We all know that images are incredibly important in this day and age. When you’re constantly bombarded with information all day long, a bold image can stop you in your tracks and help you to focus on the associated content. 

In fact, this infographic from mdgadvertising has some great information about how important images are in social media, including this tidbit: 

Articles containing relevant images have 94 percent more total views than articles without images, on average."

We’ve talked time and time again here about how important it is to include relevant images in your blog posts, and many, many people do that regularly. 

Because of that, there is rampant copyright infringement happening all over the internet, either with people who don’t understand copyright law, or those who just don’t have the funds to purchase the rights to an image and are just hoping not to get caught.  As a photographer, I’m seeing my own photos pop up more and more for both commercial and noncommercial use, without my permission.

So in a significant move yesterday, Getty announced that they’d be opening up a portion of their images free of charge, through their new embedding feature. Many bloggers and social media connections started jumping for joy…but wait, is it all good news? 

I’m reserving judgment, for two big reasons – Getty reserves the right to include advertising at some future stage, and their definition of "noncommercial" use. 

This post from Joshua Benton (@jbenton) at the Nieman Journalism Lab does an excellent job of laying out both the benefits and the concerns in this new system. The only benefit that I really see here is that Getty will "allow 35 million of its images to be used for free for noncommercial purposes." Clearly that’s not an insignificant number of images, and all you have to do is use Getty’s embedding feature (which, it is anticipated, will work a lot like the embedding of a YouTube video does). 

That all sounds wonderful, but is it really? 

Future Advertising

Initially, the decision looks smart on Getty’s part – they recognize that their images are already being used (in violation, of course, but being used nonetheless) and to attempt to retain some relevance and branding, they’ll make it easier and legal for people to use a large number of their images. Sounds simple – users benefit because they have access to the images, and Getty benefits because the images remain housed on their site, and promote the Getty name.

But that’s not all Getty gets out of it. Benton calls this the "Trojan Horse" that’s included in this deal – according to Getty’s terms: 

Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetize its use without any compensation to you."

Ah, there it is. 

It’s been likened to the same type of ads that pop up on YouTube videos, which are not particularly obnoxious, but they’re not controlled by the author either. Picture this – right now, there are no ads. So you use Getty’s embedding tool to add images to your blog posts, which are repurposed on your firm’s website. Six months from now, Getty decides (as they’ve reserved the right to do, and will likely take advantage of) to start mining data from the embedded viewer and including ads – ads that now pop up on your blog and your firm’s website. 

Yes, they will be a part of the image, but no, you have no control over them. That may seem a manageable concern, but as legal marketer Brenda Christmas Marlowe shared: 

Can you imagine if other law firm ads started showing up on your site because of one of these ‘free’ images? I can just imagine the firms that would buy these ads to encroach on other firms."

That wouldn’t be good for our blogs, that’s for sure! It’s like the free blog hosts people use that have ads. No control over those."

Brenda makes an excellent point – are we then opening ourselves up to ads from competing law firms….on our own websites? 

It may or may not go that far – the key is that we just don’t know. Although you all know me as an early adopter, and I definitely am, even I am cautious about this one. 

Plus, let’s not ignore their mention of data collection through their embedded viewer – Getty isn’t clear as to who (other than "Getty or third parties acting on its behalf") would be mining this data and what data would be collected. They’re also not clear on how that data will subsequently be used, outside of it being a springboard for their ads. It’s a little too open-ended for me to be comfortable with it. 


My second (and maybe even larger) concern has to do with Getty’s definition of what is "noncommercial" use. According to their terms of service: 

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."

Okay, so that doesn’t sound too bad, right? But when Benton asked for some more information from Getty, this is what they were told (their emphasis, not Getty’s): 

Blogs that draw revenues from Google Ads will still be able to use the Getty Images embed player at no cost. ‘We would not consider this commercial use,’ says Peters. ‘The fact today that a website is generating revenue would not limit the use of the embed. What would limit that use is if they used our imagery to promote a service, a product or their business. They would need to get a license.’ A spokeswoman for Getty Images confirms to BJP that editorial websites, from The New York Times to Buzzfeed, will also be able to use the embed feature as long as images are used in an editorial context."

This, I don’t like. I’m not using Google Ads on either my blog or on our website, so I can overlook that part – that’s great that for smaller bloggers who do make money through Google Ads, they’re not going to be penalized by Getty.

But then, they say "What would limit that use is if they used our imagery to promote a service, a product or their business." Okay, so that would immediately knock out using Getty’s embedded images on our firm websites without a license. If your blog feeds into your firm’s website (as many do), you’d have to be careful to remove any images to avoid violating this definition of "noncommercial." 

And then, what about our blogs? As Brenda again points out: 

…our blogs for our firm provide educational/editorial content and are on WordPress. They do currently include our domain in their Web address, which is marketing hence commercial use for the firm. Can we use these images on our blog posts but not on our website according to the noncommercial rule?"

That’s not clear from Getty’s terms, or further comments from them. While there are thousands of blogs out there that are strictly written by individuals for their own benefit (maybe with Google Ads, maybe not), there are also thousands of blogs that are written as part of someone’s professional responsibilities (Zen, for example). Although I’m not getting paid through the blog, I’m linking through to our company website, mentioning my clients and our association regularly, giving an implicit endorsement of our member firms’ blogs by linking to them, etc. Does that qualify as "noncommercial" or "commercial" use? 

Nancy Myrland (@nancymyrland) asks further, 

Is the wording ‘commercial’ use, which they interpret as advertising, *their* word and restriction, vs. the profession’s, and does this mean to Getty that they do not want images used on sites that are involved in ecommerce, or do they mean any kind of promotion, which is very limiting?"

It’s unclear – and as a side note, the definition of "noncommercial" has always been a bit unclear. It’s not a broad enough definition for me as a blogger to be comfortable using it. And I’d think especially in the case of service providers like lawyers, there would be way too much temptation to say that they were promoting themselves and their legal services through their blog – even those posts that are strictly for educational purposes. 

Nancy adds to that 

We are, technically, writing these blog posts to draw attention to what we know, which can be defined as marketing and promotion, even though it’s not in-your-face."

That illustrates my exact concerns. It’s possible that Getty will adopt a broad interpretation of their terms, but it’s not clear that they will yet, because they haven’t put it into practice. 

So once again, I’m reserving judgment on how positive this change will be until I’ve seen where and how they enforce their definition of noncommercial. And that may take some time. 

Other Downsides

There are a couple of other downsides included in Benton’s post, which bear mentioning for the legal arena as well: 

  • There are holes in the collection: this won’t have an impact on most legal bloggers, but if you write regularly about current events, and like to include an editorial photo of a news item, there aren’t as many of those available as there are stock images. So you’ll be in the exact same boat as before. 
  • The embedding tool isn’t that great: The cynical side of me says that the reason for this is because Getty really wants to keep its paying customers in that category, and so creating a less than stellar embedding tool is one way to do that. (I mean, if you can get everything you need without paying for it, you would, wouldn’t you? So I understand this to a point). 

    This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Getty, because I understand why they would do it, but it *is* another concern for law firms and legal marketers in using the embedding tool – not just because it’s clunky on the back end, but because of these three reasons that Benton mentions: 

    • "The embed, by default, has no way to resize to different dimensions." That’s the clunky part on the back end that I mention above. I regularly resize my photos because although I see them as an important part of my posts, I also don’t want them taking over the post, or pushing the text over in a way that appears awkward. If it’s easier for me to do that using a paid stock image, I’m going to do that over using Getty’s tool every time. 
    • "The embed is not, by default, perfectly responsive." For me, this is a dealbreaker. These days, even if people look at your site on a desktop periodically, they’re mostly going to be viewing it on a mobile device. I use my phone almost exclusively as my RSS reader, and I’m going to be really annoyed if images aren’t adapting to the tool that I’m using when reading posts. So are your readers – and we know that we want to make a reader’s consumption of information through your blog as pleasant as possible to keep them coming back. 
    • "Being restricted to an embed means that the photo can’t travel with the post." In the example that Nieman gives, that means that you couldn’t use the embedded image as your "featured image" in WordPress for example. It’s very limiting. 
  • Cropping can still happen…easily: And by cropping, I mean cutting down the image to take out the copyright information. As Benton says: "The way the embeds are set up, it’s trivial to resize the iframe to eliminate the Getty Images credit and sharing tools at the bottom…I’m no lawyer, but I don’t even see how this violates the terms of service around embeds." As a photographer, that’s just scary.

The Long and the Short of It…

For me, the end result here is that I’m going to keep an eye on how things progress with Getty and their new embedding tool, but otherwise, it’s not going to change how I source and use images. I’ll continue to get my paid stock image through iStockPhoto (side note, they were actually purchased by Getty in 2006, so in some way, I *am* using Getty already). 

In the meantime though, I really like that this announcement has increased the level of conversation around the use of images online, and how we’re finding them. There are still a significant number of people who are regularly doing a Google search for a subject and then just right-clicking an image to save it to their desktop, before uploading it to their website – generally with no credit or links attached. 

If that’s something you’re doing as a blogger or website administrator (and even if you are adding in credit), you could be in for a nasty surprise. It’s important to educate yourself on what you can and cannot do when it comes to images, and consider going the paid route with stock photos or using the creative commons over at Flickr. 

Please feel free to continue the conversation in the comments – I’ve seen a lot of great insight already through my social media networks! 

Email this postTweet this postLike this postShare this post on LinkedIn
Photo of Lindsay Griffiths Lindsay Griffiths

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the…

Lindsay Griffiths is the International Lawyers Network’s Executive Director. She is a dynamic, influential international executive and marketing thought leader with a passion for relationship development and authoring impactful content. Griffiths is a driven, strategic leader who implements creative initiatives to achieve the goals of a global professional services network. She manages all major aspects of the Network, including recruitment, member retention, and providing exceptional client service to an international membership base.

In her role as Executive Director, Griffiths manages a mix of international programs, engages a diverse global community, and develops an international membership base. She leads the development and successful implementation of major organizational initiatives, manages interpersonal relationships, and possesses executive presence with audiences of internal and external stakeholders. Griffiths excels at project management, organization, and planning, writes and speaks with influence and authority, and works independently while demonstrating flexibility in thinking, especially in challenging situations. She also adapts to diverse and dynamic environments with constant assessment and recalibration.

JD Supra Readers Choice Top Author 2019

In 2021, the ILN was honored as Global Law Firm Network of the Year by The Lawyer European Awards, and in 2016, 2017, and 2022, they were shortlisted as Global Law Firm Network of the Year. Since 2011, the Network has been listed as a Chambers & Partners Leading Law Firm Network, recently increasing this ranking to be included in the top two percent of law firm networks globally, as well as adding two regional rankings. She was awarded “Thought Leader of the Year” by the Legal Marketing Association’s New York chapter in 2014 for her substantive contributions to the industry and was included in Clio’s list of “34 People in Legal You Should Follow on Twitter.” She was also chosen for the American Bar Association Journal’s inaugural Web 100‘s Best Law Blogs, where judge Ivy Grey said “This blog is outstanding, thoughtful, and useful.” Ms. Griffiths was chosen as a Top Author by JD Supra in their 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards, for the level of engagement and visibility she attained with readers on the topic of marketing & business development. She has been the author of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking since February 2009.