Great new for bloggers: Millions of photos on Getty Images are now free

by DaniGirl on March 6, 2014 · 7 comments

in Photography

Wow. I did not see this one coming.

Getty Images announced last night that it is making approximately 40 million images – including 600+ from me - free for use on social media. If you are a blogger, this is great news for you. If you are a photographer who sells imagery through Getty, maybe not so much.

How does it work? Visit GettyImages.com and find an image you like. Click on the box that looks like this < /> and copy the embed code. Paste into your blog and voila – free stock photos.

Getty’s stated goal is to combat stolen imagery with a sort of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” mentality. If people are going to use the images on social media anyway, and clearly they are, might as well offer them for free with proper attribution and links back to the source. Over the longer term, they’re hoping to add some sort of advertising element similar to what you see on YouTube, so the photographers may eventually get a (miniscule) percentage of the ad revenue as well. And there’s the ludicruosly optimistic idea that people will see an image, love it, click through and pay for it. And there’s massive good will and advertising to be earned by Getty. No more infamous Getty takedown notices, but instead lots of free images for everyone, carefully framed in Getty’s embedded ad.

I do admit that it’s clever how Getty has taken control of how the image is used via the embed code. If the image is simply copied illegally and then uploaded somewhere on the web, Getty loses control of the image, and has to pursue illegal use through takedown notices and legal action. If they make the embed code easy to use, they retain control of the imagery from the back end – they can see how and where the image is used but the image is ultimately hosted by Getty so if the image is pulled from the catalogue Getty can simply pull it from the frame if they need to – or if they want to.

Blogger beware, if you use the embed code you are ceding control of the images in your post to the whims and pecadilloes of Getty. Don’t be surprised to see those “free” images are later overlaid with ads you can’t control. If I were a blogger, this alone may scare me out of using these so-called free images – I can’t bring myself to sign on for any network ad affiliate program where I can’t control the exact content of the ads I am displaying, and this is exactly what would happen (potentially, at least) here. Also, there may be SEO implications with the links back to the Getty site, and some feed readers don’t perceive the embedded frame as an image if you push content to an aggregator, so you lose your thumbnail photo if you are only using Getty’s framed images.

There is some debate about which sites can and cannot use the free embed tools. Getty says the images are for “non-commercial, digital use only.” To me, this means any site earning any income (blog ads, sponsored posts, etc) would be excluded, but it seems Getty’s definition is considerably more forgiving. How they will define let alone police commercial versus non-commercial sites remains to be seen, I suppose.

On a personal level, I fear this will devalue any image up for grabs via the embed code – why would anyone choose to pay license fees for an image that is available for free all over the web? Would you pay for an image to use in your product, book or ad campaign if you knew it was already in use on every social media platform, blog and website? On the other hand, the sheer scope of the number of photos available may in fact mitigate this dilution of value. If they’re all free, maybe it won’t devalue individual images? I keep seeing references to the music industry, from Napster to Spotify. *shrug* I suppose it remains to be seen, and there’s not much I can do except suck it up and watch it unfold or yank all my photos from Getty entirely.

I think my biggest peeve in this whole development is that the photos are free of watermarks. I don’t post images on my OWN blog without watermarks, so having offering them up for ALL THE BLOGGERS free of charge and watermarks is somewhere between discouraging and exasperating. . It is, on the other hand, a brilliant business move by Getty and a bonanza for bloggers and other social media content creators.

What do you think? Brilliant business move on Getty’s part or a shiv in the back to the contributors who supply the images? Or both? Will you use the images on your site and are you at all worried about embedding a frame that Getty controls and may later pepper with ads? Anybody more familiar with SEO able to offer insight about the implications from that perspective? How should “commercial” sites be defined?


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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Annie @ PhD in Parenting March 6, 2014 at 10:06 am

Interesting post, Dani.

I use a lot of creative commons images (found via advanced search on flickr usually) on my blog. I used to just pull the picture in via the link to the image, but I found that sometimes the pictures would end up being removed from flickr and then I’d have a big hole on my blog post replaced with a message from flickr that the picture is no longer there. Instead, I’ve started saving those pictures and uploading them to my blog, but still linking back to the picture in my photo credit. Other images that I use are purchased via istock or are pictures I’ve taken myself.

I definitely share your concern with regards to not having control over what content gets published on my blog. It would be a huge pain to go back and try to replace tons of pictures if Getty ever changed its approach. If I did ever use it, it would probably be the rare one-off where I really wanted a specific picture and couldn’t find anything of that sort through my usual sources.

2 Lynn March 6, 2014 at 10:57 am

Did you, or will you, have the choice to opt out of this program? Can you mark your photos as for-sale only, and not available for digital use?

I would definitely be worried about having non-watermarked versions of your photos available for free online. In my WordPress course I do a little segment on proper use of photos and it’s always big news to EVERYONE that you can’t just go to Google and grab an image and use it. It’s only a matter of time, I think, before an image used on a blog pops up in a Google search and then it’s out there. You would never have the resources or time to track down all the uses.

If it’s possible to stay with Getty but not be part of this program, I think it’s worth it to drop out.

3 DaniGirl March 6, 2014 at 11:19 am

Thanks Annie. Yes, it’s frustrating that even when you try to do the right thing by respecting CC conditions, you still have to be very careful that the person offering the image has the right to do so. Also, and I’m sketchy on the details, I think you violate Flickr’s TOU by downloading and re-uploading – I think they want that linkback that comes with their own embed code. It may have changed in the years since I’ve looked into it, but I know back in the day when I started using Flickr circa 2005 that was a no-no.

Lynn, sadly it’s all or nothing with Getty. I am not as perturbed by this as I am with another “deal” Getty made about a year ago, where they sold thousands of images to Google for free use on Google Drive for about $5 each. Only four of my photos were implicated in that one, instead of all of them,but they are now free for use in any document you might want to create on Google Drive. Although I hated it at the time, a few months later I had sold two of those four images to other users for not-insignificant amounts, so I’ve learned to wait and watch (death by a thousand papercuts?) rather than kill the golden goose. I’m sort of addicted to the money, yanno? And I still make 100% more with Getty than I did with my photos sitting on a hard drive or even on Flickr.

4 Rebecca March 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

This whole thing is fascinating. I probably will use them sometimes, on posts where I wouldn’t have even bothered with a picture in years past but now need an image to share the post in various places. Though I hate that photographers might be losing revenue and that this changes the way the entire game is played. I really do.

5 Carly March 6, 2014 at 5:39 pm

I kinda hate the whole thing. I actually avoid using photos on my blog that don’t belong to me personally because it galls me to think that I might be using someone else’s hard earned work without credit and/or financial gain. I’ve been lazy about watermarking my own photos – ones posted to the blog, pinterest and facebook – and I’m paying for now by finding images on random sites without permission. And they’re not even good photos!

I recently found a photo of cake I made on a site created for the purpose of sharing cake designs, but with the link back to my blog removed. The site suggested I should be grateful they stole (my word, not theirs) it because they captioned it by saying it was a “fantastic cake made by carly for her one year old son” and I should be thrilled they honoured me in that way. Um, excuse me?!?

Time to stop being so lazy about the watermarking for sure . . . the question is, do I have the patience to go back through 500+ blog posts to watermark all the photos already up there?

6 DaniGirl March 7, 2014 at 8:55 am

It is kinda fascinating Rebecca, I agree. I think this will significantly change the stock industry – I’m just not sure if the photographers are going to end up for the better. This was an interesting read from the industry perspective: http://blog.melchersystem.com/2014/03/06/getty-images-gamble/

Carly, I never went back and watermarked my old photos, and there’s only a few that I really regret. My photos do get used all over the place, even with the watermark, and I mostly let it go. The idea that a site owner told you that you should be “grateful” galls me, though. I wish there was better info out there for the average content creator – that does seem to be a prevailing opinion.

7 Peady March 7, 2014 at 9:08 am

This is really interesting. I like your “death by a thousand paper cuts” analogy in your response above.

100% more income is a good thing. :)

What do you use to watermark your photos? I wonder if I should watermark mine. I want to and then I think ‘Well that’s silly! As if anyone would want it!’, but then I read your stories and other similar stories and it seems that it’s a good thing to do.

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