Free Getty Images?

on 24th April 2014

(Last updated 18th March 2022)

A few weeks ago Getty images decided to open the doors to over 35 million of its images for people to use for free. Now that the dust has had time to settle, what are the implications and opportunities?

What have they done?

Over recent years, as with the music and film industry, the image industry has seen more and more of its product being shared for free over the internet. Whilst they do have some success in tracking where these images are featured using software such as Picscout it hasn’t stopped stem the tide.

To help address this Getty announced on 6th March that they were launching Embed Images to allow people to use a selection of their images for free. But how does it work?

  • It is focused towards bloggers and social media - it’s not available for Commercial use
  • Of the 150 million or so images available on Getty, 35 million have been made available
  • Similar to Youtube, you embed the image into your site cutting a pasting a small piece of code
  • The image appears on your site with a Getty watermark and a credit to the photographer

So who is it going to effect?

Web Owners

If you are a non-commercial web blogger, Getty have opened the doors and given you the keys. There is now a large number of images available to use on your sites, for free - no longer is there the threat of a demand from Getty for using an image you shouldn’t have. As the images are only embedded in your site and not hosted by yourself, there is still the chance you’ll need to contend with images disappearing if Getty pull them. In addition you’ll also have watermarks on all the pictures, but the benefits of the access they give you far outweigh the negatives.

As a commercial web owner it is very much as case of 'as you were'. Embed Images isn’t available on commercial site and you’ll still need to pay for all of your image uses in full, or face the wrath of Getty.

Getty themselves

Getty accept that these images are going to be used and as much as they try to stay ahead, people will still use them without paying. The current licensing model needs to adapt to modern times as much as the music industry has had to with Spotify et al. By giving them away for free, they are at least able to build brand awareness and drive traffic back to their site. The idea being that the free advertising will drive paying traffic and raise awareness of the other 125 million images they have that aren’t covered by this agreement.

However, there is more. It also gives them access to a whole heap of data. Last year Getty partnered with Kiosked to experiment with advertising within images. Whilst its not something they are actively pursuing with Embed Images (yet) you can see how the model can expand to drive revenue in the future - potentially more than they would have earned from the images themselves.

The Photographers

No doubt the hardest hit by this new development are the photographers themselves – Getty are giving away their images for free. As you would expect there has been quite a backlash, if people don’t need to pay for images then the photographers don’t make any return.

The rationale from Getty is that the added exposure will gain the photographer recognition and therefore more paid work. The feedback from photographers is that recognition is a notoriously poor way to build new business and it doesn’t put food on their table.

There does seem to be a current debate over whether Getty will share any advertising revenue generated by an image with the photographer, however as this is not currently in place its hard to know either way. What we have seen however is a desire for photographers to move away from Getty and take their work elsewhere. However, as they control large parts of the market, this restricts their access to potential customers.

What does this mean?

Whilst Getty are one of the first in the industry to add this functionality, as the leader, where they go others will follow. The traditional licensing model has long become outdated since the shift from print to digital media and it needs to change. Whilst Getty rely on photographers to generate their content for them, they do have the power to dictate the terms of the relationship. They may upset and drive away a proportion, but there will always be more to take their place.

What will be interesting to follow is how Getty will monetise this service - businesses don’t give away revenue streams without a plan of how to make it back (plus more) in the future.

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