One of the advantages of the digital age has been the way high quality imagery has become more  abundant, more accessible and more instantaneous than ever before.

Yes there is a lot of rubbish floating around the internet, mainly camera phone snapshots.  But relatively cheap DSLRs have made it easier for anyone with an ounce of artistic ability to become a… “photographer”.

The downside has been felt by the genuine professional photographic fraternity.  Full time photographers from all walks of the profession, from wedding to war photographers, have seen their hitherto “exclusive” club being invaded by everybody from part-time wannabes to the snapper who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Of course, the client who wants a job doing properly, to the highest standard and on time, will always engage a professional commercial photographer. No question.  It is the stock photographer who has suffered most by the proliferation of reasonably good quality imagery.  At one time, the only way to acquire a stock image to use in a brochure or on a web site was to go to a recognised stock agency and either licence the use of an image (for a mid to high budget campaign or for specialist editorial use) or purchase a royalty-free image  for non exclusive editorial purposes.

The explosion of the internet into pretty much every corners of modern life has made it so easy to find, if not THE image for the job, at least AN image that will do for the job.

Breach of copyright is rife.  So much so, that it is becoming almost impossible, impractical and an most cases uneconomical to pursue. A Google search and a right-click is all it takes. And the cost of suing for a relatively small reproduction fee means that in many cases a photographer or agency will simply issue a “take-down” notice when they come across one of their images being used illegally.

In an astonishing move, Image library giant Getty Images have today turned the whole thing on is head by opening up their resource of billions of images and allowing them to be used FREE OF CHARGE for certain editorial and non profit purposes.

This means that if I want to use this professionally shot image of Kylie at the Brit Awards, for instance, I can freely do so without fear of having a breach of copyright claim slapped on me.

So how can the afford to do this?  And aren’t their contributing stock photographers going to be more than just a little annoyed seeing the images they have invested time, effort and talent into producing, being used without recompense?

Well apparently not. The business model and reasoning behind the move, is thus:

The images may only be embedded into a website or blog be using the HTML code provided to place the image within an iframe.  This means when the page is called on my website, for instance, the actual image is served by the Getty website.  This is the same method by which YouTube videos are embedded withing web pages.

Doing so ensures full attribution to both the agency and the photographer with a link back to Getty and the image  in question.  That way anyone wishing to use the image for commercial purposes, is quickly and easily taken to the very place from which it can be purchased.

So the page you are viewing at this very moment on my blog is acting as a free advert for Getty, the photographer and this picture of the lovely Kylie.

It also means that you and I can now legally use images that were hitherto way out of our reach.  Everyone, it seems, is a winner!

Getty has asserted that they will still continue to investigate and prosecute illegal commercial use of their images (and will probably do so far more strenuously).  In other words the will effectively ignore the small fry (me) and go fishing for the real copyright offenders.

I think it is a bold and brave step forward. And I think it will work.

It can be compared with the way rock band Iron Maiden recently decided to give up the fight against the illegal downloading of their music.  Instead, they employed the services of a company that specializes in analytics for the music industry by capturing everything from social media discussion to traffic on the BitTorrent network.  They were able to pinpoint where in the world their music was most popular.  They then scheduled stadium tours in those counties netting millions in the process.

A brilliant stroke of genius!

Iron Maiden’s vocalist, Bruce Dickinson, performs during a concert in Santiago during their tour of Chile in October 2013.