The world's largest photo library, Getty Images, is to allow the bulk of its 35 million images to be reproduced online for free. The move, which Getty says is to help adjust to "the new realities" of social media, is aimed primarily for those publishing on social media feeds and blogs.
Up to now, use of any Getty stock photography required a licensing fee of up to several thousand euro. However, the company will now allow its stock photography to be used online where an image is 'embedded' on a web page with a link that directs back to Getty's own website. It will do this by removing the 'watermark' image from each picture.
"Look, if you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply," Craig Peters told the technology website The Verge. "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."
The move is not intended to allow Getty Images to be used for direct commercial gain, such as in advertisements or as core components of business content online, he said.
"We've seen what YouTube's done with monetising their embed capabilities," said Mr Peters. "I don't know if that's going to be appropriate for us or not."
Getty Images makes over $1bn (€730m) in annual revenue. The stock image market has been a lucrative industry for Irish entrepreneurs with Kerry-based Jerry Kennelly selling his Stockbyte image catalogue business to Getty Images in 2006 for over €100m.
However, enforcing licensing rights online is costly in an era when social media networks can see an image proliferate around the world in minutes.