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BBC - Getty makes 35 million photos free to use

Yikes - is the sky falling in? Should we all be concerned? Lets find out...

To start with, lets remember that news articles such as this one[1] from the BBC are written by journalists and are designed to be attention-grabbing and sell newspapers or web-advertising views. As usual in life, to get to the truth you need to read the fine print, and then dig deeper still. As far as I can see, Getty are only allowing shares of these categories:

  • Creative: Rights-ready (RR)
  • Creative: Royalty-free (RF)
  • Editorial: Raw
  • Editorial: Produced

Some people have asked how I feel about my own images being offered to anyone who wants them, but this isn't an issue for me at the moment. My images are in Getty's Rights Managed 'Lonely Planet Images Collection' and don't seem to be available for embedding at the moment. It turns out that Getty has command of 150 million images, of which 60 million are searchable online[2], so that puts the '35 million figure' more into perspective. But lets think about the other photographers for a minute, who depend on income from photo sales of the above-listed content, and who can't opt out of this Getty-feature. The BBC article[1] reports that people are saying: "They feel very strongly about that because photographers don't work for free and they don't work for exposure. They say: 'Exposure won't feed my children'. So a lot of people are very, very angry."

The BBC article then raises the question: "If they [Getty] have thousands of photographers who aren't making money, Getty won't make money either. So they must have a plan." Its a good point. Are Getty cutting their own throats by doing this? Past experience shows that they are clever operators, and must indeed have a very good plan.

Look at it this way: Getty are only sharing photos for non-commercial use, for people to add to their private Blogs and educational websites etc. Would such users have paid for a license anyway? I think not. Now that Getty have made it easy to post a photo on a Blog, I can see people using this path - its legal, and its pre-packaged, so its easy and could come to be the preferred option. Go the old route and you might find that Getty have stepped up their image tracking and prosecutions for those determined not to 'play ball'. If Bloggers had shared a stolen photo in the past, possibly stripped of its meta-data, the photo would often have been un-attributed. If a viewer did like it and wanted to license it, there was no way to find out how or where to do this. But with the Getty Embed Tool[3] the source of the image is shown, and the name of the photographer. Both are getting free advertising every time the image is viewed. I've posted an example of an embedded image at the top of this page, so you can see what an embedded image looks like.

The majority of my photo-sales income comes from professional users and companies. They are hardly going to start stealing as if they get caught using an embedded image, everyone knows where it came from. The size is fixed too, and after a while that size will become well known. The embedded-viewer code, which can be cut and pasted onto any website, is similar to the tool YouTube provides for sharing its videos. Images cannot be resized and although there is no watermark, the viewer will incorporate a Getty Images logo, as well as a credit for the photographer.

Like YouTube, the company may use the code to serve advertisements in the future, allowing it to make revenue by sharing its catalog. As the BBC article reminds us, monetization has to be part of Getty's plan in the future. "If they have thousands of photographers who aren't making money, Getty won't make money either. So they must have a plan."

Trey Ratcliff, the king of HDR[4], has been taking the 'Free For Personal Use' approach for a while, and seems to be doing quite well out of it, and the advertising isn't hurting him either - I wouldn't mind his 601,170 Facebook followers or his 7,270,448 Google Circle Followers myself! Getty has now caught up with him, and the probability is that all the other major image libraries will follow suit.

Can we take this story any deeper?

Peter Krogh, author of various Digital Asset Management books[5] thinks that we can. He reasons that the photos themselves are all 'loss-leaders', and that the real value in such a vast collection of images is the data that their usage will generate: what sites people are visting, where they came from, what they click on, where they go next. Its all to do with a 'semantic understanding of the visual web', and this information, once generated, has much financial potential in it. He may be right - time will tell.

Whatever the truth is, its certain that the future is here right now, guys, and its time to jump on board as it rushes past you. Or stay in the farmyard and worry that the sky is falling down.

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