Getty Images, Inc. is an American stock photo agency, with headquarters in Seattle, Washington, United States. It is a supplier of stock images for business and consumers with an archive of 80 million still images and illustrations and more than 50,000 hours of stock film footage. It targets three markets—creative professionals (advertising and graphic design), the media (print and online publishing), and corporate (in-house design, marketing and communication departments).
Getty has distribution offices around the world and capitalizes on the Internet and CD-ROM collections for distribution. As Getty has acquired other older photo agencies and archives, it has digitized their collections, enabling online distribution. Getty Images now operates a large commercial website which allows clients to search and browse for images, purchase usage rights and download images. Costs of images vary according to the chosen resolution and type of rights associated with each image. The company also offers custom photo services for corporate clients.
In 1995, Mark Getty and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Klein co-founded Getty Investments LLC. Mark Getty is the company's chairman. In September 1997, Getty Communications, as it was called at the time, merged with PhotoDisc, Inc. to form Getty Images. In April 2003, Getty Images entered into a partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP) to market each other's images.
In 2008, the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman (H&F) acquired Getty Images. In 2012, H&F put Getty up for sale. As of the ensuing sale to Carlyle Group, the company was said to have an archive that included 80 million stills and illustrations.
Since its formation, Getty Images has pursued an aggressive programme of acquisition, buying up many privately owned agencies that had built up the stock photography industry, from small family-run firms to larger agencies. By 1999 it had acquired one of the largest agencies, Tony Stone Images; the online art seller Art.com; the sports photography agency Allsport; the market leader in the Benelux and Scandinavia: Word View (1996, from Mr. Bert Blokhuis, 4 offices, for undisclosed sum); journalistic specialists Liaison Agency; Newsmakers the first digital news photo agency; Online USA, a specialist in celebrity shots; and the Hulton Press Library, the former archive of the British photojournalistic magazine Picture Post. The Hulton collection was sold by the BBC to Brian Deutsch in 1988, when it was renamed Hulton Deutsch. In 1996, the Hulton collection was sold on once more, this time purchased by Getty Images and renamed Hulton Getty. With the acquisition of the Hulton library, Getty Images took ownership of the rights to some 15 million photographs from the British press archives dating back to the Nineteenth Century. Hulton Getty also included photographs from the Keystone Collection, as well as images by notable photographers such as Bert Hardy, Bill Brandt, Weegee and Ernst Haas.
Getty has branched out into stock audio, music and sound effects. And also video with the acquisition of EyeWire and Energy Film Library. Getty has partnered with other companies including Slidely for companies and advertisers to use the Getty Images video library of around 2 million videos.
In 2000, Getty acquired one of its main competitors, Archive Photos of New York (a division of The Image Bank), for US$183 million. The Archive Photos library was combined with the Hulton Getty collection to form a new subsidiary, Hulton Archive. Archive Photos had been formed in 1990 from the merger of Pictorial Parade (est. 1935) and Frederick Lewis Stock Photos (est. 1938), two well-established US photo agencies. Their collections included archive images from The New York Times, Metronome and George Eastman House, and works by photographers such as Ruth Orkin, Anacleto Rapping, Deborah Feingold, Murray Garrett, Nat Fein and John Filo.
Further acquisitions followed, with the purchase in 2004 of image.net for US$20 million. On February 9, 2006, the microstock photo website iStockphoto was acquired by Getty Images for US$50 million. In 2007, Getty successfully purchased its largest competitor, MediaVast, for $207 million. The acquisition meant that Getty Images gained control of WireImage (Entertainment, creative, and sports photography), FilmMagic (fashion and red carpet photography), Contour Photos (portrait and studio photography). Getty Images also acquired a host of other subsidiaries including "Master Delegates" who include: Isifa Image Service in Prague, Laura Ronchi in Italy.
On October 23, 2008, Getty Images announced their intention to buy Jupitermedia's online images division, Jupiterimages, for $96 million in cash. The sale went ahead in February 2009; Jupiterimages (including the sites stock.xchng and StockXpert) is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Getty, while Jupitermedia, now trading as WebMediaBrands, continues its internet publishing business which was not sold to Getty Images.
On January 25, 2016, Corbis announced that it had sold its image licensing business, including the Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and Veer libraries and their associated assets, to an affiliate of Visual China Group—Getty's exclusive distributor in China. Concurrently, it was announced that VCG would, after a transition period, license distribution and marketing of the Corbis library outside of China to Getty. The firm will also be responsible for managing Corbis's physical archives.
Corporate ownership and management
In February 2008, it was announced that Getty Images would be acquired by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman in a transaction valued at an estimated US$2.4 billion. On July 2, 2008, Getty Images announced the completion of its acquisition. Getty Images common stock ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange at the close of the acquisition and was delisted from the NYSE.
In 2012, H&F engaged investment bankers to sell the company. While a price of $4 billion was initially discussed, in August when the private equity firm Carlyle Group emerged as the likely acquirer, the price under consideration was said to be $3.3–3.4 billion. CVC Capital Partners Ltd. was also said to have been bidding but had yet to top Carlyle's price. The sale to Carlyle thereafter was announced at $3.3 billion, with co-founders Getty and Klein and the Getty family all carrying their investments over into the new ownership structure. Getty will also continue to serve as chairman and Klein as chief executive.
Beginning in 2008, Getty Images has created controversy in its manner of pursuing copyright enforcement on behalf of its photographers. Rather than pursue a policy of sending out "cease and desist" notices, Getty typically mails out a demand letter claiming substantial sums of damages to owners of websites which it believes have used their images in infringement of their photographers' copyright. Getty commonly tries to intimidate website owners by sending collection agents, even though a demand letter cannot create a debt.
One photographer noted: "courts don't like to be used as a means of extortion." In one case, Getty sent a church in Lichfield, Staffordshire, a £6,000 bill for photographs used on its website, apparently placed there by a church volunteer. In this case, the church offered to pay Getty what it thought was a reasonable amount. The diocese's communications director said:
Getty was not playing ball or following the normal litigation or dispute resolution procedures and [I advised the church] to ignore them. We don't deal with bullies; we deal with legal threats appropriately. I told [Getty] by letter that's what [the church was] doing, that we were not going to play, and didn't hear any more.
The Guardian described other instances in which Getty or other stock photo businesses dropped the matter when a website owner refused to pay and hired a lawyer. A law firm was quoted as saying: "Once we get involved generally Getty does back off."
In 2009, Oscar Michelen, a New York attorney who focuses on such damages claims, said: "The damages they're requesting aren't equal to the copyright infringement," and "there's no law that says definitively what images are worth in the digital age." He called Getty's effort to assess four-figure fines "a legalized form of extortion."
In an effort to combat online copyright infringement, in March 2014 Getty Images made over 35 million images available free for non-commercial online use via embedding with attribution and a link back to the Getty Images website. According to Getty Images executive Craig Peters, "The principle is to turn what's infringing use with good intentions, turning that into something that's valid licensed use with some benefits going back to the photographer".
Copyright infringement lawsuits
In 2009, Car-Freshener Corp. filed a lawsuit against Getty Images in U.S. Federal Court, Northern District New York (Case 7:09-cv-01252-GTS -GHL). Car-Freshener claimed that Getty Images had in its catalog photos that included the famous "tree-shaped" trademarked car fresheners. In 2011, Getty Images attempted to have the case dismissed, but its motion was denied. In 2012, Getty Images agreed to settle by paying $100,000 to Car-Freshener Corp., but admitted no wrongdoing.
In September 2013, Avril Nolan brought a $450,000 suit against Getty Images. Nolan alleged Getty Images improperly allowed her image to be used in advertisements depicting her as HIV-positive. She claimed the ad's depiction of her as HIV-positive (she is not infected by the disease) hurt her personal and professional relationships and caused her emotional distress. In March 2014 a judge ruled the lawsuit will be taken to court rather than dismissed. Getty Images settled with Nolan in January 2015.
In November 2013, Getty and Agence France-Presse were ordered to pay $1.2 million compensation to freelance photojournalist Daniel Morel for using his images posted on Twitter related to the 2010 Haiti earthquake without his permission, in violation of copyright and Twitter's terms of service.
In July 2016, Getty was sued, unsuccessfully, for over $1 billion by Carol Highsmith, an American photographer notable for donating her 100,000+ images collection, royalty-free, to the Library of Congress, when Highsmith found that Getty has been selling unauthorized licenses of her work. Carol Highsmith found out about this when she received a letter from a law firm representing Getty demanding $120 for displaying her pictures on a personal website of hers.
The Getty Images Prestige Grant is awarded to two commercial photographers to realise a dream project, awarding them USD$15,000 and $7,500 respectively. The first recipients, in 2015, were Lisa Barnard and Andy Lo Po.
- David M Benett