In the last few weeks one of the largest stock photo libraries online, Getty Images, announced that it will make up to 35 million of its pictures freely available to the public. But what does this mean and what impact will it have?

Traditionally, Getty Images has used a watermark and Digital Asset Management measures on all their images to ensure they are not used without the appropriate licence, which would involve paying a royalty each month. However, this hasn’t stopped some images being leaked online without the watermark and Getty has built up a reputation for strictly enforcing their intellectual property rights in their images when such licenses are not purchased or the watermark isn’t used (which is an infringement of Getty’s copyright, making the infringer liable to pay damages for its use). We have received many enquiries over the years from such aggrieved parties who have used images found online without realising the copyright implications and have later received an angry letter from Getty demanding thousands of pounds.

But, from 6th March, Getty removed the licence fee from certain images. So, why the change of heart?

Getty has stated that it decided to make the pictures available after it realised that thousands of their images were being used without their permission and without any attribution. Some have argued that it is admitting defeat in their attempt to police the entirety of the internet (if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em) while others have suggested Getty are starting a revolution in copyright by allowing individuals to use images freely.

So, is this really a revolution in copyright?

Before we jump to any conclusions, it is worth pointing out that the images can only be freely used in blogs and on social media websites, and clearly therefore this notion of freedom is very limited. Any commercial use will still require a licence and therefore, of course, payment!

Further, use of the images on blogs and in social media requires the individual publishing the image to link the photos back to Getty’s website, including a Getty Images logo and a credit to the photographer, using Getty’s embed tool. Getty will ensure that every image used will be attributed to them. It is a calculated gamble to take a hit on the licence fee, rather than risk unauthorised use and the associated costs of enforcement. The link back to the Getty website will allow an individual to purchase a licence, should they wish to use the image commercially or without accreditation.

But what about corporate blogs, such as ours? Getty has stated that generally corporate blogs would be treated as editorial and non-commercial unless images are being used to directly sell or promote their products, services and business. It remains unclear where this distinction lies in practice and what use would be deemed to be acceptable, but we will endeavor to update you with any developments in relation to this point, as and when they arise.

To surmise, perhaps this is not the revolution in copyright that it may have initially appeared to be, but rather evidence of a business responding and adapting to the changing modern culture with simple commercial pragmatism. Either way, at least our (editorial/non-commercial) blogs will be prettier!