Getty Images are now “free” to embed, but they are awful

I read an article on The Verge this evening about how Getty Images have made their images freely embeddable. The photo above of Matt Mullenweg is an example.

Getty Images is dropping the watermark for the bulk of its collection, in exchange for an open-embed program that will let users drop in any image they want, as long as the service gets to append a footer at the bottom of the picture with a credit and link to the licensing page. For a small-scale WordPress blog with no photo budget, this looks an awful lot like free stock imagery.

Nice shout-out to “small-scale WordPress” blogs. I guess like the one Time just launched to run their entire website. </tinyrant>

Anyway, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by this move from Getty.

The implementation stinks

For one, the implementation is hideous. They call it striking “directly at social sharing.” I call it supremely ugly.

From the overly pronounced Getty logo, to the confusing </> embed icon, to the iframes for Twitter and Tumblr within the Getty iframe (yo dawg, we got iframes for your iframes), the whole thing just stinks. And the image itself permalinks to Getty’s website, of course.

And yeah, it’s not responsive. Somebody needs to get fit-images on this, quick.

All of these things on top of the part where we’re assuming these would actually be easy to implement in WordPress. It’s an iframe. It doesn’t have oEmbed support, so you actually have to drop the iframe code where you want to use it. And forget using these as featured images. These are about as perfect a fit for WordPress as reading an embedded PDF on a website as far as I can tell (hint: I don’t particularly enjoy that experience).

Pay to play, or steal for free

As The Verge author notes, people have been stealing Getty images for years. You can get them royalty free with no watermark off any basic Google image search. And I agree that’s lame. I want photographers to be valued for their work, just as I like to be valued for mine.

Most people (myself included) would probably be willing to pay reasonable fees or give credit if it’s easy to do so. Unfortunately the price to use Getty images would take up most of this site’s, and I’m assuming many other small publications’, budgets just using a handful per month.

What Getty is going after here is data

With the iframe setup, they can keep track of all sorts of user data. They can insert ads; they can meter payments to photographers based on embed stats; they can do a lot of things.

From a business perspective, Getty wins with this move. That data and the potential for ad placement is way better than endlessly struggling with stolen images.

There must be a better way

I think Getty’s idea is good, but their implementation just makes the web worse.

Surely there is a way to let people use their images where both parties benefit, without these gross iframes.

One method that comes to mind would be an Amazon Web Services (AWS) style asset delivery system. In other words, Getty’s website could allow registered members to hotlink their images, and then police the domains the images are allowed on by comparing their server logs to their customer database.

Customers could be charged based on usage, just like AWS or other CDN providers do. But in the case of Getty, the images are preset, with higher usage rates to pay for the photographer’s work. We can call it the Spotification of photos.

That idea came to me based on about five minutes of thought, and could have tons of holes or problems, but surely — surely! — there is something better than what Getty rolled out today.

PS: I still had to screenshot that iframe (probably not allowed) just so when you lovely readers share this post on Twitter and Facebook, there’s an image associated. Yeah, implementation fail, Getty.


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  1. I like your rant about small-scale WP blogs, and the frames within the frames. But the main issue really comes down to the iframe embedding: WordPress self-hosted sites may be able to work around that if the site owner knows how, but anyone on needs a shortcode at the very least. So yeah, small-scale WP blogs won’t be jumping on board any time soon.

  2. I wouldn’t touch one of these “free” Getty Images embeds with a 10-foot pole. What it comes down to, from a legal standpoint, is how they define “noncommercial.”

    Would Post Status be considered noncommercial when they have a clearly designated commercial sponsor?

    I’d strongly encourage everyone to do a Google search for “getty images settlement demand letter” before ever considering embedding these on any site you control.

    The article on BusinessWeek gets more into this.

    Time will tell if they start using the same strategy for this iframe thing (which makes it way easier to track your usage, by the way), but I wouldn’t take the risk.

    There are plenty of places to find royalty-free images without the risk of the threat of getting sued by Getty.

  3. I have just released a plugin last week to make it easy to grab creative commons images from Flickr and insert them into posts or set a featured image. See here:

    Granted CC images on Flickr are a mixed bag but for most searches there are a few pearls among the results and they don’t have the disadvantages of using Getty. I also plan to add a few other sources of CC images to WP Inject in the future.

    1. You might want to consider a different name for your plugin. It seems like a cool idea, but WP Inject makes me think of nothing but unpleasant things. SQL Injections… spam injections…. flu injections….

      Just my .02

  4. Are they really that awful? How is it any different from embedding a YouTube video? I find it tough to be underwhelmed with 35 million more images available to bloggers.

    For what it’s worth, their definition of noncommercial is actually far more lax than Creative Commons. Check out Nieman Lab’s explanation.

    I think it’s possible Getty ends up being an oEmbed provider in 3.9.

    1. I read Josh’s post after I published mine. I really don’t think we’re that far apart.

      Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of opening these photos up legally. I just don’t like the implementation.

      And I think it is different from a Youtube video. Primarily because video is more of a known thing. And I think with images, there were other (better imo) options than the iframe.

      I think the Getty implementation could improve to something that would be quite useful. Dump the social icons. Simplify the logo. Permalink the logo but not the image. There’s still the responsive problem, but that would do a whole lot to make it less ugly.

      And as I note, people should still know what they are getting into – and that Getty can start monetizing these, inserting ads, and more.

  5. 5 Awful Problems With Getty Imagesโ€™ New Embed Code

    1) Resizable images: The inability to resize images is a big goof on Gettyโ€™s part. A one-size-fits-all image isnโ€™t practical for users of this service. For one, some of the images take up just too much real estate when an image half the size would do best.

    2) Unresponsive: Today, a responsive website is all the rage since we are now all viewing sites on various types of devices โ€“ from iPhones to iPads. So Getty, get with the program.

    3) Wraparound text: Although this is an easy fix if you know how to change your CSS on WP or implement your own short code, Getty should know better than to offer an embed code without offering instructions on how to wrap text around their images as most bloggers inexperienced with coding will be scratching their heads for days trying to figure this one out.

    4) Thumbnails: Getty Images wonโ€™t allow one to retrieve a thumbnail image from the embedded photo which just sucks the bone. How about all those blogs โ€“ and there are thousands โ€“ who list there blog entries on a single page so browsers can search for the posts that interest them most. Unfortunately, many of those posts wonโ€™t display an image if youโ€™re now using Getty Images. Again, get with the program Getty!

    5) Branding: While I recognize the need to attribute the photoโ€™s origin, please tone it down a bit. Something more subtle would be alot more welcome.

    And honorable mention: Ads: Ads? Although ads arenโ€™t yet displaying on these embeddable images, I hear itโ€™s not too far out in the offing. If this happens, then youโ€™ll see a race to the exits for most bloggers including moi.

  6. My concern is a) it is basically giving content away for free, which is a calculated move by Getty to drive their competition out of business, and b) photographers aren’t getting much out of this. The middle man on the other hand is doing very very well.

  7. And what if they decide to reverse course on this decision? My site ends up with a bunch of white squares all over the place. It’s kind of like putting in a 3rd party URL as the “src”. In all likelihood, you’ll end up with broken images in the not-so-distant future.

    I’m going to stick with searching Flickr for Creative Commons licensed images, uploading them, and posting a more subtle attribution link.

  8. The plugin seems to be a different thing (?)…

    It hooks into your existing Getty Images account and if you aren’t already a user, your licensing disappears at the end of the 30 day trial. From that review/support thread:

    The intended user of the plugin is an Getty Images account holder. In order to use imagery from the WordPress plugin, you will need a Getty Images account and agreement.

    There’s no mention in the plugin about the iframe/embed thing, so this looks like it’s specifically targeting Getty users (which seems to be a pretty small percentage of .org users considering the total downloads since January is 614). I’m also somewhat suspicious of the 4 5-star reviews all of which have almost identical avatars and 2 of those have never had any previous support activity.

    As far as I can tell, the plugin basically streamlines the download process of acquiring images from Getty’s library and loading it directly into your media library (which would definitely be handy if you were already paying Getty for the rights).

  9. Forget Getty. Here’s a list of legit, free stock photos for your blog. Not as extensive of a collection as Getty but good stuff, none-the-less:

    Little Visuals
    Death to the Stock Photo
    New Old Stock
    Superfamous (requires attribution)
    The Pattern Library
    IM Free (requires attribution)

  10. Try Tackk instead. They use a 500px integration and the photos look amazing, everyone of them. And there is no embed to fool with they do the integration cleanly.

  11. I thought it was great till Getty put out a FAQ saying embedded images can’t be resized. I want to size them DOWN to a smaller size to fit my site, and it’s easy to do if you know HTML, but Getty says no. This is a pity.

  12. I used Getty images a few times and edited the code manually int he WP editor to center or float the images. Not the nicest solution and it still can’t be resized.

    For example:

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