How Getty's takeover of Flickr affects photographers and their income

Flickr users may have noticed that stock photo company Getty Images has just opened up the entire picture library to be considered for inclusion in the files of the mighty Getty, which they’ll then sell for thousands to agencies around the world. All you have to do is wait for the cheques to roll in. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that, when you look into it in more detail, it isn’t.

With the advent of digital and web publishing and the explosion of small-scale publishers, the economics of selling images has changed. Agencies such as iStockPhoto have sprung up offering lower prices, with many images produced by skilled amateurs. Publishers have turned to Flickr too, going straight to the source and cutting out the middle man. This shift has benefited the many photographers who would never have been able to get into the exclusive Getty club.
Getty‘s response has been to take over and snuffle out the competition – it’s aim is make it impossible for anyone to publish any pictures anywhere without paying Getty for the privilege. Having bought iStockPhoto and increased its prices tenfold on all the best work, it has now has turned its eyes on Flickr.

This move, in my view, represents the hijacking and commercialization by a powerful global corporation of what has been until now a hobbyist community website. The fact is Flickr users have always been able to sell their work to anyone who wants to use it. Potential buyers, including WDC, simply contact the photographer through Flickrmail and negotiate a mutually agreed fee. Flickr users have sold their pictures in this way for years, and many have made thousands of pounds this way. What will happen now (if you tick the box to allow it) is that if someone wants to use your picture they’ll have to go through Getty. They’ll have to pay much more to use it, and Getty will take a whopping 70% cut. You will be prohibited from selling these images yourself, and once in the system it will be very difficult to withdraw them later if you find that the deal is not the pot of gold you expected.

This arrangement will inflate the price of images on Flickr purely for Getty‘s benefit, but the photographers themselves, who get just 30%, may not be any richer than they’d have been by selling direct. Many publishers, WDC included, will baulk at paying twice as much for pictures just so that Getty Images can take 70% of it.

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