Getty Images Permitting (Sort of) Royalty-Free Image Embeds — What Does That Mean for Your Startup’s Website?

Getty Images is rather notorious both within and without the entrepreneurial community for its practice of sending cease-and-desist letters along with settlement demands ranging from hundreds to thousands of dollars backed by the threat of litigation — usually recipients are completely unaware that they may have been violating Getty’s copyrights. So Getty surprised the world last week when they announced that they would permit royalty-free embedding of a portion of its catalog. However, all is not what is seems, so don’t go pasting Getty Images’ stock photos all over your company’s site. In order to qualify for royalty-free use, you must use Getty’s embedding function and agree to their terms of use. A reading of those terms of use reveals downsides to the royalty-free use. First, the images may only be used for “editorial” purposes — relating to events that are news- or noteworthy. This means it cannot be used for commercial purposes, such as stock images on your startup’s website or other advertising materials. Even a personal blog where you discuss and promote your startup may be deemed to be commercial in nature. Second, the terms allow Getty to use tracking code in its embeds, so that they know not only who has used the image and where, but also who has viewed the image, where they’re from, what browser they use, and other analytics data. Not only does the code allow Getty to far more easily keep track of who uses its images (and much more easily target them if they use the images for a purpose outside the terms of use), but also gain analytics on a site’s viewers and users. Sites that use a Getty Images embed will have to decide whether they’re okay with Getty collecting this data, and if they are, update (or draft) their terms of service to notify their users. Third, Getty retains a significant amount of control over their images, which allows them to do a great many things. One, the images not only come with a watermark, but Getty is allowed to, at any later date, place advertisements or other revenue-generating features on the images, with no obligation to you. Getty can also remove the images from the embed program at any time and without notice, so users of Getty’s images may find one day that there’s a hole on their site. Finally, users of Getty’s embed program agree to terms such as indemnification and defense of Getty, at the user’s expense, for any claim arising out of the user’s use of images, agreement to arbitration in the State of Washington, and disclaimers of warranty by Getty in the event their images cause problems with your website. Given the numerous restrictions and terms placed by Getty on this program, it’s still good policy to simply avoid using their images altogether and stick with trusted public domain/Creative Commons stock photo programs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *