Getty Images lets you use 35 million photos for free

Getty Images new embed tool

Getty Images new embed tool. Photo: Getty Images

Photo giant Getty Images just drastically changed how they are doing business.  The company announced yesterday that starting immediately 35 million of their images can be embedded on websites and blogs for free.

For Getty, who up to now vigorously defended their intellectual property (while sometimes not being too good about respecting other’s), this is nothing short of being revolutionary: instead of trying to limit the sharing culture that is currently part of the digital landscape, they are trying to  channel and monetize it, without quite embracing it.

How it works

When you go on the Getty website and do an image search you will find many images that contain an embed option. You can then paste that code into your website or blog, pretty much identical to what you are already doing with YouTube videos or Slideshare presentations.

Here is an example of a photo:

Please note: This photo would cost me more than 900 USD if I wanted to license it for this website for three years.


There are a couple of limitations on how you can use these photos:

  • You cannot use them in print products.
  • You are also not allowed to use them for commercial purposes, which of course is good news for nonprofits, NGOs and humanitarian organizations.
  • You cannot use them “outside them embed”. This means, for example, that while I can use the photo on this page, I cannot use it as a teaser image because then I’d have to save and upload the photo to my website’s CMS (WordPress). It also makes it difficult to write captions for the images.
  • You can only use them in an “editorial context”.
  • Getty can remove images without notice.

Looking through their image stock, I found that many of the images of their partner agencies are not embeddable. AFP and National Geographic photos for example don’t seem to be part of this new initiative (you can remove them from your results through the “advanced search menu”).

Why they are doing it

In interviews, Getty spokespersons freely admitted that the company took this step in part because they simply had to accept the reality, which is that their photos are being used anyhow with or without their permission. By embracing some forms of use and controlling the way photos are shared, they are increasing their control and since every image links back to Getty, the company is hoping that once every while people will want to buy a photo. I think it’s a very clever move by Getty to turn what was copyright theft into a free advertising channel for their products.

The bottom line for nonprofit and NGO websites is: we now have one more source for photos that we can use for free.

Courageous or desperate or both – what do you think of Getty’s new initiative? Tell me in the comments!