Getty Images: the wider picture
You may have seen news reports over the last week – such as this one from the BBC – on Getty Images making a substantial chunk of its vast image library free-to-use on blogs and social media.
At first glance, this seems like great news for bloggers looking for quality images to accompany their posts. But as with most free lunches, you might want to read the fine print before you grab your knife and fork.
There’s no doubt that Getty provides a world-class collection of photographs – head over to Getty Images and search for any topic and you’re bound to find something useful. Previously you’d have to pay or negotiate for the right to use them but, as Getty themselves note in the BBC report, the internet provides a variety of easy ways to bypass this step – quite possibly without realising you’re doing so. You saw an image on a website, you liked it, you saved it to your hard drive and used it in your next blog post – this happens all day, every day around the internet. The image might well be one of Getty’s, but perhaps you saved it from a site that found it on another site that saved it from a 2005 blog post that copied it from a news report – any mention of Getty long since discarded. Getty could discover it and ask you to remove it, but there are only so many hours in the day and Getty probably has other things to be getting on with.
So it makes sense for Getty to bend with the wind and offer a legitimate route to their content for those who are likely to use it regardless. The photographers responsible for the image don’t all agree, but I’m not particularly interested in that debate here – I’m interested in what happens when you decide to use a free Getty image on your blog.
And that’s where it gets interesting, because Getty is offering this service via its new embed tool – if the image you want to use is available for free use, you click an icon and receive a snippet of code to paste into your blog post. And the image appears, and the job is done. But ah, you say, your 360 words of preamble lead me to assume there’s a catch. Is there a catch?
There may be a catch. What the embed tool does is place an iframe in your blog post, which is basically a little web page within a web page. The contents of the iframe come from Getty’s own servers and, in its examples, consist of the image, the Getty Images logo, attribution text for the photo and some social media buttons. Let’s embed an image right now and see it in action with an image that just screams ‘research’:
That all seems reasonable – you get the image and the creators get the credit. The issue here is that Getty has complete control over what appears in the image iframe, which means it can change the content at any time. Sure enough, dig into the terms and conditions for the service and you’ll find this:
Getty Images reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove Getty Images Content from the Embedded Viewer. […] 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 monetise its use without any compensation to you.
– meaning it’s possible that in a year’s time the hundreds of Getty images you’ve used in your blog might suddenly sprout adverts or, indeed, simply disappear, and your only options will be to put up with it or find hundreds of replacements.
That’s Getty’s business plan and, in fairness, Getty is a business. If you’re interested in using this service then you need to make a judgement call on Getty’s future good behaviour.
If your goal is longevity it’s safer to control the content yourself, which means uploading a copy of each image to your blog rather than relying on Getty or anyone else to provide it. You can’t do this with Getty’s images, unless you’re prepared to licence them, but there are a great many sources for images that are free to use in this way using Creative Commons or public domain licences.
A good place to find such images is the Creative Commons search tool. This helps you search across a number of large image libraries such as Google Images, Wikimedia Commons and Flickr, filtering the results to show freely-licensed images. For a good idea of the quality of these images, take a look at the Featured Pictures section of Wikimedia Commons. Wikimedia will also generate attribution text for the image, which is likely to be a condition of use. So, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, let’s have some more exciting research action:
Conclusion: Getty’s support for free use of images is an interesting move, but you should consider whether the terms and conditions are compatible with your long-term goals. If you’re blogging for the ages, Creative Commons images may be a more suitable choice.