Google and Getty Licensing Deal

By Denis Pepin updated on January 31st, 2013

These days, all the smart looking and smiling photographers surrounding me above are not smiling anymore. Why....They trusted Getty to act on their behalf to sell licenses of their beautiful work at mutually agreed established prices, license types and commission rates. However, recently, shockingly, it was discovered that Getty and Google entered into a secret agreement to have over 6,000 commercial images distributed for free under the Google Drive initiative. Any Google user can go to Google Drive, create a document and illustrate it with one or many of the free available images. Furthermore, it can be used for commercial purposes as long as it is created within the Google Drive app and it is all free.

After this was discovered, members from iStockphoto, one of Getty's site, found out that they were only paid $6.00 and some others $12.00 for this one time deal. Images that would bring many dollars per month in royalties from typical licensing suddenly will become worthless because, obviously, nobody will pay to license an image if they can get it for free.

Probably for a quick profit, Getty went behind their artists and photographers' backs and made a deal with Google at the expense of rendering those images worthless and making a lot of artists and photographers unhappy. In fact, they are so furious about this that many have rallied together in support of "D-Day", a coined word meaning "deactivation day" which purpose is to massively deactivate their images from the iStockphoto collection on or about February 2nd, 2013, as a form of protest, to send a strong message to iStock and Getty., one of the most popular microstock forum on the web, has an extensive thread entitled "D-Day (Deactivation Day) on iStock - Feb 2" initiated by one of the top iStock contributor, known as Lisafx. So far, read by over 26,400 members and visitors, over 29 pages have been filled with posts from contributors and artists encouraging themselves about deactivating or deleting their images from iStock on Feb 2nd.

Meanwhile, to promote D-Day, Marina Sani, a graphic designer at iStock, has created a facebook event to gain support:

Getty are so defensive about this deal that they will ban posters from their iStock forum if they ask one or too many sensitive questions. Myself, I got banned immediately after responding to a member's unusual post with a sensitive question.

In my reply I quoted part of the member's post and responded as per following:(cbarnes is the username for the other member, cybernesco is my username and lobo is the forum moderator)


"..From my perspective, however, this issue should have gone immediately to a lawyer. Instead it was openly published here and a call to action has now been taking place for something to occur in February.."


"You must be kidding right...your perspective is similar to what a Getty lawyer would probably say.. How can keeping a secret about images being redistributed for free, by such a powerhouse as Google, would make it right for their owners?"


"Thanks, Cybernesco. I get to now show what is going to happen if people don't read what I post. Enjoy your ban."

The following link leads to a blog written by another top iStock photographer, Sean Locke. He is the first photographer to have discovered his own photos on Google Drive. He explains the situation in details:


A Photographer known as "pegleg"  recently informed us, on microstockgroup forum, that not only Getty iStock photographers were alone in this deal but others contracted with Getty through Flickr as well.  Pegleg had 223 images with Getty (through Flickr) and terminated her contract because of the Google deal.  Here what she said:  

"iStock photographers are not alone in this mess...there are many photographers who have a contract with Getty through Flickr whose photographs were licensed to Google for $12 or $6. I had 223 images with Getty (through Flickr) but terminated my contract last week because of the Google deal. I don't have any on Google Drive yet but am holding my breath for my next statement. Anyway, this deal was the final straw for me.

Unlike iStock contributors, photographers with Getty through Flickr cannot remove individual images from their portfolio. The only way out is to terminate your contract. Once the contract is terminated, you cannot rejoin. You are also banned from participating in the two contributor forums although some of your licenses may be ongoing. The forums are private, for contributors only, so word isn't getting out about what's going on there."


The following post is by "landbysea" a photographer from the iStock forum. I think this is extraordinarily well said:

"I am bothered by the attempt to minimize the wrongdoing by pointing out the numbers. You are talking about Google cherry picking the best of the best of people's work. In some  cases these are more than high dollar files. These are the culmination of all the knowledge, creativity and hard work that could be mustered to make a personal masterpiece picked for Vetta or Agency. And the material  result  of the passion that brought us to pursue a creative career. Is there any thought to the fact that you are destroying people livelihoods. We are all now between a rock and a hard place knowing that the files that Google is likely to pick are the ones we worked the hardest for. The ones with the long tail. The ones that convinced us that this effort can pay off. It's not just about 100 contributors who had their best work given away. It about thousands of others sleepless worrying that at any given moment the photos that were going to make their careers are about to be made public domain for 12 bucks. It's not just files you are selling it's peoples lives."


Another amazing post by Paul Cowan a photographer from the iStock forum. He sums this all up well in a way that most of us feel but are not as articulate to say so:

"My problem is this:

Getty appears to think that it can do anything it likes without reference to the contributors because of (a) the very wide terms of the contributor agreement and (b) the practical reality that scarcely any of its contributors have the resources to fight it in court over anything that might appear to go beyond the contractual terms.

Now, what would happen if Getty, in a deal with iStock, paid me commission of $1 for a special deal with one of its wholly owned subsidiaries, entitling that subsidiary to market my portfolio as stock images?

You may think that is absurd, but there is very little difference in principle between that and the Google Drive deal, where Google is now effectively sub-licensing the images to a fourth party, saying it is ok for that party to use them, even though the TOS for that party require ownership of the copyright (and iStock says this is a permitted use under the secret contract; we don't even know if Getty is selling the license at $60 or maybe $30 per image or if there is some other figure, or if there are additional benefits accruing to Getty, perhaps a payment for administration/curating the files, or some secret Google search position benefit for Getty files).

Also, consider Getty's treatment of RM material on its main site, where it has decided that if this is unsold then it can be converted to RF and transferred to Thinkstock (and potentially from there to Google). The assumption that files that don't sell are rubbish is nonsense: we all know that great files can die because of bad luck pushing them down the search particularly in heavily saturated markets, such as lifestyle.

In the past, we knew the terms of the contributors' contract were tilted enormously in iStock's favour but I, at least, assumed that there was no intent to exploit all the legal possibilities to the maximum because I used to think that we had a common interest - that what was bad for contributors would also be bad for iStock, so iStock's business decisions would be in our common interest. That no longer appears to be the case.

Mr Barnes's argument can be summarised thus: "They've got you over a barrel and you'll only hurt yourself if you try to get off, so just grin and bear it".

Now, that's a perfectly rational position to take, but the question is, have they done their worst? If you stay on the barrel will it be better than getting off, or are they going to come along and horsewhip you tomorrow?

The issue is not so much what has been done as what might be done next, now that it is clear that the bond of common interest is worthless. I guess it has pretty close parallels with an abusive marriage, where divorce is going to cost you a packet but putting up with things is likely to get you another beating down the road.

Personally, I don't know what to do. I think it is very unlikely indeed that iStock/Getty will sabotage my entire portfolio for their gain, but it is no longer utterly unthinkable as it was until recently. It's not very likely that they will take my best images and give them away, because they aren't mainstream Google subjects, but it has reached the point of being a genuine matter of concern.

I stopped uploading when this began and I don't know if I will resume. I also removed a few model released pictures in view of the potential risk if they had ever got caught in a Google trawl.

Of course, things are different for independents and exclusives. If an exclusive pulls his or her best images their income for that picture drops to zero, whereas I might actually recover some of the lost sales from buyers switching to other sites. Dropping the crown probably means losing three-quarters of your income and unless you are very good indeed you may never recoup that elsewhere, and anybody telling you otherwise is probably not being entirely straight with you. But, on the other hand, if the iStock sales continue to dwindle, then in a year from now you might have lost half your income anyway, without benefiting from a return elsewhere, Nobody knows." is where you will most likely learn the latest news about the Getty/Google licensing deal:


The following link leads to the Google Drive blog. It is filled with over 150 negative comments coming from photographers, designers, illustrators, visual artists and many others, posting against the Google Drive initiative, presently distributing copyrighted images for free to the mass. Those images have been stripped from their identity and given out to the general public without permission from their owners.


The Getty/Google deal controversy has become sufficiently notorious to merit an entry in Wikipedia:

"Controversy Over New Feature

Google Docs has partnered with Getty Images to release 6000 high quality, high resolution stock images for use in Google Doc products.[42] The images have been stripped of all meta-data and copyright information and clients may use them for any commercial purpose they see fit. This feature has been met with significant praise by those that use Google Docs. However, this move has proven controversial with the photographers who own the copyright to the images.[43] The complaints centre on two areas. The first is the fact that the for all intents and purposes the free re-distribution by Google has placed the images in the public domain and significantly if not totally devalued the copyright. The artists involved were compensated based on the lowest valuation for image use instead of the effective buy out of the rights this represented. The second issue involves images that required model releases. In this case the models, via the release, were assured that images would not be used in a defamatory way. However, Google has placed no such restriction on the re-use of the images in their Google Doc library."


The news has reached Japan (use Google Translate):


Artists that have blogged about this on their sites:


Stock agencies reaction:,+photos,+stock,+photography


All other links are leading to various media outlets across the web regarding this situation:

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