Getty, Magnum & Free Use

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the announcement by Getty Images that they are making 35 million of their images free to embed, un-watermarked, for “non-commercial use”. You can go to their web site for details of how to do this. You can’t just copy and use the images, but they have to be embedded using Getty’s code, which includes their logo and copyright, and the image attribution.

Not all Getty images can be embedded, though I think the 35 million is a pretty large chunk – probably over 70% of their images, at least in theory. Though I took a look through some of their images of London, thinking it might be nice to have an example here, clicked the <-> symbol to get the embed code, and was still waiting ten minutes later. I closed the pop-up and tried again on another image with the same result. Third time lucky it worked, and I did get some code. I was going to insert it into this post, but then I thought about it and decided not.

The embed code is an ‘iframe’ and its contents when you load the page would come from Getty – your web browser would sent a message to them giving your internet address and requesting a copy of the image – which would then be sent to your browser. Of course the same thing happens when you go to any web site, but I think there is a difference. You choose to come to this site – or to Google or Facebook – but you didn’t choose to go to Getty. And I’m not sure I should be responsible for giving them any information about you.

This site doesn’t use any of your information except to send you the site content – and of course any comments you choose to make if you have registered (a few get removed as spam but the rest are published.) For the moment at least I’ve decided to keep it that way.

My immediate thought on Getty’s action was that these aren’t really Getty’s images, but Getty photographer’s images, and Getty didn’t even have the courtesy to consult with its photographers before making this move.

However they do at least acknowledge the fact that the images are the photographers’:  in an interview with PDNPulse, Craig Peters from Getty stated . “This is their content, and if we generate any revenue from that content, we not only have the obligation, but we have every intent to share that revenue”.

He was talking about the possibility of using advertising in their embedded frame, which could be targeted on the basis of your IP address and the type of image you were looking at.  But I understand that Getty could actually market the information it gets without actually itself sending adverts, and it isn’t clear that they intend to share that revenue.

Although many photographers were horrified at the thought of images being shared for free, I was not so worried. I’m not so far as I know making any income from the use of my own images on non-commercial web sites, so I don’t feel I have anything to lose.

Getty may lose money, because it currently does a lot of legal bullying aimed at bloggers who use its images without permission  – enough as has been pointed out for there to be several pages on About.com giving some good advice to US bloggers about how to deal with their excessive claims, which with suitable changes apply in principle in other countries)  but few others are so greedy.  (In the PDNPulse interview Peters claims that Getty has “never pursued individuals for non-commercial use of our content” and never even sent them the letters that many appear to have received!)  But it seems clear they will still after anyone who uses their images without payment outside their embed, and when you click on the icon to get the embed code there is a message:

Embed this image
Copy this code to your website or blog. Learn more
Note: Embedded images may not be used for commercial purposes.

Clicking on the Learn more link gets to to a page with more information about the restrictions on using embedded images. I think the process makes it pretty clear to any users that they are not free to do what they like with images – they are ‘free’ in that there is no charge for use but it is clear that they are not free in any other sense.

The Getty approach does mean that embedded images will be attributed (or at least so long as Getty properly attributes them.)  It also provides an easy way for those images to be shared on Twitter or Tumblr or embedded elsewhere (again that didn’t work the only time I tried it.)  There is an article on DVAPhoto, Getty gives away 35 million photos and people don’t like it, which gives links to a number of different articles commenting on their decision.

Magnum are trying a slightly different approach, but are again making their images available more freely for non-commercial use.  In 2011 they decided to remove watermarks from images on their web sites, and have a liberal approach to individuals and bloggers using their images – available at 900 pixels wide – on non-commercial blogs.  Ideastap published the comments of two Magnum members on the issue:

Christopher Anderson: “If you want to download my pictures, please go ahead. As a photographer trying to reach an audience, [if there are lots of] bloggers who are interested in my photographs, that’s great. Do I want Time Magazine online to be using my pictures for free? No, of course not – that I want to control, as a copyright issue.”

Abbas: “At this AGM we decided to sue institutions who use our pictures but we decided collectively that individual blogs or [people] downloading the images for their own use is legitimate.”

On the BJP web site last year was an article Magnum Photos readies paid-for online membership platform, which explained their thinking about such uses. They hope to enrol bloggers who use their images in a  ‘Friends of Magnum’ community with a low annual subscription to legalise their position. Though it appears they are likely only to appeal to them to do so rather than threaten those who don’t with court action. It seems a good way to go about things and I hope it works.

I long ago decided that there was generally no point in going after non-commercial bloggers who used my images without consent – although I have got my images taken down from some unsuitable sites, either simply by complaining to the blog author, or, in a couple of cases by using DMCA. On some other sites I’ve simply pointed out the offence – and demanded proper attribution if it was absent.

As an individual, I usually respond positively to any requests to use my images on non-commercial web sites (except those that I find politically unpalatable), requesting proper attribution including either my web site address or a link back to the site.  Like Anderson I want people to see my work, and like him I expect payment for any commercial use – we can’t eat bylines.

I also ask people to use the images from my web site which include a discreet visible watermark with copyright and web site details, rather than those published elsewhere. It’s a little extra publicity that costs me nothing so long as it is not abused.

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