Getty gives away 35 million images for free

Image-hosting giant Getty Images announced it won't fight a legal battle with the millions of bloggers who use its images without attribution everyday. Instead, it is offering images for free in hopes that embedded advertisements and linked-back attribution will provide revenue in the future.

Scott Peterson/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images
A US Army photographer holds up a camera while traveling with journalists on a US military Blackhawk helicopter 25 miles southeast of Baghdad at Camp Kalsu, Iraq. Getty announced it will be releasing 35 million of its photos to be used for free by bloggers and social media sites.

Millions of bloggers are about to get the legal go-ahead to use images they already were using without permission.

On Thursday, stock-image giant Getty Images announced it will release 35 million images in its library of about 150 million photos, with more than 60 million available online, for use by bloggers and social media sites. The company admitted that it hasn’t been able to police all corners of the Web, leading to widespread use of its photos – which include iconic images of presidents such as John F. Kennedy and pop culture icons such as Beyonce. The solution? Give the people what they want (and already have been taking).

"Our content was everywhere already," said Craig Peters, a business development executive at the Seattle-based company to the BBC. "If you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply…The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there.” 

Now, a majority of the company’s photo library will be available through an “embed” tool, similar to how people share YouTube videos. The images will not be resizable, and will include the Getty Image logo and photographer credit. However, certain editorial photos, such as those from September 11 and the protests in Tiananmen Square, will not be included.

In its announcement, Getty didn’t outline plans for future monetization (previously it made money from licensing each photo), but there are rumors that it could use advertisements such as YouTube. Each photo also links back to the original photo on Getty Image’s website, where it can be licensed for commercial use.

Photographers are split as to whether this move was inevitable or marks the beginning of a tough financial chapter.

“You have to adapt to survive,” says Kevin Mazur, celebrity photographer and director, and co-founder of WireImage on the Getty Image blog. “Evolving to embrace technology that encourages responsible image sharing is the way forward for the industry.”

"My Twitter feed has exploded with very angry photographers going 'I don't want Getty giving away my images for free,' " says photography journalist Daniela Bowker to the BBC. "For some of them, it might mean their images are never used commercially and they'll never make a penny.”

Social media and blogging sites, on the other hand, seem thrilled at the news.

"This new Getty Images embed capability will open users up to a huge new creative repository in a simple, legal way," says Raanan Bar-Cohen, senior vice president of commercial services at Automattic, the company behind, on the Getty blog. "We look forward to seeing all the amazing ways that our users can take advantage of this new access."

Getty has been known to forge into the digital future with its massive collection of photos. In October, it formed a partnership with consumer-oriented social network Pinterest, providing the website's users with free access to its library of images. It has also started to experiment with ads on photos with smaller start-up partners.

However, this free-for-all image grab is strictly for non-commercial purposes. News outlets and commercial enterprises will still have to pay to use Getty’s images, and Mr. Peters says if a blog appears to be promoting a product or business with the images, it will take action.

“That’s a pretty clear delineation,” Peters says to Businessweek. “We’ll enforce the terms of this license if people start using these images to do that.”

Editors note: An earlier version of this story stated the number of images in Getty's library is 80 million. The actual number is 150 million, with more than 60 million available online. The article reflects this correction.

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