getty-imagesGetty Images has made some 35 million photographs free to use on the Web.

The stock image site, which previously watermarked its large collection of photographs, will now allow anyone to embed those images at no cost. The images will not feature a watermark, but they will have a mandatory link to the company’s licensing page, where publications can pay for access to its entire collection.

Craig Peters, the company’s senior vice president of business development, product, and content, explained the rationale behind the change to CNET Australia:

‘I equate this back to when you think about music, back before there was iTunes or Spotify, people were stealing imagery because they didn’t have an alternative. Our job here is to provide a better alternative to stealing, not only one that’s legal but one that’s better. There are no watermarks beyond attribution, and hopefully with the ease of access and the ability to search through our entire archive of imagery, those are things that are actually better off when there’s publishers who want to use our content.’

Reactions from around the Web

Gizmodo notes that many people were already using Getty Images’ photography without permission and welcomes the change:

How does Getty plan to make money off this? Well it’s certainly good for wider brand awareness. It also gives people who would otherwise be illegally using Getty stock to use the stuff legally. We’ll see how it works out, but it’s a good example of engaging the challenges of copyright and digital rights management without taking harsh legal action against regular folks. It’s a worthy experiment that’s in the spirit of the web—and one that’s helping make the web more beautiful, too.

Fast Company reports that Getty might eventually make money in a more direct way:

Getty says it reserves the right to monetize the feature–perhaps with ads–but says it won’t do so right away. And the million-dollar question, of course, is will people actually use it? Getty bets they will; at least it makes the free service as frictionless as possible. And hey: Giving users the option to embed content seems to have worked out okay for Twitter and Instagram, right?

The Verge’s Russell Brandom writes that relying on embedded images might eventually break the Web, or at least the blog posts in which those images were featured:

The biggest effect might be on the nature of the web itself. Embeds from Twitter and YouTube are already a crucial part of the modern web, but they’ve also enabled a more advanced kind of link rot, as deleted tweets and videos leave holes in old blog posts. If the new embeds take off, becoming a standard for low-rent WordPress blogs, they’ll extend that webby decay to the images themselves. On an embed-powered web, a change in contracts could leave millions of posts with no lead image, or completely erase a post like this one.

Engadget expresses the same excitement as Gizmodo:

It seems like a win-win for everyone, and an admission by Getty that simply trying to paywall access to high quality pics won’t keep them from being posted everywhere anyway. Meanwhile, everyone from casual tweeters to those starting great websites for the next ten years just getting their start can access high quality photos without worrying about scary legal letters or getting their account shut down.

[image via thinkstock]