Protesting Too Much About Getty Images

When a business that is in the business of making money makes any move toward openness, I think of it as a pretty good thing, within the context of living in a society where everybody needs money to buy things like food and shelter.

So I embraced the news that Getty, whose images I have never used and probably never will – stop me in the corridor some time and ask me how I feel about stock images in anything – were going to be allowing embedding of a huge section of their catalogue, with forced attribution and links that benefit them.

I embraced it because to me, it’s a pretty good thing when a corporation or organisation works out a way to navigate through the cultural sense of entitlement users of the contemporary web have, without resorting to fear tactics, litigation, or DRM that breaks the content that we’re trying to use.

Anybody who has seen a movie legitimately in the last two decades has had to sit through a bunch of anti-piracy stuff. For several years buying music online often meant being quite limited in where you could use that stuff – a giant pain in the arse when you’d actually paid for it. And in the world of PC gaming, consumers have been dogged by games that were broken at point of sale by security.

Alongside this, people have been severely punished by the law for file-sharing, and apparently Getty themselves have “protected their ownership” of images with punitive litigation.

All of those methods are corporate ways of dealing with a cultural problem, and they don’t really help anyone. And all the while, the social internet has been moving further and further into the wild west of sharing stuff with abandon, and without attribution.


To my mind, there are two major issues that producers or distributors of media – from publishers to libraries/educators to artists and everyone in-between – have to deal with: revenue and credit.

There’s a huge crossover between these two areas, but I think it’s fair to say that while businesses may care more about revenue, and individuals may care more about credit, anybody who creates or sells anything has an amount of concern that they split between those two things.

Litigation solves the first problem for many, but favours the organisations or individuals with money to spend on lawyers – an artist whose work has been stolen by Hot Topic is going to struggle to get any money back. Meanwhile, the second problem, of items shared without credit, is spreading like a pandemic. And it hits photography and illustration the hardest, because unlike music or video, ANYONE can share an image without attribution – you don’t have to be able to work editing software to do it. In fact, the way most images are presented online, it’s easier to share without attribution than with it.

This isn’t a great situation for artists and photographers, and photographers who are artists. If one is just a hobbyist who wants to share their work with others, removing them from the equation not only isn’t “fair”, it actually makes it impossible for them to benefit from the confidence boost or learning experience of knowing that their work is appreciated. If they’re sharing some of their work online in the hope of gaining potential paying clients, removing credit actually affects their livelihood.

But Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter make sharing images in this unthinking way incredibly easy, and the culture of ambient plagiarism spreads.


Where the twin concerns of credit and commerce become inextricably linked, and the “harmless” behaviour of removing credit comes into sharp focus, is when corporate-minded people work out a way to exploit this shifting culture.

I think most people’s perception of how okay using other people’s work, without saying whose it is, shifts once huge amount of profits to individuals get involved. That’s when “fair use” becomes exploitation, as has happened with the wildly popular cluster of image-sharing accounts agglomerating around the @HistoryInPics model.

That account has over a million followers, but it isn’t the open cultural service it seems to be – the two people behind it are incredibly culturally savvy, and have become very rich because of it – and has a very antisocial attitude to giving credit where it’s due – are almost defiant about it.

(Worth noting that since the article I just linked to came out, but possibly not because of it, the account seems to be adding photographer credits to more of their images. There’s also a small but growing sub-culture of people correcting or adding attribution where it’s lacking on these accounts – @PicPedant is one of the more prominent ones, but has fewer than ten thousand followers.)


In our office, as in most areas of eLearning, and in education, discussion of Getty’s course-correction has been gently contentious and somewhat binary. Early discussions centred around whether Getty was now “as good as” a resource as Creative Commons. More recently, there’s been reminiscing about Getty’s past heavy-handedness when dealing with illegal use of their images.

This blog-post got shared around today, by Phil Bradley: “The Trojan Horse of Getty ‘Free’ Images“, and it seems to confirm a lot of biases. Bradley links on to a post by Karen Blakeman: “Getty Images is NOT Making All Of It’s Photos Freely Available“. Both are pretty anti Getty, and suggestive of conspiracy or hidden motives – although Blakeman seems rightly more agitated about misinformation that people across her social networks are spreading than by Getty themselves, and seems more interested in directing people to their T&Cs, which is always worthwhile.

But among all the scare-quotes and innuendo and obverse discussion, one huge point seems to have been missed, and that’s that Getty aren’t trying to solve the problem that everyone has decided they’re supposed to be solving.

They’re even totally transparent about it.

On their site at the moment, under the Services Menu embed link, Getty state the following:

“Getty Images is leading the way in creating a more visual world. Our new embed feature makes it easy, legal, and free for anybody to share our images on websites, blogs, and social media platforms.”

Most discussion I’ve seen seems to be around how one interprets the word “free” – I tend to take it as meaning “one doesn’t have to pay”, personally – but the pertinent part is “easy, legal”.

(Blakeman complains that people are saying that “all” of Getty’s images are available, and she’s right, because it’s inaccurate, but as an opening gesture I’m going to allow that 35 million images shows a level of conviction that I’m not going to chastise Getty themselves for.)

People have decided that the problem Getty should be responsible for solving is “where can I get free images that I can use anywhere?”, but talking to CNET Australia to promote this initiative, Craig Peters, a senior vice president at Getty stated that:

“What we’re trying to do is take a behaviour that already exists and enable it legally, then try to get some benefits back to the photographer primarily through attribution and linkage”

While people with bad memories of the company believe that Getty is just looking for a way of conning you into using their content, so that they can sue you for it later, it seems way more like Getty have worked out that litigation is expensive, and isn’t as good a revenue stream as their competitors over at YouTube and elsewhere are using.

“people were stealing imagery because they didn’t have an alternative. Our job here is to provide a better alternative to stealing, not only one that’s legal but one that’s better.”

They aren’t being shy about how they might exploit it later, either. That advertising Trojan Horse Bradley mentioned?

Craig Peters to CNET Australia again:

“Over time there are other monetisation options we can look at… That could be data options, advertising options. If you look at what YouTube has done with their embed capabilities, they are serving ads in conjunction with those videos that are served around the internet.”

I don’t like the advertising model of capitalism that we’re using at the moment (it seems inefficient to me) but – and maybe this is just my weird Greek pride at play – I think a Trojan Horse is something different.

(That statement is worth a read in full, by the way. It’s at – link.)

I probably don’t need to unpick this too much, because they haven’t been circuitous about what this move may hope to achieve. People are already stealing their images, and sharing the work of artists and photographers who Getty is supposed to be representing without attribution. And people still will do that, and Getty will probably still end up suing some of those people.

But this move may in some way separate the power-user imagery-gankers from the people just trying to share nice pictures on Facebook, who maybe didn’t realise they were being jerks, and now have the option not to be.

I’d way rather see attributed links to the rights-holders on images than to ropey uncredited Buzzfeed articles.


Like I’ve said already, I’m not a fan of stock images, and I’m not likely to be a customer of Getty, although it is nice to have the option, now, should I need it.

Phil Bradley apparently does, though. A preoccupation of his piece – one that I’ve seen echoed elsewhere – is that this new scheme doesn’t allow for embedding of images in Powerpoint presentations. You can still purchase the images and use them wherever you want, I believe, but the free service doesn’t allow for it.

This seems to make sense to me, because Powerpoint presentations is outside the scope of who Getty wants to service here. The question I’d ask is “what were you doing before?” There seems to be a lot of uncertainty about what counts as commercial use, which is the one thing Getty seem really not to want – if people are using Getty images in any way relating to commerce, Getty want their cut.

But I don’t see this as so confusing: if you are using images in an area that generates revenue, directly or indirectly, or helps you professionally, it seems obvious to me that that constitutes commercial use. If you’re using the work of others to illustrate work that benefits you, then their desired rights in that case should be satisfied.


The passage that’s stuck with me the most in Bradley’s post is the one that states that for “the photographer it’s a disaster”.  It’s a paragraph that makes a lot of assertions based on assumptions of what photographers who have signed up to Getty might want, but it’s problematic for me because I don’t know how the writer has been using images up until this point. The paragraph pings about quite a bit:

“If you have licensed Getty to use your images, this isn’t something that you can opt out from.” He says, although I don’t know the veracity of that… as Blakeman complains, not all of Getty’s catalogue is available, so it’s possible that different photographers have different deals with them?

“Unless you choose to pull your images.” He continues. Which sounds like being able to opt out to me.

“There are plenty of photographers who are not going to be keen on their material being shared left right and centre with no ability to say no.” My natural tendency toward facetiousness wants to point out that this is apparently already happening, without the photographer’s credit attached, and arguably one of the reasons for most photographers signing up to Getty in the first place is that the organisation will police your copyrights for you, in a way that is mutually beneficial to the photographer and Getty. By allowing the internet to run roughshod over their clients’ attribution before, Getty were actually letting photographers down.

At the end, we get to what I feel is the real point in this argument: “I can see images that you have embedded disappearing as they get pulled, which isn’t going to look very impressive”. This is if you’re using the free, embedded images, by the way – not if you’ve bought the use of the image.

So in the end, a paragraph about photographers’ rights comes down to an example of the rights of the people wanting to use the images for free. There’s a lot of conjecture about what constitutes “editorial purposes”, and whether or not Getty will pull images for arbitrary reasons as well, but it all seems to boil down to “will they pull this free provision at some point, and make me look bad?”

And I don’t want to pull Bradley apart on this, because really all he’s doing here is voicing what’s become a common acceptance on the social internet that images belong to everyone.

But it isn’t Getty’s job to enable our sense of entitlement. We aren’t Getty’s clients – that will always be the photographers and the paying customers. This is just a bone they’re throwing us because we were taking it anyway, and maybe if they make it easy enough for us to become paying customers down the line, it’ll be easier for them than having to sue every damn one of us.


Education throws a cat among the pigeon of commercial use, and despite it being my field I don’t want to talk about it too much, beyond pointing out that, despite widespread practice to the contrary, attribution and legal use of imagery in teaching and studying is already supposed to be hugely important. Academics using content that doesn’t belong to them and that they don’t have authority to use can lead to disgrace or disciplinary, and students who do so without following attribution guidelines aren’t supposed to graduate.

As eLearning people, or technologists, promoting digital literacy among our colleagues and cohorts is our bread and butter. We should already be educating users in the implications of non-attribution, and encouraging them to make smart critical decisions about which resources they can use in their work.

That means telling them about Creative Commons repositories, and public domain images, but now I think it also has to include Getty. Trying to hide a resource like that away doesn’t stop people using it, it just allows them to drastically misuse it.



In closing, I should point out that I’m not so naive to think that an organisation like Getty are somehow sweet, socialist angels, or that they haven’t been too hard on hapless users in the past, or that they treat content creators fairly. I’m sure they are totally evil. Down with the man, and all that.

But none of those things play into why I think this gesture of theirs is important. This is potentially a huge thing, in as much as it subverts the way we currently think of attribution, ownership and licensing of creative works. From a purely capitalist perspective, when a huge media organisation works out that it might make more money by giving a little for free, and not treating consumers like criminals by default, that’s massive. Flickr, before they were swallowed up by Yahoo, made similar realisations, and without them most of us would never have heard of Creative Commons.

Maybe we’d prefer that everything belonged to everybody, but we shouldn’t always be so ready to let perfect be the enemy of good. As technologists, we should try to be as pragmatic and agnostic about tech as possible.

Yes I know I’m useless at this myself, but I’m trying, and that’s all that matters, right?

“The trojan horse of Getty ‘free’ images” by Phil Bradley – link
“Getty Images is NOT making all of it’s photos freely available” by Karen Blakeman – link
Getty images Embed Images – link
“Getty makes 35 million images free for sharing” by Lexy Savvides for C|net Australia – link


Less Than Two Thousand Words on Subtitles, Translations and Remakes

Conversation in the office has come round to television. Mainly, people are talking about two sorts of show: gritty European dramas that will eventually be remade with either an American or British setting, or the rarest of things, an American remake of a British show that has almost universally overshadowed the original in the public eye.

(I’m talking about “House Of Cards”. Yes, I know, “The Office” is out there. But it’s literally the only other one. I’m certain of this.)

It reminded me that this morning in the shower I got suddenly and passionately irritated with the very modern behaviour of attacking localised remakes of foreign films or TV.

This has become a much more mainstream gripe in recent years, because film and TV is looking further afield for content to revise and release than it did before, but it’s not really anything new – an older version of it is complaining about the dubbed versions of manga, martial arts movies, and about how X European movie is getting completely overlooked just because of the subtitles.

When someone complains about subtitles, we don’t have the slightest trouble taking the piss out of them, either to their face or behind their back on Twitter.

(Not Facebook. The people you talk to on Facebook are the ones who don’t like subtitles. The people on Twitter are the ones you bitch about the people who don’t like subtitles to.)

I’ve been one of the people who dismisses the subtitle-haters as lazy, and  will probably be one of those people again.

But this morning I got annoyed in the shower at myself and everybody else who does that. We really are just smug, self-satisfied cock-ends, aren’t we?

In the UK, around 16% of adults are “functionally illiterate”, which places their reading level as lower than that expected of an eleven year old. That number doesn’t even consider people who can read but don’t enjoy it, people with poor eyesight that just doesn’t allow for reading lots of text quickly while other stuff is going on, and people who already have trouble parsing dynamic visual narratives even without subtitles – which is almost everyone, if the amount of minds blown over “Inception” are anything to go by.

In short, subtitles aren’t actually easy for a lot of people, aren’t fun for a few more, and are actually impossible for around 1 in 6.

Film has potential to be the most immediate of all media, and little words across the bottom of the screen totally get in the way of that for many.


Does that mean that those of us who can quickly read and absorb text, and take in a complex narrative at the same time, are somehow better people? Yes, yes it does. But only until we exploit our privilege to bully those who are less amazing.

The weird-but-true algebra of social interaction is that being good is better, but being an asshole about being better makes you worse.


It’s a totally artificial metric to base one’s elitism on, anyway. Cinema and TV are still incredibly young media, and there isn’t anything that’s analogous with dubbing, remakes, localised remakes, and the apparent controversies of each, in other narrative forms.

At some point we started thinking of film as the one concrete art-form where language and lack of iteration mattered, despite the fact that adaptation and remaking were coded into the DNA of the medium from the start. The idea of purity of vision, and how that can be damaged by distance from the source, is one that comes up again and again in discussion of film. But film by its nature is a collaborative process, involving more people, with more agency to be creative, than any other… an uncompromised vision isn’t actually a thing that exists in the mix.


I’m being arch when I suggest that this behaviour doesn’t exist elsewhere. Most people have met or know about someone who claims that you don’t really get the full experience of manga without learning Japanese and reading it in the original phone-books; that the language in Mein Kampf doesn’t really sing the same way in English as it does in German.

The key differences between those people, and us when we do this about films, are that:

  • It’s actually an achievement to be fluently multi-lingual. This doesn’t diminish the arrogance of these people, but it does at least give their elitism a solid foundation: they are in a small group who are able to do something that most of us can’t. It’s a slightly higher-caliber capability than “knowing how to find the World Cinema category on Netflix”.
  • We recognise what people who loudly say things like this are – pretentious hipster implements – and tend to avoid them. I’m sure there’s a part of the internet entirely populated by folks complaining about plebs who only read “Les Miserables” in butchered English translations, but we generally put those people in social isolation where they belong. Leaving the rest of the social internet free for us to bitch unashamedly about how the US version of “The Killing” was either redundant, or too different.


Film is one of a cluster of art-forms that mix words and pictures inextricably – comics, theatre and prose (which counts, damn you, because any sequence of words that describes a setting counts as visual, for my purposes here) are all in the same club. In most of those media one measure of success is how many languages the work has been translated into.

In them, the subtitle doesn’t effectively exist: it’s a very specific solution to  problems inherent in the permanence of film, and doesn’t make sense anywhere else. The most closely related process to subtitling is translation. But translation isn’t simple a comprehension aid, like subtitles are… it’s an adaptation, and one that we understand as necessary in comics, and in books, and in theatre. The alternative option to translating works is exclusion – either the whole potential audience has to learn the native language of the work, or the potential audience is only speakers of that language.

Personally, when I read or watch a brilliant story, I want as many people as can possibly be reached by it to experience it, too.


I’m not saying there aren’t bad dubs, adaptations or remakes – there are loads of incredibly shit ones – I’m just saying that these models aren’t inherently evil, and the smart, less obnoxious thing to do would be to make qualitative judgements on them on a case-by-case basis. If that doesn’t sound like too much work.


So language is a very real barrier to universal consumption of stories, and one that subtitles don’t entirely fix. That explains dubbing, but why remakes?

Well, for a start, dubbing isn’t a particularly elegant solution. Not only is it notoriously hard to do well – and done badly it can be distracting – but it’s also far more open to creative interpretation than subtitles.

Written English can afford to be pretty direct in it’s translation, because it only has to be read, and reading is already an act that requires a bit of processing by the reader. But a dubbed script has to be said out loud, which means it has to get past actors. Actors will happily say some terribly scripted shit, but they have to be able to parse it phonetically and intellectually first, and it all has to fit in synch with the foreign actor’s mouths.

So what you get with a dub is often already a heavily mediated version of the original. Looking at the dubbed versions of both “Akira” and “Princess Mononoke” – the script for the latter heavily adapted by Neil Gaiman – alongside earlier subtitled versions show quite different storytelling.

Enthusiasts don’t have any problem with lip-synched audio, and in animation we’re already used to dubbing so we don’t notice it so much, but in live action, dubbing can create friction to the process of immersion that we hope for in our entertainment.

So there’s a potential gain in audience that producers balance against the cost of filming a new version, and if those sums work out, on a commercially viable piece, it makes perfect sense to do it.


But language isn’t always the reason for a new version. Localised refits of a show or movie or story – especially ones that are in the same language as the original – really wind people up.

We didn’t like that John Constantine was American, in a US set movie, in “Constantine” – quite aside from the fact that we didn’t want him to be Keanu Reeves.

We were unhappy with the US version of “The Killing”, even before we’d seen whether or not it’d be any good. Most of us didn’t even see the original version of it until we’d heard about an imminent US version. We wanted to do our due diligence on why we desperately disapproved of it.

And what was the point of an almost shot-by-shot remake of “The Ring”, or “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, or “Let The Right One In”? American versions are rubbish – they change the character of the original, which has a certain amount of charm and character, because foreign cultures have their own charm and character.

But the reasons why we don’t approve of these adaptations are also the reasons why they’re a potentially really important way to engage a wider audience for a story.

Because one reason we don’t like the idea of these narratives changing is that national character, local cultures and social behaviours are important, and where they’re present in a work, they impact heavily on the way we identify with that work.

That same process means that for someone not as aligned with or interested in the cultures present in a work in it’s current form, these “alien” tropes can be a barrier to entry.

If the point of a work is to play with that feeling of alienation, or the exoticness of the Other, a remake can fundamentally break the work at it’s core.

But it almost never is the main thing the writers or makers were trying to say or do to their audience. It’s just a distraction for a potential audience that they will probably never get to engage with.


And you guys: cross-cultural remakes can be awesome! “The Magnificent Seven” is pretty cool, you know? Never mind “Battle Beyond The Stars”, which is basically the same film again, but in space, which makes it more awesome! And “Seven Samurai” still exists! You know, in case you really, really hate America. Or space.


So, look, I’m still going to personally prefer to get as close to the source of a film or TV series as possible, and I may still complain sometimes about re-iterations that I think are doomed. I can’t change the way I’m wired, any more than anyone else can.

But at the same time, I’m going to get a dubbed version of “My Neighbour Totoro”, and be grateful for it, so that I can watch it with my son sooner, rather than later.


Remember the mantra of the mentally healthy geek:
“The original still exists. Nobody is going to come round to your house and burn the original. Except maybe George Lucas.”

DO Read The Bottom Half Of The Internet

Looked into this Talking Angela scare that’s going round, and it’s reminded me of something I recently thought about just, generally EVERYTHING online, especially following on from the Woody Allen thing.

Basically, whenever you believe ANYthing strongly enough to express an opinion, it’s always a good idea to go and look at the comments on a post or video about the subject. ESPECIALLY if it’s a post that takes the opposite side of a debate from the one you’re on.

(This is the opposite of conventional internet wisdom, which is that you should never, EVER, read the bottom half of the internet. But seriously, I think every now and then, this is a smart thing to do.)

When you’re reading the comments, including the ones that you agree with, think about the tone and communication, rather than whether you agree with the points.

Does the person sound deranged? Do they make leaps in their argument that aren’t explained and they don’t support? Would you hate to be stuck in a lift with that person?

If you feel like the answer to any of these questions is yes, consider, just for a fraction of a second, that that’s what you sound like on the subject. That’s what your arguments look like from the outside. Do you still believe them, when someone says them to you in that stupid voice?

I’m not saying anyone needs to change their mind about anything – although obviously everyone does! – but I think this is a decent experiment for double-checking whether you’ve really thought hard enough about those opinions you hold the strongest.

a noodle in a haystack