rules of the internet

Getty Liberates Millions of Images Because You Guys Are Gonna Keep Stealing Them Anyway

Now you can embed them like YouTube videos, and it's LEGAL.

We used our subscription to get this one — we couldn't get our text to wrap around the embedded image. (Getty)

We used our subscription to get this one. (Getty)

In high school, our health teachers always said stuff like, “We know we can’t stop you from drinking, so here’s how to do it safely and not die.” 

Getty Images has just implemented a similar strategy, in a way; they knew people were going to find ways to use their images without paying, so they’ve just made it possible for anyone to use a bunch of their images for free — and without committing copyright infringement. 

Still, the process of using one of the free images isn’t totally seamless. Users will have to use Getty’s embed code, which makes it harder to align photos to fit your publication’s standards. And you can’t get around using that embed code, because when the photos are enlarged, they bear a watermark — so you can’t just right click and save.

Starting today, Getty has made 35 million images free — and legal — for any old Joe Shmo to use, the British Journal of Photography reports. Now, similar to the way in which you might embed a YouTube video, Getty users will be able to embed their desired image in a special Getty image player, which will include the image’s copyright information, and link back to the image’s licensing page on Getty’s website.

“What we’ve seen is a significant amount of infringement online in an area, unfortunately, that we can’t control because this is how the Internet has developed,” Craig Peters, Getty’s senior vice president of business development, content and marketing, told the BJP. “What we’re trying to do here is to put a legal method in place for that to happen and that actually benefits our content owners.”

The only limitation on the free embedding is that you can’t use the images in a commercial situation, so no, you can’t use that quirky pic of Zooey Deschanel to advertise your vintage clothing store on Etsy. You’d need to get a license for that. We foresee it being potentially confusing, however, to determine whether a situation is “commercial” or not; as Bloomberg Businessweek points out in an article about Getty’s announcement, “In an Internet chock-full of self-promotion, obscurity can turn into fame in a matter of moments. What happens when an individual’s personal brand—or blog—becomes a business in and of itself? Unclear.”

A Getty Images spokesperson told the BJP that the free embedding will be open to editorial websites “from The New York Times to Buzzfeed,” as long as the images are used in an editorial context and not, we assume, in a sponsored post. That begs the question: will journalism sites and other blogs keep paying for Getty subscriptions? 

Getty believes the new system will still make money. For one, the embedded images will link back to the images’ licensing pages, so it’ll be easy for people to find out how to pay to use the images in commercial settings, if they wish to do so. Second, the new system will draw in revenue through ads, just like YouTube makes money by forcing you to sit through dumb commercials before you get to watch your fave cat video. Getty reportedly still doesn’t know how the ads will appear.

It’s hard to predict how this will all play out. Even though the images are now free to use, will lazy people be willing to go to the Getty website, find an image and copy and paste the embed code? Or will they still just copy and paste pictures straight out of their Google Image results? We also have to assume there are a ton of copyright neophytes stealing Getty’s pictures, who don’t even know what Getty Images is — they’d never know to go to Getty’s website and find a photo’s embed code. 

Additionally, the embed codes are kind of annoying to use. As we discovered while formatting this post, it’s hard to manipulate the embed code to have your text wrap around the image. We could only succeed at getting ours (see below) to center itself on its own line. That’s inconvenient enough for us to keep our existing Getty subscription, tbh.

It’s sad that Getty can’t just convince everyone to pay for a subscription, but — as the company itself recognizes — we live in a time when it’s really freaking hard to get people to pay for content on the Internet. We guess it’s better to legally give your goods away for free than have people constantly stealing your stuff.

Here’s what an embedded Getty Images photo looks like, featuring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt:

Follow Jordyn Taylor on Twitter or via RSS. jtaylor@observer.com