Getty Images Still Up to Old Tricks

At it’s base, licensing stock photography would seem to be simple, at least from the photographer’s point of view.  You shoot, you upload to an agency (or your own site), and an end-user licenses the work.  Unfortunately, as we have seen lately, industry behemoth, Getty Images, keeps coming up with new “initiatives” to try and squeeze every cent they can from their contributor’s work, even when the contributor clearly doesn’t want to be a part of such schemes.

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Biggest case-in-point, of course, is the “licensing” of content from Getty Images to Google Drive, so that Google Drive can give the content away free to its millions and millions of users, for the princely sum of $60 an image, of which the photographer gets $12.  Never mind that iStockphoto contributors had no “agreement” or “contract” with Getty Images directly.  Among the thousands of images sold this way were many that were part of an iStockphoto collection also distributed on Getty.  This story erupted back in January and was detailed here on my siteiStockphoto eventually responded with some surprise, and “details” on the deal, as well as a promise to work to solve contributor concerns.  After two months, the solution to contributor concerns was to change a bit of wording at the Google Drive site.  Never mind properly compensating the artists or divulging a bit more about the actual deal.  Enough time goes by, and people forget.

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Next, we have the innovative Getty Connect deal.  Businesses outside of Getty gain access to the database through an API, and are able to incorporate content into their websites without actually going through the normal channels of licensing work.  Right from the start, we knew this implementation was going to be a one sided benefit, with Getty claiming the good side.  Again, we were given no real details on the agreement or money to be paid for this “innovation”.   How much does the partner pay?  How much does the contributor get?  That’s all top secret, and there’s no reason you need to know.  Well, the payments for the first deal started coming in, and no one was surprised.  I had four images viewed in connection with the program. On the statement, the royalty rate is listed as “varies”.  My payments for my four images viewed were as follows (first number is “license fee”, next is my cut)

  • .16, .01
  • .01, 0
  • .01, 0
  • .23, .01
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So, my image views netted me two cents.   My royalties are less than %10 of the fee!  Since then, they’ve acknowledged their rounding issue, netting me zero cents, and will now report up to five decimal places$.00001 !  Don’t plan on paying your mortgage any time soon.  Again, who knows how much Getty is getting out of the deal.  Probably more than our pretty penny.

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Most recently though, we have the Getty-Cafepress “lending” arrangement.  I’m pretty sure I knew about this before Remi Thornton put up an article that went viral (maybe I’m thinking of BigStock who did the same thing).  It looks like Cafepress can pick and choose any Getty Content they like to put onto their products without paying a nickel until that product sells.  However, again, no notice to contributors of this innovative arrangement.  No opt out.  No details.  Cafepress is taking Getty content, using it to greatly expand their library of products, which is, in itself, something they can advertise with and gain eyeballs, and not compensating the contributor at all.  When a product sells, then the photographer is suppose to get a cut of the profit.  How much?  Nobody knows.  But, check this out…

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Here’s one of my Getty images, a wheelchair on white, on an iPhone case.  Obviously, it was selected for this specific product for it’s great composition.  Or something.  The Cafepress base price is $19.99.  The Getty list price here is $29.50, a mark up of about $10.  So, if this ever sells, Cafepress gets $20, Getty gets $8 and I get $2, and that’s assuming a contributor gets their normal %20 of the royalty for an RF sale.  Don’t know that here.   It could be a sweet 10% like with Getty Connect above.  I’m not particularly sure I trust the sale to be reported either – these re-distribution schemes always scare me.  If I wanted to sell stuff on Cafepress, I’d be doing it myself and keeping all the mark-up.

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Traditionally, if a retailer wants to use content on something, like a mousepad, a t-shirt, a phone case, they must license the content, and most times, buy an extended license for items for resale.  Here, Cafepress gets their content for free, until it sells.  There is no difference between the two scenarios, except here, Cafepress got a great deal.  BTW, if you check out the Getty storefront, you’ll find more quality image and product selections like this:

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Is it any wonder, with all these “innovations” and surprises, that photographers are actually leaving Getty, the current industry powerhouse, for smaller photographer friendly agencies like Stocksy or GL Stock Images, or even starting their own distribution portals?  Please, keep all of this in mind when you are out licensing content for your next project.

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8 thoughts on Getty Images Still Up to Old Tricks

  1. I’m not sure who was first (dubious honor at best) but several agencies have pulled this stunt. Bigstock (Shutterstock subsidiary) does it with Cafe Press, something I found out after I received a princely 83 cents royalty on a sale. The only redeeming feature there was that there is an opt out – for all partner programs – which was pretty prompt in removing my files.

    It seems to me that a fair trade policy would require that agencies maintain a complete list of all partner sites and permit contributors to opt out of individual arrangements (versus the all or nothing approach as it Bigstock or the “get lost and don’t bother us” approach at Getty).

    I don’t sell at Cafe Press but I do at Fine Art America and why would I want to undercut myself or the site I support?

  2. I wonder if the new deals are the reason for this mysterious new getty360 program. This would give cafe press or zazzle users an overview over all the content getty has available. The artist should always have the possibilty to opt out of these deals. Many of us have our own zazzle shops and don´t want to be undercut by gettypartners. I also don´t see why I should not receive the necessary royalty and extended license for selling on physical products in advance. They are advertising cafepress with our content, which drives traffic. Gettyconnect, cafepress, getty/google, all these deals have in common that Getty licenses very large volumes of files and makes good money while the artist gets a few cent or just a fraction of a cent. There doesn´t seem to be an announcement that promises a genuine advantage for the artist. Like many, I will focus my energy on sites like pond5 or GL stock images or Alamy that pay a fair 50% royalty. And they seem to be still in business to license our files properly, not just give them away on the internet.

  3. Thanks for the informative post. These deals all sound terrible for contributors, and unsurprisingly, I don’t even think contributors were informed about them in advance.

  4. Maybe you should buy one of those products from CafePress so you can see exactly what royalty you make and check that they are reporting sales accurately. I don’t see how that could be construed as a violation of your contributor agreement.

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