Getty Images Image Embed: Progressive or Destructive?

Getty Images Image Embed: Progressive or Destructive?

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:

“Can you be more specific about terms of use? How will customers determine when they should pay and when they can use the image for free?

  • Our terms of use will be clear. The use has to be non-commercial and not promoting goods or services etc.
  • 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.”



Clicking on the embed icon allows users to grab an image for non-commercial use.


The embed code HTML can be inserted into a blog or webpage.

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 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.

The Reaction
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.

Read more:


Next Post:
Previous Post:
This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 14 comments for this article
  1. Mitch Wojnarowicz at 8:13 am

    Wasn’t it Getty who, long ago, created the groundbreaking business model of licensing stock photos for pennies as it would open up new markets to small users who otherwise couldn’t afford to license images? We were all going to make a million $1 sales…

    With today’s technology able to track and target 30 year old barbecue potato chip lovers who own blue cars, it is disingenuous to suggest there is nothing that can be done about online copyright violations.

    Finally, there seems to be a booming business in creating API’s and other affiliate marketing scenarios where company X gives their thing to Company Y, who then tracks the value they receive from purchases, clickthroughs, etc and pays Company X a cut. There are tons of bloggers who make lots of money through affiliate marketing. No reason money can’t be made for the photograph used.

    With the rise in technology there seems to be so much hand wringing that technology makes it impossible to make money any more. And that statement usually comes from the ones making money.

  2. Daryl L. Hunter at 8:19 am

    Getty enabling free-loaders and thieves hoping for table scraps for Getty photographer’s who happily settle for scraps. When I was with Getty before quitting they made regular but small sales for editorial usage.

    Yes this will get more eyes on a Getty photographers work, but it will devalue all images in the stock world across the board.

    Another fine example why I quit Getty Images!

  3. Pingback: Half full and half empty | Airminded
  4. Robert Henson at 12:09 pm

    Great summary, Allen. It’s encouraging to see Getty follow IMGembed’s lead in this space, but the differences in approach are stark. Photographer empowerment will still be a hurdle for them.

  5. Pingback: GettyMart and Their 35 Million Free Images | Todd Bigelow Photography
  6. Pingback: Miliony zdjęć za darmo i kilka ale | Szturchaniec fotograficzny
  7. Randy at 9:27 pm

    Getty Images is owned by Carlyle which is a private equity firm.

    Private equity firms typically hold an investment for a few years. Then they take the company public (IPO on a stock exchange).

    It is no surprise what Getty Images/Carlyle is trying to do. They are doing whatever they can to goose up their investment. Then sell stock back to the public market. This maximizes their own profit and they could not care about the contributors.

    The best way to get back at Getty Images is to leave. However, because there are enough lemmings out there who are willing to take pennies for their work, they will probably be able to make money at the contributor’s expense.

  8. Pingback: Getty gives away 35 million photos and people don’t like it | dvafoto
  9. Matt at 5:13 pm

    There may be enough lemmings to stay with Getty, but the bottom line question is this: where do the photo buyers go to search for images? Getty or PhotoShelter? Since PhotoShelter saw it fitting to post this news on their blog, I would love to know what PhotoShelter is going to do to make PS “top of mind” to photo buyers. I agree, Getty is doing what it can for themselves, but what is PS doing to promote their photographers?

  10. Pingback: Die Bilderfreigabe von Getty Images – faires Angebot oder Danaergeschenk? | Redaktionsblog
  11. Maryka at 1:58 am

    They are trying to protect contributors from incidents that can happen in the future. Almost every web site has a stolen image now. It’s the way they are developing their business.
    Microstock PressFoto launched more suitable service on November 2013 which is called Image Rent and you pay only for actual views. Both contributors and content buyers might be very interested in that.
    Don’t really know if I can post links here… Anyway here information about that service

  12. Pingback: Gratuitatea fotografiilor de pe Getty Images – inca o metoda de promovare | CesiCum

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.