Getty Images Confronting Online Copyright Infringement
Getty Images is the world’s largest stock photo agency. Their vast collection contains more than 80 million images including, but not limited to historical, creative, sport, and editorial categories. The entire image portfolio is available to view on the company’s website, and each image was traditionally stamped with a transparent, yet noticeably distracting watermark. Thus, users were previously required to pay a licensing fee for the use of a watermark-free image. However, the company recently made a bulk of their collection available to the public for free. For these images, the watermark has been removed in exchange for a new embed feature, which “makes it easy, legal, and free” for users to share images from Getty’s collection for non-commercial use. The embed feature will generate an HTML code that will attach a credit and link to at the bottom of each image, using the same technology that is used by YouTube, Twitter, and other social media websites. The metadata will remain with the image, allowing the users to click the embedded image and be directed to Getty’s website to obtain more information on the photo or the photographer, or to license the image for a commercial purpose. There are now approximately 35 million free images that amateur bloggers and other users of social media can legally utilize.
It is uncertain what exact effect this change in the company’s business model will have. Getty’s images were admittedly “everywhere already,” since browsers could easily find an already paid-for image on the seemingly infinite resource that is the Internet, and purloin it for their own use through a simple method such as copy and paste. Tens of millions of Getty images have been shared illegally thus far, and the adoption of this new embed feature seems to be a “tacit acknowledgement that Getty cannot police the use of its images.” In an attempt to do so, the company acquired PicScout in 2011 hoping to track the illegally pirated images appearing online and protect their intellectual property. However, efforts to manage their digital assets proved futile. It is extremely difficult to effectuate legal remedies and provide notices of violation when there are too many infringements to account for.
Even with the new embed tool, it is easy for browsers to employ an unlicensed image by taking a screenshot of the new version and cropping out the credits that are affixed at the bottom. But the company hopes to bring in new revenue through the embed feature. Getty hopes that by providing users with an easy, legal, and free method to display images on their social media networks, they will opt to embed images from the company’s collection. This will consequently allow Getty to retain control over the images, for the company can use embeds to place advertisements or collect the user’s information. If Getty is successful in securing this future stream of revenue, the company says it will share the benefit with photographers, many of who were quite displeased at Getty’s decision to give away many of their works for free.