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The real cost of Getty Images for your blog (hint: not free)

March 10, 2014

Singer Sara Evans performs at her CD release party at
Birmingham’s Iron City Thursday.

Getty Images announced Thursday that it would allow bloggers to embed its photos for free. No longer would we have to pay royalties (or, as happens too often, steal) to illustrate posts.

But is it really free? Not exactly.

It will cost us a little time. But not much.

Visit gettyimages.com. Search for your keywords, such as photos of Birmingham from the last 30 days. Copy the embed code and add it to your post. (Even WordPress.com users can embed the images quickly by using the code or the photo’s URL.)

That’s it: Image is in place, with photographer credit and link back to Getty. No watermarks, and sadly, no caption.

So we’ll need to spend a little extra time writing out a caption, as was done with the Sara Evans photo above. And bloggers who fuss over image size will spend even more time figuring out how to code it correctly. (Hint: Use the embed code.)

Embed from Getty Images

Birmingham’s skyline from Railroad Park

It will cost us privacy. Besides the auto-link back to Getty, the embed service is collecting data from each site using the photos. This is nothing new: Sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Google have monetized this data harvesting for a long time.

Are we OK with another site collecting data about us as publishers and our own audiences?

It will cost us fans. Speaking of our audiences, will they be turned off by more ads on our sites? These new embedded photos can also serve up ads someday, if Getty so chooses.

We already see this in both banner ads and pre-roll commercials on embedded YouTube videos. Dare we slave away on content only to make Getty richer or annoy readers or both?

Embed from Getty Images

The Club atop Red Mountain

It will cost us site integrity. The challenge with using embedded content that we don’t own is that it can disappear at any time without warning or replacement. That can leave holes where we originally had photos.

So this clip* from “It’s a Wonderful Life” …


… can end up a big black void, as has happened on my sites.

*Assuming in the future that visitors see the top clip intact and not, ironically, a second big black void.

Typically, I host images on my server so they can’t pull a disappearing act. Embedding cedes that perfect integrity to an outside party. (Nieman Journalism Lab notes other technical issues with the embed feature.)

It will cost us real dollars. Getty prohibits using its new program for “commercial purposes,” as stated on its help page:

Is there a fee for embedding a Getty Images photo on a website, social media site or blog?

No. You can embed a Getty Images photo on a website, social media site or blog for free and without having to buy a license, as long as the photo is not used for commercial purposes (meaning in an advertisement or in any way intended to sell a product, raise money, or promote or endorse something).

Similar language is used in the Terms of Use:

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.

So using the images in this post would constitute “editorial purposes,” and media outlets al.com and the New York Times could do so as well. (Bad news for photojournalists who will be cut for this cost-saving alternative.) Even sites that earn revenue from Google Ads would not be considered “commercial,” says Craig Peters, Getty’s senior vice president of business development, content and marketing.

In any case, bloggers should consult an attorney. Beware: Getty has earned its notorious reputation for copyright enforcement over the years, to the point of being called extortion.

Getty Images has given us a great resource: high-quality photography for our sites. But while it’s free to use, we should know the hidden costs before embedding these photos on our blogs.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2014 1:03 pm

    Don’t forget the price of regret from deciding to use photos like this: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/businessmen-with-their-heads-inside-metal-tubing-royalty-free-image/109350684

    • March 10, 2014 2:48 pm

      I prefer women laughing with salads, myself.

  2. March 18, 2014 9:24 pm

    Thanks for the great info. Wade. I thought it sounded too good to be true. Knowing this will certainly help us make better informed decisions.

    • March 18, 2014 11:07 pm

      You’re welcome! If you have time, be sure to check out the linked articles. I learned a lot from others about their takes on Getty’s program.

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