Photographers have hit out at picture agency giant Getty Images after it legalised the free use of tens of millions of images from its archives, for non-commercial use online.

For the first time, the public can embed 35 million Getty images – almost a quarter of its entire archive – on their websites, blogs and social media through an embed tool, at no cost.

Getty holds 150 million images in its archives.

The move, announced a fortnight ago, aims to give people a legal way to access image files from Getty’s massive picture library – without breaching copyright – to share on sites such as Twitter.

Embedded images will include photographer attribution and, when clicked, will link back to www.gettyimages.com, where the image can be licensed for commercial use.

Lisa Willmer, senior director at Getty Images’ corporate counsel unit, said the ‘sheer proliferation of content means [copyright] enforcement is not practical for non-commercial uses…’

Asked if it sends out the wrong message, Willmer told Amateur Photographer (AP): ‘We are acknowledging a content-sharing trend that already exists. This dynamic will not change; we can either treat it as a problem to police or consider potential solutions…’

She said photographers’ work will be seen in more places online with ‘proper attribution/awareness’.

‘Diminishes respect’ 

Photojournalist Jonathan Mitchell was among photographers condemning the move.

Mitchell, who edits the Atlas Photo Archive, branded Getty’s policy as the ‘corporatisation of photography’ and fears it will damage freelance photography and threaten photojournalism itself.

‘It further diminishes the respect and value in what we produce and emphasises to some that images are free… Why are big businesses allowed to dominate? It would not be allowed to happen in any 
other market.’

The National Union of Journalists’ Photographers’ Council said in a statement: ‘This can’t be anything but a negative thing for the individual creator, as it suggests to the marketplace that imagery 
has no value.’

Cautious welcome from RPS

The Royal Photographic Society (RPS) warns that ‘other stock libraries may struggle in the new environment’.

However, RPS director general Michael Pritchard said the Society ‘welcomes anything that promotes photography and makes it available provided it is being done legally, with the agreement of and credit to the image creators and without compromising their ability to commercialise their work.’

Speaking earlier this month, celebrity photographer Kevin Mazur said: ‘You have to adapt to survive. Evolving to embrace technology that encourages responsible image sharing is the way forward for the industry.’

Pritchard adds: ‘Images are already widely used without permission on the web and Getty’s embed tool may go some way toward converting this to legal use with the potential for photographers 
to subsequently license their work for their benefit.’

Getty says it reserves the right to place adverts next to the ‘Embedded Viewer’ (a platform used to view and access an image, for placement on websites, by copying its HTML computer code).

Getty added: ‘This will provide people with a simple and legal way to utilise content that respects creators’ rights, including the opportunity to generate licensing revenue.’

  • AP plans to run an in-depth article on this subject at a future date. If you would like to have a say, email the AP newsdesk at amateurphotographer@ipcmedia.com