Getty Images goes free: is embedding an alternative to copyright?

Getty Images is probably the world’s most important photographic archive. Founded in Seattle in 1995, it has constantly grown by acquiring an impressive number of important photographic agencies and, by closing agreements with famous content-focused companies such as the France-Presse, The New York Times and Flickr. With more than 80 million high-resolution images and thousands hours of video available for professionals, corporations and media, Getty Images is nowadays universally regarded as the image supplier par excellence.

Posh, high-defined and watermarked. Who could ask for more?

Getty Images’ business model was entirely copyright-based.  In a nutshell, all Getty Images’ pictures featured a [very elegant, thinks Merpel] white watermark remembering that, although images could be saved on your PC, you could hardly make something more out of it without paying the due copyright royalties. In this latter regard, users were asked to submit information as to the territory, the period, the kind of media and the commercial field in which they intend to use a certain picture.  On those basis, the system tailor-made a licence price: e.g., using the British Kat [right] for “advertisement within an application, website, game or other software … including banner ads, over-page, in-page or web video advertisements” in the sole UK for one month would cost 255 Euros [Euros for a copyright licence over a British Kat in UK? Merpel would rather use her selfies…].

In these years, Getty Images has been extremely careful in enforcing its copyright, targeting alleged infringers with aggressive cease and desist letters and claiming huge sums by way of damages whenever its products were used without consent. As other creative industries can testify, however, such approach failed to defeat users’ vice of right clicking.  “Our content was everywhere”, declared Getty Images’ business development exec Craig Peters to The Verge
“you can find it without a watermark very simply … 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".
That is why, starting from today, Getty Images radically decided to change strategy, making freely available more than 35 million images from its collections.  Perhaps “freely” is not entirely correct. Indeed, in exchange of the use of its contents, Getty Images requires web publishers to use an embedding system with native codes for sharing in Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest and other weblogs.  

"How could I embed this fresh fish?"
Practically speaking, Getty Image archive is now divided in two groups: rights-managed [RM], which keeps following the traditional copyright regime, and royalty-free [RF]. Three small icons for sharing on Twitter, Tumblr and other websites appear under all RF pictures. Once chosen the sharing-platform, the image is embedded on the third parties’ websites alongside with the name of the author and a link to the Getty Image’s web page where one could obtain a commercial license for it [see the example at the end of this post].  Further, the embedded content entails a system that provides Getty Image with relevant information about how, where and by who the image is shared and viewed. In so doing, Craig Peters told the British Journal of Photography, Getty Image wishes to foster three different values widely undermined by wild-sharing: 
“First, there will be attribution around that image … Second, all of the images will link back to our site and directly to the image’s details page. So anybody that has a valid commercial need for that image will be able to license that imagery from our website. Third, since all the images are served by Getty Images, we’ll have access to the information on who and how that image is being used and viewed, and we’ll reserve the right to utilise that data to the benefit of our business.”
The brand new free-to-use model, however, is not for all. In the mind of Getty Images, contents will be freely available for non-commercial usages only ["embedded images may not be used for commercial purposes", the embedding panel warns], while anyone who intends to use contents within professional activities must still ask for a classic copyright licence. Remarkably, Getty Images adopts a notion of “commercial usage” that is far more user-friendly than that adopted by some Courts in Europe. Indeed, according to what Mr Peters declared to the British Journal of Photography, Getty Images considers websites using Google-Ads a non-commercial: “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.”

In a chaotic scenario where the undeniably-needed modernisation of copyright is often left in the hands of sanguinary fights among tribal groups of interests, it is comforting to know that some creative people are still peacefully trying to figure out how to implement concrete solutions to face modern challenges in a way that is insightfully and auspiciously relieving. Although not entirely new, Getty Images’ idea to apply a quasi-trade mark regime to creative material allowing uses “not in the course of trade” is totally worth a try [and worth supporting too, sniffs Merpel], not least because it makes copyright closer to a fair idea of exploitation that sometimes it appears to have lost on its way. Surfing the sharing instead of contrasting it sounds exciting and could be convenient as well, as promotion given by third parties’ embedding activity is for free and usages’ information that one can get from the embedded contents is still an autonomous commercial value.

On the second day of 2014, the IPKat penned a visionary note entitled “Top stories Merpel hopes to write in 2014”.  One of the wishful bits of thinking that Merpel looked forward to concretely taking place in this magic year was the enactment of a “New WIPO Treaty on the Unauthorised Use of Works for the Illustration of Weblogs”. In light of that, the IPKat enthusiastically welcomes today’s revolution in the global internet photography market and, even though Getty Images is not WIPO [much less pictures provided, says Merpel], our best wishes and a great katpat go to the Seattle guys for this new adventure (and a katpat also goes to Beniamino Pagliaro for bringing this news to the IPKat's attention). 

Getty Images goes free: is embedding an alternative to copyright? Getty Images goes free: is embedding an alternative to copyright? Reviewed by Alberto Bellan on Thursday, March 06, 2014 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. As someone who has grown old and weary fighting Getty's 'licence first and clear the rights later, if at all' business model on behalf of impecunious photographers it is difficult to view this development with unalloyed enthusiasm


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