Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | March 13, 2014

Credit Where Credit is Due, Re: Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

I spend a fair amount of time complaining about the abusive practices of many corporate copyright-holders. That being so, it seems only fair to highlight a case where a copyright-holder appears to be doing good.

Getty Images announced last week that it would allow users to embed and share (some) photos from its extensive image library, so long as the use is for non-commercial purposes.

Mike Masnick at TechDirt has details and commentary:

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…

Now, as Masnick notes, there are caveats. Not all of Getty’s pics will be available via this policy — “some of the key collections will still be fee-only.” (Browsing around the Getty Images site at this time, it seems that some images are easier to embed than others — even restricting the search to “Royalty-free” [RF] images.) At The Atlantic, Megan Garber says that “there seems to be a fairly significant split, from what I can tell, between stock images and photojournalism images when it comes to embeddability.” She explains:

So, basically, if you’re in need of a generally illustrative photo to decorate a story about craft beer or an unending winter or Getty’s move to embeddable photos, you should have lots of (now-free!) options. If you’re looking for photojournalism that will complement your story on Ukraine, however, you might be out of luck.

That distinction is important; it emphasizes, among other things, the bet that Getty is making by opening this new revenue stream. News outlets, after all, will always need news photos. Keeping the newsy stuff out of the “free photo” pool allows Getty to preserve its value for its already-paying digital subscribers, while the embed system could be a way to capture some value from The Rogues. This is Getty attempting to have its cake, and eat it, too.

Also, says Masnick, “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.” (Although I would not reasonably expect any company like Getty to completely foreswear litigation.)

And this piece in Wired points to an…interesting clause in Getty’s Terms of Service:

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.


The limitation of free embed use to “non-commercial use” is a point warranting caution, since what litigants and judges consider “non-commercial use” is almost as fluid and variable as “fair use.” Fortunately, in this instance, Getty seems to be taking an expansive view of what constitutes non-commercial use, especially vis-a-vis blogs (hurrah!):

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.

(Garber at The Atlantic notes that the “today” in the Peters quote bears watching.)

Embed from Getty Images

Still, even with these caveats, all in all, this is good news. Masnick’s conclusion seems spot on:

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.


Here is a WordPress tutorial on using the Getty embed feature.

Image Credits: (1) “Dog surrounded by sheep.” Photo by Marcus Rudolph, Source: Getty Images. (2) “Close-up of barred owl against bokeh background.” Photo by Daniela Duncan. Source: Getty Images.


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