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Image Credit: Flickr User

In a bold move, the free Getty Images archives has been expanded by the company to, well, everything.

That’s right, pretty soon those hours you’ve spent scouring the dusty corners of Flickr and Google Images will be a thing of the past. At least they will be if you’re not using them for direct commercial purposes, which does exclude a number of users (who presumably have the means to pay for a license anyway, if business is going well.)

The initiative is designed to simplify image republishing and clearly focused on fighting back against the widespread unauthorized use of images from its archives. Citing a need to adapt to the rapidly evolving digital landscape, the company says:

“Innovation and disruption  are the foundation of Getty Images, and we are excited to open up our vast and growing image collection for easy, legal sharing that benefits our content contributors and partners.”

Acknowledging the reality of online copyright infringement, a Getty exec  went so far as to confirm the ways in which others can already find unlicensed, watermark-free versions of its images on the web. The company hopes to get around this by making official, licensed use much easier with its new embed system.

In much the same way that content creators can choose to allow their videos from YouTube to be embedded on other sites, and the method that Twitter uses to embed tweets outside its platform, a short piece of code will be provided for publishers who want to include a specific image. The image then appears elsewhere but, crucially, in a way that Getty can control. This allows the company to build links back to photographers, include advertisements, and generally offer its collection on its own terms. As such use becomes widespread, as we eventually saw with YouTube, revenues generated from ads could hold significant earning potential for content creators.

Free Getty images will make an especially big impact on smaller sites and blogs, who for years have navigated the gray area of image licensing by a mixture of Creative Commons attribution, public domain work, and perhaps even some blind luck. These smaller publishers are rarely trying to exploit the work of fellow creators and now have the means to create rich visual content in a way that fully credits the original source.

For commercial purposes – and as it should be – publishers will still need to pay. Getty Images must still fight against unlicensed use of items in its archives, perhaps more vigorously than ever now that it is opening up free access for  so many non-commercial users. As with everything in the fight to protect intellectual property rights, the solution remains a carefully balanced mixture of innovation and enforcement.

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