It feels like a good day when you wake up to the news that Getty Images is making 35 million images free to use. That’s nice… or is it?
The embedd tool is only will allow users to (WSJ)
..include images on websites, such as non-commercial WordPress blogs. The eligible images also come with buttons for Tumblr and Twitter, where a link to the image can be shared. (The image itself doesn’t appear on Twitter, however.)
The obvious question about this is the elusive term non-commercial – attempting to define what is and isn’t commercial is a minefield. But the real question here is one of control. Poynter, referring to the Verge, picks up this point in their reporting of the release. Getty is not giving something for nothing and what they will have is control. Previously images were used without clearing copyright but by providing easy embedding code users will be encouraged to use the images in the ways in which Getty desires.
The new money comes because, once the images are embedded, Getty has much more control over the images. The new embeds are built on the same iframe code that lets you embed a tweet or a YouTube video, which means the company can use embeds to plant ads or collect user information.
The terms of service makes the control pretty clear. Under termination they write:
Notwithstanding any of these Site Terms, Getty Images reserves the right, without notice and in its sole discretion, to terminate your account and/or to block your use of the Site.
If they don’t like you, you don’t get to use the images any more. If you have built up a following based on images they provide – and by doing this provide them with viewers/customers/revenue you still have no rights to use their images if they decide not to share with you any more. As they are embedded images they don’t even have to demand that you take the images down.
This is conditional freedom. This is not a gift but a conditional exchange where those who embed images become the advance marketers of Getty. We have all seen this, this is classic social media thinking. We should know by now:
If you are not paying for it, you are the product being sold. Or an unpaid part of the sales team.
Lets be clear. Getty images has the right to do what they please with these images. I have no problem with their approach. I just want to point out the difference between giving something away while keeping the right to take it back and giving something away.
Compare this with the 100s of millions (if not billions) of images available under Creative Commons licenses. Here the exchange is free and non-revokable. If I use an image that a photographer has licensed under CC. I can use that image forever.
Now this is a free lunch.