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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.