Getty Images, the world’s largest stock photo service, has just announced a program licensing noncommercial use of many of its images free to bloggers, provided they use code the site provides to embed the image in a frame with credit below it, linking back to the original picture on the site. This means that noncommercial bloggers have a way to use Getty pictures legitimately, with actual permission. The Verge reports:
It’s a real risk for the company, since it’s easy to screenshot the new versions if you want to snag an unlicensed version. But according to Craig Peters, a business development exec at Getty Images, that ship sailed long ago. "Look, if you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply," he says. "The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there. And that’s what’s happening… Our content was everywhere already."
The program isn’t without a few glitches. When I went to the embed page and clicked the search link in the lower left, most of the pictures showed up without the embed icon below the thumbnail. I had to mouse over the picture, or double-click to get to its detail page, before I found the embed option.
And even when you find the embed option, you only get one way to embed the photo. You can’t request they shrink it to thumbnail format, which means it wouldn’t work so well with the way we embed images in our entries here at TeleRead. I could embed a picture at 400 x 674 resolution, but not as a 100 x 118 thumbnail. (Of course, since the images are meant for noncommercial use, I probably couldn’t permissibly embed one here anyway. The Getty support representative I chatted with wasn’t too clear about that, but the Nieman Journalism Lab has an explanation.)
Because the embeds are done via iframe code, it’s possible Getty could use the embeds in the future to show ads or collect user information.
The clear comparison is the music industry, which was hit hard by piracy in the ’90s and took decades to respond. "Before there was iTunes, before there was Spotify, people were put in that situation where they were basically forced to do the wrong thing, sharing files," Peters says. Now, if an aspiring producer wants to leak a song to the web but keep control of it, they can drop it on Soundcloud. Any blog can embed the player, and the artist can disable it whenever they want. And as Google has proved with YouTube, it’s easy to drop ads or "buy here" links into that embed. "We’ve seen what YouTube’s done with monetizing their embed capabilities," Peters says. "I don’t know if that’s going to be appropriate for us or not." But as long as the images are being taken as embeds rather than free-floating files, the company will have options.
One potential flaw is image rot: if the contract on an embedded image changes, the image could go away. But still, it’s better than no ability to use the image at all.
That being said, the use of even copyrighted images as thumbnails has been supported by appeals court rulings. As long as blogs stick to doing that, they’re probably safe.