Concerns mount over Getty Images’ free-for-all

Representatives organisations around the world, including the American Society of Media Photographers and the National Press Photographers Association in the US, have condemned Getty Images' decision to offer 35 million images at no cost for all non-commercial uses

Olivier Laurent — 7 March 2014

On 05 March Getty Images launched an embed programme that will allow anyone to use 35 million of its images free for non-commercial purposes. The decision, taken to stop the widespread unauthorised use of images with attribution, has shaken the market, with independent photographers calling on Getty Images to rethink its strategy.

BJP has reached out to representative organisations around the world, with the American Society of Media Photographers expressing its unease .

“The ASMP, as always, is concerned for the long-term ability of photographers to earn a sustainable living,” says executive director Eugene Mopsik. “We embrace the idea of using new technologies to give publishers at all levels access to great imagery. We look to companies like Getty to use these technologies to create new income streams for photographers. We don’t expect the entire pie, just a fair and reasonable piece.

“Photographers create the visual heritage of our society including not only editorial images but also advertising, corporate, architecture, and sports – the significant moments of our lives. We need to ensure that photography remains a vital profession.”

Greg Smith, a national board member and business practices chairman at the National Press Photographers Association, agrees. “Getty Images has made noises about sharing revenues with photographers, and I think that’s the detail we need to watch,” he says. “We have to be cautious about this. When they talk about sharing revenues with photographers and you look at how they share revenues at iStockphoto, which is owned by Getty Images, I’m not that encouraged – 10 percent of a little bit doesn’t mean a lot to me.”

Visual literacy

While the NPPA welcomes Getty Images’ move to include photographers’ credits on all images, Smith says that’s not enough.

“As the saying goes, your mother cares about your credit. I’m not sure anyone else does,” he says. “It’s nice to have, it’s necessary and it’s part of the business, but it doesn’t help pays the bills. And that’s the bottom line that we face as photographers. We used to do something that was magical to the public, and now the magic is in everybody’s hands, which means that we’re not as valuable as we used to be. Of course, a good eye is still sought after as opposed to technical know-how.

“I’m hoping that as more imagery is available to more people, visual literacy rises. And as visual literacy rises, good photography will become more obvious to the average person and the value of it will rise. That last part has yet to be realised, and I don’t think that giving photographs away for free gets us any closer to that. But I could be wrong. As Getty points out quite rightly, images are regularly stolen. Many people don’t believe it’s theft. I would hope that this would get us closer to people understanding that there is value in images, that actual people own this stuff.”

Jeff Moore of the British Press Photographers’ Association calls Getty Images’ decision cynical but inevitable.

“Getty was one of the big agencies that was helping the creative industry in trying to make the internet work, making it pay, and they decided to go into the opposite direction,” he says. “I think we were starting to get the message out. Of course, we were never going to be able to convince everyone to stop right-clicking to pinch images, but this is a massively cynical move from Getty, and I imagine that Corbis and Alamy will do the same.”

Read BJP’s full coverage and find out more about Getty Images’ embed programme.