Some Thoughts on Getty’s Embed Tool


So Getty Images has made some waves with the announcement of its embedding “feature” to allow non-commercial use of their images without a watermark.  This move is bound to kick off some interesting discussions on the state of photography in a digital sharing age.

Getty Images Licensing Page Image

The actual image from Getty’s Licensing page. Seriously.

What they are offering in short is the option to use select images from their catalog without a watermark as seen in the image above. Many of their images now offer the ability to generate embed code that looks like this:

There are a couple of interesting points to be noted from this move and its conditions.

First, the conditions under which an image can be embedded using their new system sound awfully familiar to Creative Commons, By Attribution, Non-Commercial, No-Derivatives licensing. Basically, you are allowed to use the image, but not for commercial use. And it appears that Getty does not consider use on blogs containing ads to be commercial use.

This is really an interesting case of how ineffectual watermarking really is (if it was working well for the largest stock photo agency, surely they wouldn’t have been compelled to make this change).

Apparently, people were either removing the watermark before using the images anyway, or turning to a different source for a stock image that wasn’t encumbered by restrictive licensing and watermarks (for instance, there are over 250 million images licensed with some form of Creative Commons licensing on Flickr that people could choose from).

What is arguably worse, though, is the implementation of the embedding of the image itself. It’s a sneaky play by Getty to significantly increase their footprint on the web in general, and to enable a massive amount of monetization if it works for them.

Oh, and it doesn’t mean the photographers will necessarily see any extra payout either.

First of all, the embed tool generates an <iframe> element to show the image.  For anyone not in the know, it is basically creating a frame in the web page that will load whatever Getty wants inside of it, not just the image requested (more on that in a moment).

While not necessarily a problem in and of itself, it does present a problem for possibilities of link-rot across the Internet.  If for any reason Getty decides it no longer wants to serve its images in this way (and it’s absolutely within their right to do so), then every site that used these images will now have a dead space where the image used to be… or worse (again, more on that in a minute).

If the Getty services went down for any reason, then during that down-time the images would no longer show up anywhere. Sites from BuzzFeed to the New York Times to your buddy’s blog would show something like this:

Here is the more insidious part of the plan by Getty, though. Allow me to quote from their Terms of Use for the Embedded Viewer (emphasis mine):

Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetize its use without any compensation to you.

That’s right. As I mentioned earlier, they can serve up whatever content they want in that box. Including any ads that they might feel they want to use today. Anyone using this embed tool to show Getty images on their sites (blogs, tumblr, twitter, fb, whatever), are possibly running a giant ad network for Getty. The last line in the BJP article about this is also quite telling as well.

As for Getty Images’ own photographers, the new embed program won’t have an opt-out clause. “If you’re a Getty Images contributor, you’ll be participating in this.”

It’s certainly a bold move by the largest player in the space. It will be interesting to see how this turns out… particularly for those photographers with images through Getty.

  • bartek

    This is madness…

  • possessed2fisheye

    i am one of those poor souls who have images with Getty. my images are my blood and soul and i work very hard to create them, it is my love and to have Getty treat them with so little respect is disgusting and heart breaking .
    and yes you are using my image ( its the third one of the pirate )
    this is my first embossed image i’ve found :( and it hurt
    i no longer see a need to stay with Getty
    regard scott aka possessed2fisheye

  • The Foolish One

    Full disclosure: I condemn this move by Getty. Seriously condemn it.

    But as a predatory business move, I think it is brilliantly conceived. They weren’t getting much – if any – of the blog and not for profit web microstock market. Their pricing was too high. So they made a very rational move to blindside the competition by allowing free usage. And they hide the fact that they aren’t giving away their own assets – they are giving away their contributor’s work. And they hide behind the “promotional” clause in their contracts to force their contributors to participate.

    The web reaction? Almost universally positive. “Great move by Getty”. “Getty Gets It”. The bloggers are all over themselves and are giving Getty a standing ovation. However, I have yet to see one line on this subject that says “thanks” to the contributors that are proving the content. No – Getty gets the applause and the contributors get the…..shaft.

    And boy – are they clever. They say that the marketplace has made them take this move – so they can’t be accused of being predatory in a world courtroom. And while all those Getty images get used for free and the competition scrambles to stay afloat…..Getty re-positions themselves as an internet “play”. They aren’t in the photo business anymore – they are a consolidator like Yahoo or Google or You Tube. And they’ve got 35 million images to play with – at least for awhile until photographers start realizing that they are actually competing against themselves on pricing.

    The Carlyle Group are smart business people. They might also be called ruthless. But they are turning a money losing proposition into positive spin and setting Getty to be resold to Google or Yahoo or someone else who decides that they want a piece of that great internet play.

    My guess? 24 to 36 months from now they’ll sell for billions more because they will be “The Number One provider of images in the world – by a large margin”.

    Clever people. Very clever people.

  • Halfrack

    Unless the photographer gets information as to who/how/where their images are used, this business idea is wrong.

    Now with that, if Getty were collecting all this information (you know they are), and using the sale of that information to pay the image creators fractions of pennies per impression, plus you had the ability to opt out, then it may be worth the trade off.

    Here’s a short list of what Getty did wrong with this announcement:
    – force every photographer/image maker into it
    – pay zero for actual use
    – lack of communication to their photographers
    – offer up no value to the photographer for participating
    – have no way to tie back a sale to use of their ‘new platform’

    If I were Getty, I’d work my tail off to get a proper image gallery with DRM/license management setup for framework platforms like WordPress/Drupal/etc to make it easier to cache the image, display it properly, gather information on the use, and bring some value to the image creator, since that should be Getty’s primary business model.

  • dkdkjdakjdask

    this is not for the photographer.. getty cares sh*t about the photographer.
    for getty this is a FANTASTIC idea.. free advertisng with content they don´t have to pay for.
    they art like facebook, yahoo, google now…. placing ads on every site that uses their service.

  • c-dub-ya

    Wait, I’m confused about that last part of the article…

    How is it insidious for them to not share profits with you?

    If you are using the embed option where these terms apply then you are obviously using the image for free. If you don’t want the ads or if you want to profit from the use of the image then you simply need to license it. Traditional licensing is still an option, silly goose.

    I’m assuming that you have mistaken the cited portion of the terms of use to apply to the relationship between Getty and the photographer. But that language is directed towards the people who are embedding the images.

  • ramanauskas

    Could be an interesting test. Pull the pirate image from Getty and we’ll see what happens to the embed.

  • Daz

    screw that i am pulling my images as fast as i can, using our photographs for free to advertise their service like this is just not right. They are doing this to make more money if i don’t get any from that f them.

  • alex stuart

    They’re not monetizing it ~yet~, but inside words says they may be using it to sell data on; tracking the use of pictures of cats for example and where they’re popular so Hello Kitty knows where to advertise (a dumbed down example off the top of my head).

    You may not make as much money as the actual licenses, but I believe in the near future you will still be making some money. Also, try reverse image searching; you may find that your photos have already slipped out of getty and are being used by bloggers anyway…

  • Renato Murakami

    Interesting read, if not for anything else, only to make people realize that when you post a video on YouTube they are basically doing the exact same thing with it – only you still have some chances of monetizing over it.
    As controversial as Getty’s move might sound (and I do think that there should be at least some sort of option there), see that several services do exactly the same – it’s nothing really new.
    Embed codes are allowed (you still have a choice to disable it), sometimes attribution is almost invisible, they both collect information on readers and display ads. BUT you get some return for it, which is basically a small percentage of ad revenue.
    Others like Vimeo and Flickr(was), if I’m not mistaken, pay nothing for it, but it’s also your choice to allow it or not. And there are no ads.
    See that service going down or changing their policies on how those embeds display content is also valid for YouTube, Vimeo and whatnot. Twitter, Vine, etc etc.
    So yeah, it looks forceful as hell, but not everything is exactly new.
    A bit surprising though for Getty to pull a move like that in that way. I’m expecting lots of photographers to abandon the service being furious about it.
    It should at least have an opt-out option, which would still sound a little douchey to me.

    But I guess there will also be some people who will be ok with it. Honestly, it sounds like an official admission that no ammount of monitoring, complaining and litigation will stop some venues from stealing photos. And in the end of the day, the costs of going after cases are not worth it.
    With the embed code, at least there’s a way to maintain attribution, and use as further leverage when people really do intentionally steal photos and purposedly take watermarks and credits off – there’s a quick fix to it, and further proof when people were malicious about.

    It’s of course easy enough for me to make a cold judgement about it, since I’m not using it. But I think photographer who feel offended should quit it, and perhaps even join to take further action if they think it’s necessary. Because you know, if a big company does something like that, it could be the start of something… thankfully it seems the division of opinions on the photography community is big enough to support other services that goes against moves like that, but you know.

  • Eric Lefebvre

    People on Getty’ other properties are considering their options as well … right now this only affects Getty’s primary collection but people over at IStock are demanding answers and as usual are getting no information back.

    P.S.: Anyone know why Discus won’t let me log in on Peta Pixel … works fine on other sites but not here.

  • hapinessey

    Why use embed pictures? I’ve just right clicked on the picture of the pirate above and save it to my pc and it saved without the Getty or photographer attributions. So, both Getty and the photographer will get no attribution whatsoever.

  • Lonian John

    Yeah I don’t get it.