Getty Images: Now with More Evil
Getty Images used to be respected among photographers and businesses. Not only was it a place you could find high quality photographs for paid use, but it was a great place for commercial photographers to go. Not any more.
Fishing for Infringement
I have a friend – we’ll call him JD – who blogs for a living. He gets paid to increase a company’s online presence, by blogging about anything and everything. See, the trick to online traffic (the “Buzzfeed Method” is an apt name) is to put out a bunch of random, funny, feel-good “articles” – these aren’t usually articles, and the most popular are simply image slideshows – on the internet. Sprinkle them out over social networking and watch them take off in a viral fashion. The easiest (least time-consuming) way to do this is to recycle the same old stuff that’s already out there…images and all. But what poor JD didn’t know is that he was recycling a Getty Image. When JD got a letter in the mail demanding payment for illegal use of the image, my interest was piqued, so I decided to do some research into this.
First off, the image in question can be seen here.
Not exactly what you’d think of in terms of a Getty Image, but what the hell do I know.
So I go to Getty Images, just to confirm that it’s their image. Hours of searching yield nothing, so JD gives me the exact file name of the image, and lo and behold, there it is.
Using the keywords from the title, or even doing an advanced search for the image on the Getty Images website still yields nothing.
Now I do a google image search, and a boatload of other sites are using the same damn image – everyone from Yahoo to independent little bloggers scuttling in Getty’s shadow.
The price Getty demands, is nearly $1000. For a grainy, crappy photograph of two old people holding cats.
Now, I take photographs. And mine are just as grainy. And they’re just as worthless in terms of actual creative merit. But this isn’t about the art of photography, and it’s certainly not about protecting photographers, no matter how much Getty Images wants you to think it is.
Here’s the deal.
Getty Images is a business.
They want to make money. How do they do this? Originally, they found talented photographers and offered them copyright protection by selling images at decent prices for businesses and marketing firms. The only problem is, the profits were split 20/80 in Getty’s favor. So a lot of photographers are more than happy to go to other stock photography sites and sell their work there.
The new business model
With all the photographers leaving Getty Images, not to mention the fact that there’s only so much you can charge an advertising company to use a Magnum photograph, a new business model was needed.
The winning idea? Go around the web and buy up images, like terrible cat photos. Let some internet junk-mill like Buzzfeed spew it all over the web, and when independent bloggers start recycling the photos, jump in and demand ransom.
If people aren’t scared from the get-go about a quasi-legal-sounding letter from Getty’s Legal Department, there’s always the fear of courts and legal fees.
It’s genius, and evil.
Because Getty Images rarely goes to court over this kind of stuff. Nab the ones who are dumb enough to pay and just make sure stupid people continue to use stupid images.
The fallout from this? A lot of photographers, screwed out of profits, are migrating to new stock photography entities, while the blogging and design communities have become more and more vocal about the bogus strategy.
I’m not for copyright infringement. I’m really against it. What JD did was wrong. But once an image gets out there and can be viewed on so many websites, shouldn’t we just consider it public domain? This was, afterall, not the culmination of a world-renowned photographer who crawled his way through a war zone to capture the plight of humanity. This photo was taken decades ago. Why is anyone’s guess, but this certainly wasn’t a “professional” photo then, or now. It was at some point scanned to a computer, and over time made its way to the web, and after years of being looked over, started popping up in articles titled “Most Awkward Family Photos EVR.”
How did our panel of consultants react?
Like, whatever. JD used images without permission. What’s your site again? I want to put this photo on my Facebook.
So you’re telling me that for every nickle Getty makes, the original photographer gets a penny? Isn’t photography supposed to be easy? That’s what they told me when I bought my first DSLR last week.
Well, there you have it folks. The New Getty Images! Keep shooting.
And when you sell, make sure Getty gets its cut.