Not stealing this picture

Getty Images is making news (and shaking some feathers) with its announcement that 35 million photographs from it files can now be freely used online (under certain conditions).

Embed from Getty Images

It took a while to figure out the mechanics. The reporting doesn’t give details. I finally found a path to the instructions deep in Terms of Use document on the Getty site. 

Not every picture in Getty’s library is available for online, non-commercial usage. Pictures that can be used have an icon that looks like this </> below the preview. (It’s also at the lower right corner of the picture of Muhammad Ali.) Hover over a picture in the gallery on the Getty Images site. If you see that icon in the row below the picture, you can embed it. No icon = not available for this use. If the icon is available, click on it and a window will display code to copy and paste into a blog/webpage/etc. The code inserts an iframe tag with the link to the picture from Getty. So you’re not putting the picture on your site. You’re linking to the picture from Getty’s library.

Why is Getty doing this? According to the company, pictures are getting used by others anyway without permission or credit. Making pictures freely available in this manner recognizes that reality and gives the company a way to maintain their identity with the image (the credit is in the code). It also gives Getty a means to track where those pictures end up. I could see how that could allow Getty to check to make sure the usage is within the specified limits and to go after payment when it doesn’t. I could see how it could also be a means to market services to users. (Will I get email from Getty encouraging me to seek other pictures for paid usage?)

Is what’s good for Getty good for the photographers? Probably not, at least in business terms. There apparently is no opt-out option for Getty photographers, meaning if I insert a picture like the one above, the photographer isn’t going to see a penny of royalty. On the other hand, Getty isn’t either, and neither party was getting paid when people were just grabbing the pictures without permission. Still, it’s hard enough for photographers to pay the bills. A practice that gives their work away feeds into the further devaluing of the work that goes into making pictures. Will this change relationships with agencies? Will Getty’s move prompt photographers to align elsewhere? Will it open the door for new agencies, or is Getty too big for anyone new to really gain a foothold. One thing is for certain: this does change the model for licensing photography.

It’s in interesting development, and I hope it works out all around. I doubt that most people  who have been grabbing the pictures are going to be aware of this option, but I hope they will find out and use it. I hope it raises the level of discussion of the work photographers do and the expectation that they should be paid for it. There was talk last year that Magnum was going to launch a subscription service that would make pictures in that company’s library available for a fee. I think it was $50. I would have paid that, but I may be in the small minority in that sense. Either way, Getty’s move may have closed the door on that structure.

Just note that I didn’t steal the picture.

British Journal of Photography has some details about how Getty’s program works.

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