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Free Getty Images: What is Getty Giving & Getting in Return?

doc-sheldon
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There's been a lot of buzz about Getty's recent shift in policy regarding free use of their images for non-commercial use. There are a number of questions that we should consider when deciding where or not we want to take advantage of their generosity, though. Let's take a look at a few of those.

What are the Conditions?

There are a few sub-questions to look at here.

Availability

The new policy doesn't apply to all of their images, only some. When you select an image, you'll be able to see whether it's one that allows the free embed capability, by the presence of an embed code.

Embed Kitten Image

The above image is available for embedding. You can also tweet the image with a shortened URL or post it to Tumblr.

When you can't freely embed an image, no icons will be present:

Kitten and Fish Image No Embed Code

If that's the case, in order to use the image, you'll need to go through the process of qualifying your intended usage in order to get pricing (you may want to sit down, we're not talking pocket change). These prices for this embeddable image probably aren't all that different for a similar non-embeddable pic. The selected 300 dpi image is priced at $279 USD.

Getty Pricing for Kitten Pic

It's noteworthy that embed codes are available for all the sizes and resolutions offered.

Clicking on the embed icon will give you the necessary code to embed the image on your page.

Getty Embed Image Code

As you can see, the code is in an iframe, similar to what you'll see from YouTube. It links back to Getty, supplying them the attribution they're requiring. But what else does it provide them?

Popular wisdom used to preach that Google couldn't crawl and index iframes, but that has been proven not to be the case. The question of whether there is any link equity passed seems to still remain, as does the issue of which page might be the source of any equity. For our purposes, though, it's really a moot point and ultimately, that part is up to Google.

I'm sure some people will rebel at the idea of sending any of their hard-earned PageRank to Getty, but let's be real, folks: do you really think they need it?

Acceptable Use

Getty's terms state some surprisingly reasonable requirements:

Embedded Viewer

Where enabled, you may embed Getty Images Content on a website, blog or social media platform using the embedded viewer (the “Embedded Viewer”). Not all Getty Images Content will be available for embedded use, and availability may change without notice. Getty Images reserves the right in its sole discretion to remove Getty Images Content from the Embedded Viewer. Upon request, you agree to take prompt action to stop using the Embedded Viewer and/or Getty Images Content. 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.

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.

Since I don't look kindly upon Getty's previous predatory tactics in sending out thousands of legal threats, I immediately went to explore what new barbs might be hidden in their terms of service. I have to admit that I found no apparent risk.

Non-Commercial

I've seen some comments that intimated that if you have ads on your page, then it's commercial use. I totally disagree with that interpretation.

Commercial use would be determined by the use of the image. If the embedded image has nothing to do with the ads and doesn't relate to them in any fashion, but is only an independent part of a page that happens to have ads on it, there should be absolutely no issue.

In my opinion, a blogger should be able to use embeddable Getty images in a post, but a business couldn't use those free embeds on a page that offers a service.

From Google's Viewpoint

Depending upon how jaded you might be, you may be concerned about how Google will view the use of the iframe or the link contained in it. You may even be thinking ahead, "I'll just nofollow the link!"

Sorry, that's not an option. The rel="nofollow" attribute is pure HTML, and won't do you a bit of good in an iframe. There may be other options, such as robots.txt or a JavaScript document_write script, but you have to ask yourself a couple of questions:

  • Do you want to effectively block the entire page the image is embedded on? 
  • Do you want to block the bots from following for a valid reason or simply out of spite?

The bottom line seems to be that regardless how out-of-character it may be in light of their past practices, Getty seems to be making some of their images available for free, non-commercial use, applying some lenient conditions.

And I don't think we need to be concerned about Google considering Getty's site as a "bad neighborhood", either.

However, there's another possible twist to this, one that might affect Getty, rather than you. Might Google see this as a means of attracting links in exchange for "consideration"? That consideration being the free use of an image that normally costs several hundred dollars, sans the embed code.

Google doesn't make it a habit to employ stupid people (at least not for long). They know that Getty doesn't need the PageRank. They're just looking to get some traffic out of the deal. But the bottom line is, it's a "link" that's acquired in a way that can't readily have a nofollow attribute added to it.

If Getty can do this, then so can others. And if it passes PR, others will do it... a lot of others! So Google will have to squash it, one way or the other.

I see two likely outcomes: either they'll algorithmically negate the passage of PR, if any is even passed now, or they'll label the practice as unacceptable and in violation of their guidelines. My guess would be the former.

That would mean either penalizing Getty (for 8 or 9 days, commensurate with their size) or announcing to the world that "links" in iframes (and probably frames, as well) can't pass any equity.

Which, of course, raises a question: what about YouTube? Those embeds are in iframes, too!

True, they are. But is any link equity passed? (Gee, I hope so... I just knowYouTube would suffer tremendously if they lost all that link equity they get from my PR3 sites!)

I honestly don't know if there's any direct equity passed via an iframe or not. In fact, I doubt anyone outside Mountain View really knows for certain. In fact, technically, the source URL in an iframe isn't really a link, anyway.

The point is, if there's any possibility of abusing iframe embeds to accumulate juice, you know there's a lot of folks out there that would jump on it like a terrier on a rat. So whether it does now or not, I'm betting it won't be long before it'll stop being possible.

Bottom Line

With a TBPR of 8 (even their T&C page displays a 6), Getty doesn't need PageRank. They're the largest image site in the world... they're already healthy. What they're looking for is attribution and traffic.

Unless you're the sort to cut off your nose to spite your face, you suddenly have a huge selection of images available to you for appropriate use. Free. That's not a bad deal.

The last paragraph of the excerpted T&C above are worth remembering, too. They may decide to supply ads or "otherwise monetize" those embeds down the road.

I had no luck trying to find out if there had been a sudden change in leadership at Getty that might indicate whether this shift also reflects a difference in business philosophy.

One can only hope.


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