Getty Images Free? What is the catch?

Getty’s library of 35 million photos are now free for online use without fear of copyright infringement.  Getty Images has now made it possible for anyone to easily embed and share its imagery for non-commercial use on websites, blogs and even social media channels (Facebook, Twitter) through a new embed tool.  They believe that trying to combat unauthorized image use by the world’s Internet users is impractical.  Therefore, Getty is pitching the new embedding service as a legal alternative to image theft.  

Getty Images will now allow bloggers and tweeters to embed its images using a code similar to what’s on sites such as YouTube, IF  the usage is “noncommercial”.  As with the example below, the image includes a Getty logo, photo credit and is linked to the company’s website, where viewers can have the opportunity to license the photo (depending on usage, this could amount to hundreds or even thousands of dollars).

All for free! But watch out as many are speculating that ads are on the way.

How To Embed

Embedding an image into your blog or website is fairly easy.  You go to and search for your image,  hover over the image in the search results page or on the image detail page, and click the embed icon (</>). A box appears with the code that needs to be copied into the users HTML code.

You can embed any Getty Image on any platform that supports HTML.  Users will also be able to share images on major social platforms including Facebook and Twitter.

This is great news right?  Or is it?

 So what is the catch?  A major stock agency that was just bought by the Carlyle Group for $3.3 billion in 2012 is not giving away its images for free – are they?  In fact, Getty Images Inc.’s debt was placed on review September 2013 for a possible cut by Moody’s Investors Service because of weaker-than-expected results.  Getty Images Inc. took on almost $2,000,000,000 (yes that is BILLION) in debt when the venture capital firm Carlyle Group purchased Getty.  So how can they give the images away free?

The catch!

The terms of service only allows embedded images to be used for “Non-commercial” purposes, but what is the definition of “Non-commercial”?  Getty’s Terms of Use state that you are prohibited from:

  • downloading, copying, or re-transmitting any or all of the Site or the Getty Images Content without, or in violation of, a written license or agreement with Getty Images.
  • selling, licensing, leasing, or in any way commercializing the Site or the Getty Images Content without specific written authorization from Getty Images.
  • you may only use embedded Getty Images Content for editorial purposes 

Am I the only one who is confused? What does “non-commercial” really means? If you’re selling a product or using the image in an ad for a product, it is fairly clear that this is commercial use. But what about websites and blogs that derive revenue by including ads such as Google Adwords? Is that commercial?  What about bloggers that find pictures people like to look at and get a lot of followers to their site, then have people pay bloggers for post positive responses about their business or product. Is that commercial?

Getty’s terms of use state:

“You may only use embedded Getty Images Content for editorial purposes (meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest). Embedded Getty Images Content may not be used: (a) for any commercial purpose (for example, in advertising, promotions or merchandising) or to suggest endorsement or sponsorship; (b) in violation of any stated restriction; (c) in a defamatory, pornographic or otherwise unlawful manner; or (d) outside of the context of the Embedded Viewer.”

Getty elaborated about its thinking on this to the British Journal of Photography:

“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.”

What does Getty get from the embed?

With the Getty name all over the web they will benefit from better branding.  If you click the Twitter or Tumblr buttons under the embedded photos, the link goes to Getty, not to the publisher’s site. But there is more – according to the terms of use

“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.”

 One day, with Getty content embedded all over the web, they could turn on the ads and instantly millions of  ads everywhere. It could be in the form of a preroll video ad where you now have to click to view the underlying image, or a small banner on the bottom of the photo.  They can use the data collected to sell ads specifically targeting your blog or website.  You can start to see the potential here and can envision the true motive behind their announcement.

Problems with the free Getty Embedded Viewer

Images can disappear.   One of the main problems that I see with the Getty Embedded Views is that they DO NOT own a large portion of the images they are giving away. The contributors and copyright owners have not given Getty permission to give away their photos and clipart.  Getty claims to have the right to give away the images as they are deeming the Embedded Viewer as “promotional” which is granted as per the Getty Contract.  Getty could lose millions of images from their library over the coming months and years as the contributors close their Getty accounts.  What happens to your embedded image if the image is removed from their library?

Advertising can appear. As already discussed, Getty Images is not giving away free content out of desperation or kindness.  In my view, its highly likely that this has been the Carlyle Group’s game plan from the onset.  Turn the aging giant from a photo agency into a internet advertising network which some speculate would then in turn be purchased by large players like Google or Apple.

No Way to Resize. Unlike the YouTube or Vimeo embed, there is no way to resize to different dimensions without manually changing the dimension.  There have been reports that reducing the size will have the effect of blocking out the Getty logo and credits.  This however could violate your terms of use and they could come after you for the infringement.

Reduced SEO Visibility. Getty puts their viewer within an iFrame, and Google does not follow content within an iFrame.  The search engines will not index any images within an iFrame – giving advantage to sites you are competing against that use their own images.

The viewer is not perfectly responsive. A perfectly responsive website or blog will display correctly whether being viewed on a computer, tablet or cell phone.  Using the Getty Embedded viewer could lead to problems being viewed on smaller devices.  Given that a reported 47% of blogs are read on personal devices, responsiveness is a key issue.

Downtime (temporary or permanent). This is just speculation, but Getty is not a technology company such as Google.  Do they really have the computer infrastructure and wherewithal to simultaneously handle hundreds of thousands of image request to their servers per second?  What happens when they go down — all your blogs and webpages now have broken images?  What happens if the project fails and they shut it down? 

WordPress Featured Image. There is a reported 75 million users of WordPress blogs and many utilize “Featured Images” in their blog designs (meaning the photo that will show up on our homepage or in a search result page or your author archive page or your sidebar.  You will only be able to use the image within the blog itself.

Clicking on Images. The world has been trained for the past decade to click on an image and it takes you to new content or the article, etc.  Every Getty embedded image will take visitors away from your site.

What does this mean for the entire photographic industry?

There’s no doubt that this will further increase negative pricing pressure on the stock photo market. It remains to be seen whether other agencies will follow suit. Shutterstock  CEO Jon Oringer tells Forbes he isn’t worried.  

“The free images come with two thick strings attached–they can’t be used for making money and Getty can run its own ads on the pictures.”

“It’s not very landscape changing at all,” Origner told me via phone from San Francisco. “You can’t use their images for commercial use and 99.9% of our business is commercial use. We sell to businesses who sell other stuff, so we’re just going to concentrate on doing that.”

The Getty Embedded viewer has numerous limitations to be a good substitute for people who don’t mind stealing.  There are alternatives currently available to the traditional stock agencies that are very low priced.

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