All really deserve a post of their own but my schedule will not allow the necessary time for a deeper dive. So here is the TL:DR version.
Late last week, Getty announced a global licensing agreement with Google. While this wouldn’t rattle anyone’s news alert (anyone can license images to Google), it is the terms that are of importance. Apparently, Getty got the search giant to do a better job at protecting photographer’s copyright. By removing the direct link to the location of the high-resolution image used for the search result thumbnail and by increasing the font of the “Images may be subject to copyright.” message. As neither were live at the moment of this posting, we couldn’t verify.
Getty image has been part of a group effort to combat Google’s clear disrespect for image copyright, joining a lawsuit filed in April 2016 with the European Commission. It was in response to changes, still in effect, Google made to its Image search in 2013. Mainly, the display of higher resolution thumbnails, perfectly sized for web usage, making it a breeze for anyone to copy and paste. This, it seems, will not be changed.
Google, probably annoyed by the many lawsuits being filed against them ( mostly in Europe, where fees are much lower and legislation more protective of consumers), saw an opportunity to get one pin off its back. Using a carrot and stick strategy, it ‘settled” with Getty, agreeing to some changes and buying its ongoing coöperation by signing a licensing deal.
What this means is that it will be much harder, if not impossible, for others in the profession to go after Google ( if it wasn’t hard enough). The already useless efforts of organizations like CEPIC or PACA are now diluted as one of biggest licensor of visual content in the world is no longer part of it. In fact, it is fine with the way it will be. The other, Shutterstock, shows no sign of entering the fray as they greatly rely on Google Search for their marketing and mostly license content distributed by others ( and thus, don’t even know if their content is stolen).
In other words, whatever Google agreed with Getty Images will become search engine industry standard and Getty Images has, de facto, taken the lead in being its only effective industry voice. For better or for worse.
Poynter says free photos are the best
A storm in a teacup. The storm is an article published by the Poynter Institute, advocating the use of free pictures to journalists. Because of the existing high status of the Poynter Institute in journalism, it ruffles many feathers in the photojournalism community. Diagonal apologies were made while threats, resignation, and indignation filled the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Medium and numerous blogs. The insult is two-fold: Not only suggesting that stock photos could be used to illustrate journalistic pieces but that free photos were perfectly fine to use, making the role, and livelihood of photojournalist well, completely irrelevant. In passing, it ripped apart the role of photo editors who are the gatekeepers of quality photojournalism. Who needs them if a free stock photo can do the trick?
To add insult to injury, a recent article by the NUJ reveals that a major newspaper publisher in Scotland allocates a mere £15 a week to their photo budget. Barely enough to cover a few photos from a microstock site.
The teacup is the sad realization that besides photojournalists and some photo editors, no one seems to care.
Blockchain is not what it seems
In an industry dominated by two large players who control the vast majority of paid licensing channels, the idea of decentralized management is very appealing. Since blockchain is not owned or controlled by anyone, it seems like the perfect opportunity. Independent photographers could, via the magic of distributed computing, play a direct role in licensing their content. While it seems accessible to anyone, it is neither an easy, nor free task to inscribe and retrieve a transaction into it. To do so, one needs to use a company that has the expertise. Thus, like photo licensing, Blockchain has its gatekeepers. And those are full for-profit companies that have only one interest: finding the perfect balance between maximizing their revenue and delivering a service. And like any capitalistic enterprise, maximizing revenue is very often in counterbalance with delivering services.
Thus, when companies use blockchain to promise to open the world of licensing to everyone, they forget to mention that they control the access to that world. You might liberate yourself from the chains of the big stock photo companies, but only to find yourself trapped into those of a tech startup. And those that are grabbing the hype these days are only interested in photo licensing as to increase the value of their cryptocurrency. Nothing more, nothing else. It is not the blockchain model that is questionable here. It’s the dubious claims some companies are making.