Getty and Digital Copyright

Getty recently made a rather substantial change to their business model.  Instead of charging websites for use of their stock images (as they previously had), Getty instead will allow for non-commercial use of some of their images.  In exchange for use of these images, Getty will offer their data to other businesses.  

Now, this business model is hardly unique.  Facebook and Google both profit handsomely off selling user data to marketing firms.  What makes this move interesting how Getty treated bloggers who used their images previously.  Prior to this move, Getty sued many, many people over alleged infringing use of their images.  According to the International Business Times, Getty filed five single image lawsuits in January of this year.  Even before those lawsuits, Getty acquired a reputation for being very protective of their images (though they rarely brought this suits to court).

This move by Getty simply acknowledges the realities of copyright in a digital world.  Nothing invalidated Getty’s copyright over these images.  These lawsuits were always valid, and could potentially harm the defendants on their receiving end.  Preventing the infringement, on the other hand, can be close to impossible.  Computers make copies by design, and reining in the spread of information is close to impossible.  Companies can employ some kind of Digital Rights Management (DRM), but DRM always risks alienating customers or making the product unusable. 

Getty instead chose to, at minimum, to take the path of least resistance in regard to noncommercial use of their media.  It represents a move in the right direction to realize that suing Twitter users is probably not the best use of their legal department’s time.  Instead they’ve decided to make money by selling user information gathered through free use of their stock images.

P.S. Colbert had a great bit on Warner Music Group’s strict royalty demands for use of the song “Happy Birthday.”  The bit is hilarious and well worth a watch.  It made a copyright nerd such as myself very happy.



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