Getty makes millions of photos free for online use

Story highlights

NEW: Copying of Getty photos "spoke to an opportunity," VP says

NEW: Getty may make money, "but not their photographers," one photographer fears

Getty Images is allowing online noncommercial use of 35 million photos

The content-sharing service is walking a "thin line," analyst says

CNN  — 

Online photo archive Getty Images is opening 35 million images to online publishers to use free of charge, acknowledging that many of its pictures are already being copied anyway.

The company will allow “noncommercial” users such as bloggers and tweeters to embed its images using a code similar to what’s on sites such as YouTube. The image that appears will include a Getty photo credit and will be linked to the company’s website, where viewers can have the opportunity to license the photo.

“This will provide people with a simple and legal way to utilize content that respects creators’ rights, including the opportunity to generate licensing revenue,” Getty said in a statement announcing the move. The decision “opens one of the largest, deepest and most comprehensive image collections in the world for easy sharing, thereby making the world an even more visual place.”

Craig Peters, Getty’s senior vice president for business development, said Getty saw its content being copied online, and that “spoke to an opportunity.”

“The use of our content in these venues points to really the fact that people are excited to be sharing their ideas, their interests, their passions with our content,” he said. By giving users limited access to its imagery, he said, “We’re generating new brand awareness in this market.”

It also clarifies Getty’s insistence that any commercial use of the company’s images requires a paid license, possibly bringing in paying customers, Peters said. And it opens up the door to using the embed code to post advertising – a prospect already covered in Getty’s terms of use for the new venture.

“I think it’s a little premature to talk to a specific business model, but I think we can talk to specific benefits out of the gate,” Peters said.

Users will be able to choose from a universe of 35 million images out of the 150 million Getty has available for licensing to a wide variety of organizations, from advertising agencies to news outlets such as CNN. Embedded content must be used for “editorial purposes” – meaning events that are “newsworthy or of public interest” – and can’t be used for advertising, the terms state.