Getty Images go for free (unless you're content marketing)

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One of the planet’s biggest proprietors of images has just announced part of the copyright protecting millions upon millions of stock photos from being used without payment has just been removed. And, although this doesn’t seem particularly relevant to a public relations agency, or its clients, we beg to disagree.
So today, in some ways, a very small piece of media rights history has been made, which should have bloggers of the world united in celebration. Getty Images, as this page title suggests, has taken off all watermarks and abandoned some legal protection for parts of its online picture library, making photographs available for anyone to embed into their web content. That is providing they stick to the non-commercial agreement, which, as with Creative Commons licensed stock, basically means the images cannot be used for any purpose that can be seen to make money for the person or organisation using the pictures.
Needless to say then, the Smoking Gun PR blog can’t exploit this newfound wealth of visual resources, and nor can any company blogging for business as part of a content marketing strategy. In many instances, even successful blogs are maintained at a financial loss (the blog itself doesn’t make any money back), but the nature of business blogging and content marketing means that this type of usage would still come under the term ‘commercial’. The image has, after all, been used in the hope of bringing in more web visitors and converting some of those into customers.
Of course we’re not complaining about being left in the cold. If our team, or any other company turning a profit, needs an image there should be budget enough to pay for rights and give the photographer what they deserve. But the question is, where does the amateur line end, and the commercial realm begin?
Well, in actual fact there’s no real mystery. Like everything else in the land there are laws that govern how terms like this should be applied. To employ a helpful example, a journalist doing pro-bono work would be prevented from using Getty’s non-commercially free stock because the work produced would be a form of content marketing- they’re showing their writing skills, extending their contacts and affiliations, exemplifying how they can source effective images, and showcasing an ability to present the piece on a half-decent looking web page. All things magazines, newspapers and websites look for when hiring and as such using a Getty image in this instance would be akin to slapping a licensed photo onto a paid for ad campaign without permission.
Things become more complex when you look at the world of non-professional bloggers. Even those with an unrelated full time job may well sell a little advertising space on their domain once the monthly hit count and readership reaches a certain level. That means everything stored on the domain has counted towards the sale of space, and the resulting monetary gains- however small they may be. Taking this into account, again it wouldn’t be within the non-commercial agreement to use Getty’s free stock. The problem being that many bloggers- with or without an income from their writing- have little understanding of the specifics when it comes to media rights and copyright law. Needless to say then, whilst this is a very generous offer on the part of the picture-buying giant, if you have an outlet that could benefit from professional photography it’s wise to consider the small print, in full, before clicking to download.