A world of images now, legally, at your fingertips

Around 35m images are now available for bloggers and social media users. These are images from the Getty and Agence France-Presse (AFP) libraries that cover major news and sports events, as well as news archives of key historical events.

The decision is one of “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Getty, like many other photography agencies, has a huge problem with unauthorised use and enforcing its copyright. Much of this copyright infringement, whether through malicious theft or through a misunderstanding of copyright law, comes from bloggers and social media.

Rather than trying to fight a losing battle, Getty is attempting to manage and monetise that problem.

This is not like traditional embeds

Media embeds are nothing new of course. With embedded videos from YouTube and audio from Soundcloud now common, the concept of embedding images won’t be particularly difficult.

However, what the service won’t do is provide bloggers and publishers with multiple versions of a particular image, such as a featured thumbnail. Instead, the image will only be visible in an iFrame.

This isn’t a problem with video, audio, or maps content, which is rarely used beyond the body of a blog post, and is itself, the focus of that content. With images however, it is a bigger consideration. The imagery used by bloggers tends to be a descriptive visual tease, designed to garner interest in the content prior to the ‘commitment of the click’ onto the post.

Thumbnails, feature imagery or RSS feeds related imagery are frequently used to entice readers into the content piece, but with Getty unable or unwilling to provide that content as ‘customisable’ for free, it still leaves publishers with some big holes in their creative arsenal.

“Not for commercial use”

Getty Images embeds are defined as ‘not for commercial use’, but the definition of this term seems somewhat loose.

The actual wording in the terms and conditions reads as:

You may only use embedded Getty Images Content for editorial purposes (meaning relating to events that are newsworthy or of public interest). Embedded Getty Images Content may not be used:

(a) for any commercial purpose (for example, in advertising, promotions or merchandising) or to suggest endorsement or sponsorship; 

(b) in violation of any stated restriction; 

(c) in a defamatory, pornographic or otherwise unlawful manner; or 

(d) outside of the context of the Embedded Viewer.”

In simple terms, if you are a technology blogger looking for images of Samsung’s latest model at the Mobile World Congress, you’re fine. If you’re a mobile phone retailer trying to sell Samsung’s latest model, then Getty embeds aren’t for you.

But with more and more brands producing editorial-esque content, how far does the notion of “not for commercial use” extend?

Getty has confirmed that hosting ads on your blog won’t exclude you from using the service and that bona fide news sites, ranging from anyone from local news blogs through to the BBC and New York Times, are open to use the service; although the agency believes that the latter will continue to use its core services.

There are still legal implications.

The opening up of Getty’s libraries could open the floodgates for bloggers, keen to enhance their blogs with professional shots from some of the world’s biggest events. But this isn’t the ‘golden ticket’ that, I fear, many may suspect.

Many football bloggers and fanzine owners will know what it is like to be on the sharp end of Football Data Co’s litigation department. The rights management company, which protects the commercial interests of the Premier League and Football League, is not shy in enforcing the rights over its content, with many bloggers receiving ‘cease and desist’ notices or invoices totalling several thousand pounds for using images or publishing their team’s fixtures without a licence.

Getty embeds might be free, but they won’t absolve football bloggers from the need to hold a Football Data Co licence to publish images from Premier League and Football League events. One suspects that rights management companies may start paying close attention to this development.

Expect more ads on your blog

Although such a system hasn’t been confirmed, it seems a certainty that Getty will seek to monetise this model through embedded advertising, in the same way that YouTube has pushed pre-roll advertising through its embed model.

That will inevitably compete with a blogger’s or publisher’s own advertising model and throw up various considerations from a user experience perspective.

And because Getty Images will control the content within these iFrames at any point, it means that they can pull an image at a moment’s notice. That leaves publishers open to having huge blocks of empty space or “media not found” messages littering their pages – something that they will have to keep on top of if they are to retain a positive user experience.