Getty Images Making Most Images Embeddable 'Without Watermark'

6 March 2014

The Verge:

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.

It’s a real risk for the company, since it’s easy to screenshot the new versions if you want to snag an unlicensed version. But according to Craig Peters, a business development exec at Getty Images, that ship sailed long ago. “Look, if you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply,” he says. “The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there. And that’s what’s happening… Our content was everywhere already.”

I like the business acumen here. As Peters says, everyone already steals their images so the company is trying to embrace it. It’s a forward-thinking strategy from an organisation I associate with traditional media (i.e. newspapers).

However, from a user’s standpoint, you shouldn’t touch this with a bargepole. The images get embedded through an iframe, which means the image data is loaded from an external source that can be changed at the will of Getty at any time. They can put anything they want there — including ads. Unbelievably, according to The Verge, this is something Getty has already considered doing.1

The new embeds are built on the same iframe code that lets you embed a tweet or a YouTube video, which means the company can use embeds to plant ads or collect user information. “We’ve certainly thought about it, whether it’s data or it’s advertising,” Peters says, even if those features aren’t part of the initial rollout.

This means that in the future Getty could replace your image blocks with other images, advertisements … or well anything. It also means that your site now has a dependency on Getty’s CDN uptime. If their servers are down, your site has no images.

Finally, although the images now have no watermark, Getty sticks a 100 pixel tall footer below the image instead. Technically, it’s not a watermark but for the site owner it isn’t really any better than before, especially if they start replacing your images with ads. Form the perspective of a content pirate, you might as well keep stealing the source images.

1 If Getty is hacked, you could be distributing malware to your visitors in mere minutes.