6th, 2014 @ 12:05am

    Getty cost

    Getty images prices sometimes went into the thousands of dollars, I can understand users making use of other sources. Getty's pricing was so bad at one stage, that a company I worked for hired designers to create suitable vector art to use and they still saved a ton of money.

    And why don't photographers make it easy to procure their images? The ones I have seen don't have any such functionality and sometimes contacting them amounts to nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), Mar 6th, 2014 @ 12:07am

    Re: Stock Images

    As AC noted, there plenty of free stock images available online.

    I mentioned that in the post as well, but frankly, most of the free stock image sites suck. This includes a lot more high quality images.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 12:51am

    Re: Re: Stock Images

    I find from time to time I need images. Not just any sort of image but rather HD images. I then throw one in a 3D graphics program, model a grid around parts of the image, turn the image into a texture, and bingo, a 3D window, door, or something else that looks like you could open it.

    I find these images absolutely free, without need to fool with licensing. It takes time to find them yes. JPG will absolutely not work due to it's compression factor.

    As Mike says, most of the free places suck but you have to look long and hard for the sites you need. My needs will not suit another's as mine are rather specialized.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Sarah, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 2:44am

    Can you hear that?

    That's the sound of thousands of photographers and rival companies checking out their local job centre.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Linda Johannessen, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 5:32am

    Re: Re: Stock Images

    FYI: There's also a solution close to the free solutions offered by Getty and others. At YAY we've just launched image streaming. Users can stream unlimited images online, no embedding, for just $9.90 / month ( We're aiming for the more commercial bloggers and publishers, but many non-commercial users enjoy the service as well as it's easy to use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 6th, 2014 @ 6:34am


    "He was actually lamenting that they would have more power to collect monies if they had something akin to the performing rights organizations that music has."

    They do. It's called copyright.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 6th, 2014 @ 6:35am

    Re: Re:

    Ugh, I totally misread your comment, LAB. Sorry! :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    GMacGuffin (profile), Mar 6th, 2014 @ 8:12am

    This had to be at least partially cost/benefit motivated

    I have dealt with Getty on numerous occasions for clients. Their "representatives" spoke in unrealized absolutes ("We will sue"), and were hardwired to try to collect $350-750+ per image regardless of the circumstances, how long the image was online, whether it was the web developer's fault, etc. Granted, these are not really *legal* considerations in a lawsuit, but they do color the situation.

    So we'd just run Getty through the paces. Negotiate back and forth, stall on responding, try to talk them down, push them to the edge of their bluff -- basically make it so whatever they might have eventually gotten to settle was less than it cost them to get there. That in addition to the probably largely-uncollectable lawsuits...

    Perhaps enough folks did things like that to warrant rethinking their hardline stance.

    Regardless how they got there, they can have the "forward thinking" benny-'o-doubt. Good for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    PRMan, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 8:34am


    Everyone now has a camera on them 24/7 with auto-focus, auto-lighting, auto-exposure, auto-everything. And they all have unlimited film.

    Even amateurs are bound to get lucky with those kinds of help and odds. Professional photographers just are differentiated enough anymore.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    John Fenderson (profile), Mar 6th, 2014 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re:

    Have you seen a professional photographer at work? They tak a crazy number of pictures, specifically because of that "get lucky" effect. The real skill and talent they're employing is not so much about the photography itself as about the ability to recognize a great picture when they see one, and how to crop a picture to best effect.

    As with writing, the thing that makes a photograph great is not the production of the picture as much as the editing.

    The ability to do that is no more common because everyone has a camera -- although it does mean that there are people who may never have known they have an eye for photography if they didn't have a camera on them all the time.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Pragmatic, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 9:26am


    I see your point, LAB, but as I've previously explained to other photographers and artists, operating a license-based business model in an era when copying has never been easier is unwise, as you'd spend most of your time suing people for infringing your copyright.

    I suggested to them that they limit what they put online to what they are prepared to see used without permission and use Flattr, PayPal and other donation options as a revenue stream while experimenting with ways of adding value to their products and services so people will want to pay them. While watermarking does force people to pay for items they can't get the watermarks off, it's easy enough to simply copy the image as used in situ online if you want to, so it's not terribly effective.

    One of the artists I suggested this to complained that I was advising him to become a busker, but I pointed out that I enjoyed his artwork and wanted to support him even though I didn't want to buy specific artworks from him. And if I did, wouldn't others? I also suggested putting ads on his website that were related to the images. I mean, if you paint landscapes, why not advertise holidays, etc., in that area?

    The trick is to look for ways of making money from your art without relying on copyright revenues by leveraging your fan base. If we can wean enough people off of copyright revenues as a source of income, a time will come when copyright is obsolete and artists can make money from their work being used.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    JEDIDIAH, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 10:07am

    Meh. Meh I say.

    Actually ALL of that is far more common because everyone has a camera. Not only are the cameras pervasive but so are all of the associated tools. There is a vanishingly small opportunity for a full time professional to distinguish themselves in this area.

    You simply don't have to "rip off" a professional. There are far too many alternatives available.

    Of course the really mediocre professionals will be the first ones to suffer the bloodbath. If you have no genuine artistic talent, you really have nothing to distinguish yourself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Alex Goh, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 1:58pm

    Anyone can be the new Getty

    We have been doing embeds for about a year now, having Getty come in does excite us. Innovation in this space is definitely necessary -

    Most importantly we use flattened jpgs to facilitate responsive designs and current CMS auto-generated thumbnails.

    We aim to be a ethical-use marketplace, so our ethos might differ slightly from corporate Getty. Photographers strictly retain their rights and we only act as a facilitator. Free use is limited to 10,000 impressions but is allowable for commercial use. Our belief is that beyond 10k impressions, you are probably making enough that the photographer should be fairly compensated. While we might suggest image pricing, that is fully up to the image rights owners, giving them full control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Re: Re: Stock Images

    First, I'm a hobbyist, not a professional who is going to have their work distributed. Paying for an image that is for a practice run or background on something I create and make no money on is not cost efficient when I can get them for free with a little bit of time effort on my part.

    Then given GMacGuffin's post over the hassles that for years and years has driven the Getty name in the ground, I would not touch them with a 10 pole were they the only site on the net. Their reputation precedes them at this point.

    I have not tried YAY to look at what they offer. But $9.90 a month is a steep price for only needing one or at the most two images in a couple of months and not a cost I can justify.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    John, Mar 6th, 2014 @ 11:14pm

    Getty Images

    If they charged fair prices for their images in the first place they wouldn't have to worry about people trying to steal or rip them off from elsewhere. I have just started using snapmarket, they've got images from $1 - for those interested. Not the biggest amount of images but they seem to get more and more everyday

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Garrick Elvin, Mar 10th, 2014 @ 2:31pm

    I don't know why people are so gullible these days(including myself At first, I was super-excited to find out that Getty has decided to make this move.

    However, when I read their terms and conditions I was stunned: "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 monetize its use without any compensation to you."

    Thus, I would always choose to pay $9.90 per month for a service such as, instead of using a "free" service that collects my data and advertises on my behalf.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    james howard, Mar 27th, 2014 @ 5:48am

    Website design

    It happens so and that's natural, no surprising.At certain when the people can't afford, they find the illegal ways.I agree that users shouldn't let do the same but it's also a lesson for first row person.
    website design

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    William C. Lee, Mar 29th, 2014 @ 2:26am

    Why not searching for alternatives?

    Why not looking for other alternatives? It's interesting that Getty's giving free access to stock photos. This could attract lots of users. At this point, I don't really feal comfortable with this idea. My main concern is to get out of copyright complaints area. I'll be more content to pay a few cents extra for getting great stock images using a special streaming service if it's possible. I heard that is offering this possibility. What do you guys think?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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