Getty Images’ Gamble: Will It Affect Internet Marketing Agencies?

April 25 / Eliot Olson / filed under Internet Marketing

Back in March, Getty Images made some serious waves among those who surf the net by announcing that their vast photo library, stretching back over 100 years, would be made available free to use without a watermark. In exchange for this watermark-free image, customers will simply have to embed the photo (a process that will add a footer with proper accreditation and a link to licensing information). This move may not provide free high-quality stock photos for all, but at first glance it seems pretty close.


Why Did Getty Do This?

The rationale behind the decision was that Getty’s images were already all over the web, and by making it easier for people to legally use them, they could potentially begin to curb the rampant illegal use that has become commonplace. This new strategy is a big gamble for Getty Images, but they claim that with their content already available everywhere online, something radical needed to be done. This new approach is similar to the music industry’s embrace of streaming services like Spotify & Rdio in order to curb music piracy (a move some consider to be nothing more than rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic), except Getty is hoping to embrace new technology before piracy can cripple their business model.


Can Anyone Embed Photos Under The New Getty System?

This announcement was a big deal at the time, but at Chair 10 Marketing we were wary of how this would play out in practice for Internet marketing agencies. Getty’s initial announcement stated that the images could be embedded on blogs and social media, but commercial use was still prohibited. As an agency, we blog and create social media content for our clients all the time, so this placed our work in a gray area. What defines a commercial blog? Is it any blog hosted on a company website? Does the blog post have to specifically advertise client services to be considered “commercial”? In order to clarify exactly where Getty draws the line that separates commercial from personal and ensure that we aren’t breaking any rules on our client’s behalf, I reached out to a Getty representative.


So What Does This Mean for Internet Marketing Agencies?

After reaching out for clarification, I found that Internet marketing agencies must still walk a very fine line in order to use embedded images from Getty. Their photos, embedded or not, can still only be used for non-commercial purposes. In practice, the Getty representative explained that this means an agency could only use them on a blog post for a client if the name of the company wasn’t featured at any point in the post. Once we mention the name of the company (i.e. “Give us a call at Joe’s Roofing Company today to explore options for your new roof!”), the inclusion of any Getty image in the blog post becomes “commercial and/or advertising use.” This rule still applies even if the name of the company is simply included as an aside at the bottom of the post, and the fines for violating it can be hefty. For SEO, marketing, and branding purposes, agencies will often need to include their client’s name in online content such as blog posts and articles. Because of this, the new Getty Images policy is unlikely to revolutionize the free stock photography game for Internet marketing agencies the way it initially seemed!


Where Can I Find Free Images Licensed For Commercial Use?

Luckily, there are many other options for agencies that need free images to spruce up their online content:

  • Creative Commons – Creative Commons is a great place to search for images, especially because the platform is simple to use and there is less ambiguity about the rules of use than in other places. With Creative Commons, you need to follow the rules for use on a photo-by-photo basis. You will often be required to credit the photographer.
  • Google/Bing Image search – This is a simple way to find images, and you can adjust the search parameters for the type of use restrictions as needed. Keep in mind that because these search engines pull from all over the web, the output can occasionally be amateur/low-quality.
  • Img Embed (source for the above photo) – This option has an embedding functionality that is similar to the new Getty platform, though it’s open for commercial and non-commercial use up to 10k impressions. It obviously depends on the size of the client, but for small businesses the 10k limit should be fine unless you write a blog post that goes #viral.
  • Pixabay – This option doesn’t rely on embeds, and everything is licensed for commercial use. Sometimes there will be watermarks or photographer credits along the top or bottom of the photo, but it’s tough to complain when the price is free ninety-nine. Pixabay is especially great if you need simple animated clip art or other stock images, especially because they allow you to download, edit, and resize images without restriction.



While this Getty Images policy change is great news for bloggers and social media aficionados who want to spruce up their online content with high-quality photography, there just aren’t many situations where an Internet marketing agency will be able to legally take advantage of Getty’s newly relaxed image embed policy. When it comes to copyrighted material, it is often best to save yourself from a potential headache and stick with Creative Commons or the other options listed above.


For your personal blog, on the other hand? Go ahead and get your Getty on.



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