Christopher D. Thompson is an action, travel, and studio photographer…
The image above by Flickr contributor Jack Fussell artfully illustrates change, but not the type of “change” that means money. Because I’m using it for free compliments of Getty Images new image embed feature which allows Internet users to use images for editorial and non-commercial purposes. The new service gives registered users the ability to grab embed code similar to YouTube or Flickr from some 35 million images in Getty’s library. In an interview with the British Journal of Photography (BJP), Getty Images SVP of Business Development states that the embed feature has “value for Getty Images and the content owners,” since images are already stolen on a daily basis without attribution and by “self publishers who typically don’t know anything about copyright and licensing.” He further adds, “What we’ve seen is a significant amount of infringement online in an area, unfortunately, that we can’t control because this is how the Internet has developed. What we’re trying to do here is to put a legal method in place for that to happen and that actually benefits our content owners.”
The system of giving content away for free seems to be a continuing acknowledgement that image theft and lack of attribution is untamable. In Oct 2013, Getty Images inked a deal with Pinterest, but it wasn’t an image licensing deal. Having discovered hordes of potential licensing violations, Getty worked with Pinterest to license metadata for their images because, according to Pinterest, “One thing we’ve found is that the more we know about a pin, the more valuable we can make it for you.” Ostensibly, the images have little value (or rather, hard to extract value), whereas the data is readily mineable and exploitable. This is the sad reality of digital content – with a glut both the content and content creators (with few exceptions) have little value. But the data contained within the mass has huge potential for monetization.
What Constitutes Legal Usage?
BJP reports, “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.” According to the Getty Image’s contributor FAQ that we obtained:
- Commercial, promotional, endorsement, sponsorship, advertising or merchandising use is prohibited.
- The viewer (i.e. the embed i-frame [sic]) and content is offered AS IS with no user indemnification
- Getty Images reserves the right to remove images at our discretion
- No defamatory, pornographic or unlawful use
- Reverse engineering, alteration or modification of the service is prohibited.”
Most of the images that we reviewed were approximately 507 pixels wide to accommodate some padding within the embed “card” which is sized at 594 pixels by 495 pixels. Getty’s Images contributor FAQ states that the “image will be low res – the same size as the ‘detail view’ on the gettyimages.com website, approximately 0.17megapixels.” At this point, it’s unclear why some images are excluded from the program, but there is no way for individual contributors to opt-out. Getty Images has indicated that images from the Reportage and Contour collections are not included in the program, and we saw images (both RM and RF) from various collections that weren’t available for embed. From the major sports leagues, only MLB photos seemed excluded at this time with photos from the NFL, NBA and NHL available for immediate use.
As you might imagine, the reaction from photographers has been as frigid as a polar vortex. Long-time contributor Brad Mangin said, “The race to the bottom continues. I can see why Getty would do this. They are desperate. They are throwing stuff against the wall and seeing what sticks.” Mangin told us that Getty solicited his opinion on the new mechanism well in advance of the public launch, but despite railing against it, his concerns fell on deaf ears.
Austin-based commercial and editorial photographer Darren Carroll shared his concerns about precedent, “This will immediately and adversely affect the ability of anyone to attempt to recoup compensation for images that are ‘stolen’ or otherwise appropriated by bloggers or other websites, because Getty has effectively established a price point of $0.00 for the 1000-pixel, web-only, non-exclusive editorial usage category. So now, if someone ‘steals’ an image of mine and I ask for payment, it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a blogger (or, for that matter, a judge or jury attempting to compute actual damages) to make the case that they owe me exactly what the going market rate is.”
Portland-based Craig Mitchelldyer echoed the sentiment of many photographers, “While I’m conflicted, I’m not totally shocked.” New York photojournalist Keith Bedford deadpanned, “I knew I should have moved out west and been a fry cook.”
The mood on Facebook was one of incredulity and confusion. Editorial photographer Amy Lombard said, “I’m confused by this move more than anything. This contradicts their business model on just about every level…?”
ASMP Executive Director Eugene Mopsik told us, “I’m trying to figure out what stops people from continuing their current practice of simply right+clicking and stealing images,” alluding to the fact that using embeds to become “compliant” isn’t much of an incentive for people who already steal. “It’s not about the images in the long run for [Getty]. This is ultimately about information about placement and linkage. It doesn’t really bode well for the long-term of the industry, or the ability of photographers to sustain a living solely as an image creator.”
NPPA Business Practices Chairman Greg Smith added, “It is always good to see innovative solutions. But I’m not sure what this does for or to independent photographers. Having (relatively) sticky attribution and easy sourcing is important. However, credit lines, while required for history and responsibility, don’t pay the bills.” He further opined, “I’m concerned that this will further devalue the role of creatives [to the general public].”
PhotoShelter obtained a copy of an internal video sent to contributors showing Craig Peters announcing the initiative and trying to assuage concerns about what this means for photographers.
He likens the embed feature to YouTube, which generated over $5 billion in advertising against videos in 2013. YouTube’s current rate split is 45% to YouTube and 55% to the content creator. Although Getty hasn’t disclosed what sort of advertising split it would share with a photographer, it’s unlikely to be this high given that current royalty payments fall around 35%.
We asked Peters how embedding with attribution is more beneficial to photographers than a business who asks that photographer to work for free for exposure. He responded that the image has already been created and exploited without permission, and that the industry can either do nothing or try to build a solution to the rapid changes that we’ve experienced.
Big Data is Big Business
The question is whether Getty Images benefits disproportionately in terms of exposure as well as the collection of big data – data that ostensibly would never be available to individual photographers. If the program is a success and millions of images are embedded around the Internet, Getty would have a number of options at their disposal:
- Partner with an ad network to serve targeted/retargeted ads to the viewer
- Gain a more thorough understanding of where and how images are being used (they are obviously limited to their current sales data)
- Scan entire domains with PicScout to find licensing infractions thereby using the embed data for punitive measures (this is akin to handing out EZPass for the promise of convenience but then using the data to catch speeders)
But the success of an advertising play is uncertain even if they succeed in gaining traction. Nick Herman, VP of User Experience at Pontiflex, a mobile advertising firm told us “[ad serving] is not the best business: margins are thin and I suspect that Getty will just end up creating more crappy inventory in an already saturated market.” He did think that a targeting/retargeting angle might be interesting, and if Getty knew enough about a given blog and audience, it could successfully perform demographic targeting without explicitly knowing the user (e.g. you’re visiting a cooking/lifestyle blog frequented by affluent females between the ages of 25-40).
Does Technology Help the Content Creator?
Mopsik astutely observed, “ASMP as always is concerned for the long term ability of photographers to earn a sustainable living. We embrace the idea of using new technologies to give publishers at all levels access to great imagery. We look to companies like Getty to use these technologies to create new income streams for photographers. We don’t expect the entire pie, just a fair and reasonable piece.“