Getty’s Craig Peters on Why Free Images Are Good for Photographers, And for the Photo Industry

Following the announcement by Getty Images that the agency would be allowing non-commercial uses of its images free of charge, we interviewed Craig Peters, Senior Vice President of Business Development, Marketing at Content Images at Getty, to try and find out what the agency hopes to gain from this extraordinary decision.

As we reported today on PDNOnline,  Getty has released a new embed tool to make it easy for non-commercial users to share images from Getty on websites, blogs and social media channels. The new tool enables Getty to collect data on those users and and push ads through the embed viewer. We asked Peters how ad revenue will be shared, what this new business model means for the perceived value of images, and whether Getty is changing its position on enforcing copyrights on images.

(We used the image above for free, using Getty’s Embed tool)

PDN: Getty has various collections, from different sources. What images are excluded from this free usage initiative?
Craig Peters: It’s hard to give you a specific answer. The vast majority of images are in, [unless] we have restrictions from the photographer or copyright owner.

PDN: Are news and celebrity images available as soon as Getty uploads them?
CP: They’re made available as soon as they’re uploaded.

PDN: Why is Getty giving up on the idea of charging everyone–even small non-commercial users– for use of images?
CP: I don’t think we’re giving up on charging. I don’t think we’ve ever focused in on charging everyone. The vast majority of these individuals have never been customers of Getty Images [or] our industry. What we’re trying to do is broaden the industry. You have to find business models that address the needs of the individuals that you’re trying to get to use your content.

PDN: How does this grow your business? I know the press release says you’re using the embed tool to drive people to Getty for commercial licenses. But is advertising revenue a bigger part of this?
CP: I think it’s too early to speculate about how we’re going to monetize it, until we get a better understanding of the various uses, the types of content, etc. Certainly we reserve those rights [to push ads to viewers through the Embed display tool], but at this stage, we’re starting with: How do we provide a solution that consumers can take up, and utilize this content in a valid legal way, and a simple, easy way for the benefit of photographers.

PDN: How does this help photographers if the images they produce are available at no cost? How does this really help photographers?
CP: It helps photographers by re-attaching meta-data to images that are already being circulated. I’d say it provides awareness that content that’s used for commercial use does require a license. And ultimately, there are a lot of downstream opportunities associated with this, but it’s a bit early to [say what they are].
The trend is self-publishing, the trend is online sharing. You can either you can sit back and let the world pass you by, or you try to innovate and create the opportunity to increase benefit back to content providers.

PDN: How were Getty’s contributors informed, and what was their reaction?
CP: We’ve informed Getty contributors through a number of channels. I haven’t seen every reaction, but those I’ve talked with, or who have e-mailed me, have been incredibly positive.

PDN: If you generate ad revenues from this initiative, will you share that revenue with contributors?
CP: The answer is yes. This is their content, and if we generate any revenue from that content, we not only have the obligation, but we have every intent to share that revenue.

PDN: How might that be divvied up with contributors?
CP: We have contractual obligations back to our contributors that require us to pay certain royalty amounts to our contributors.

PDN: I want to press the question on copyright. The music industry has made strides in educating the public about the need to pay for music. Photographers and their trade groups have been working likewise to educate the public about paying for images. Does this initiative undermine those efforts? And if not, why not?
CP: I don’t think so at all. I think Getty Images is one of the largest factors of financial support of internet education that is ongoing within our industry around photos, and that’s not going to stop. In terms of undermining [copyright eduction]? No. I think as people start using Embed, versus right-click, it builds an awareness that that photo was in fact taken by somebody that is trying to earn a living from it. If you want to use it for commercial uses, or you want to use it outside the Embed player, you need a license. I think we’ll probably get more awareness and education through this Embed tool than many other efforts. So I don’t think they’re [copyright awareness and this initiative] in conflict at all.

PDN: This sends the message that images are free. Doesn’t that undermine peoples’ perception of the value of images?
CP: No. I don’t think it does at all. If that’s a position you take then I think we just disagree on it. I think I’ve just answered the question about why it doesn’t undermine the value of imagery. I think this is a completely new use of imagery, for a completely new set of customers that ultimately expands the business for us proactively, and that’s our view.

PDN: Let’s talk about how you’ve dealt with people in the past who have used images for these small uses. You were chasing them down for copyright infringement, weren’t you?
CP: When we found corporate customers using images for commercial uses, we pursued them, and we will continue to pursue them. But this is not that case. This is individuals using images for non-commercial reasons. And so, no, we haven’t pursued individuals in the past.

PDN: Did you send them letters? Did you just ignore them?
CP: We did not go after individuals for non-commercial use of our content.

PDN: You didn’t even send them letters?
CP: No, we didn’t.

PDN: What information do you have, if any, about the people typically using Getty images without payment, by right clicking and copying? And what percentage of those users do you think could be converted to paying customers at some point?
CP:  [Right-click theft] is happening on a wide-spread basis. What we know about this individual today is actually quite limited, because we aren’t actually serving the images, so we learn very little. But under Embed, we learn that [through data mining].
With respect to how many people are going to take this up? I don’t know. When you give people the opportunity to do something, in an easy, legal way, the vast majority of people [take advantage of it]. I’m not in a situation where I can make any predictions about what this is going to be. We certainly hope it can be big, and beneficial.

PDN: Big in terms of revenue generated?
CP: It starts with getting that footprint getting established, with people getting the attribution, getting the link back. So when I say big, I’m not necessarily talking about revenue.

PDN: You’re collecting data on Embed tool users. What kind of information, and are you using it to police the commercial uses?
CP: What data we’re collecting, I’m not in the position to go through that in exact detail.

PDN: So just to summarize, it sounds like you don’t know what will happen in terms of how successful this initiative will be in generating revenue.
CP: I think you’re putting words in my mouth. I think what you asked was specifically about and advertising model, what it would be, and how big would that be. What I said is, we think this is a big opportunity for Getty Images and our photographers to move into a new market. And we think we’re going to derive significant benefits from that, just starting with branding, attribution, and link back.
We think more people sharing and using imagery is a great thing, and we’re pretty content that for sharing images and imagery, we can find ways that can generate both benefit and revenue back to photographers.

Related:
Getty’s Free Image Program: New Revenue Model or a Surrender to Copyright Infringement?

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