Getty Images acquires Unsplash

Uh-oh?!? What does the acquisition mean for photographers and users?

Well, the day before yesterday’s news came as quite a surprise. Getty Images, one of the world’s leading stock content providers, acquired Unsplash, which is known for its free image policy. A second look at the calendar confirmed that it wasn’t April 1st yet. Accordingly, there is no reason to believe we’re being fooled.

In the wake of this news, our team sat down this morning to have a cup of coffee and share our thoughts about the acquisition.

Here is why we think there are still many things left unsaid (and for God’s sake need to be clarified ASAP!)


From the photographer's point of view

Matter No 1
Will we keep the status-quo?

Many photographers we know have told us that they use Unsplash to get publicity and even to guide organic search traffic on their website. OK, that makes sense. Perhaps that explains why they would accept Unsplash’s somewhat weird terms of use. Getty Images promised to keep the free content model. Unsplash will continue to operate as an independent brand and its images will remain free-to-use. That leads us to matter number 2.


Matter No 2
Does exposure alone pay the bills?

So photographers upload their images to Unsplash. In doing so, they’re not earning any money but are taking on responsibilities for any rights issues. Does that makes sense? Honestly, why is it so common for creatives to not get paid for their work? Would anybody even consider asking a carpenter to build a new table for the office but not be willing to pay them (I suppose you could, but don’t expect a friendly reply). We need to get back to paying people for their work. But when Getty Images says that everything will stay the same, how are they planning to earn money with Unsplash? As far as I know Getty Images didn’t turn into a non-profit organization trying to stop the exploitation of photographers. That leads us to matter number 3.


Matter No 3
How can Getty Images monetize Unsplash in the future?

Some believe that links to paid images at Getty Images will be placed among the free images in Unsplash search results so they can get some people to pay for images. Another option would be to offer tailored plans. Imagine “Unsplash Unlimited”,“Unlimited Downloads”, “No Advertisement” and so on and so forth. That brings us full circle:


Will we keep the status quo?

When it comes to photographers I sadly think the answer is yes. I don’t see any improvements on the horizon for them. I do love surprises however. Go ahead, Getty Images: prove us all wrong! 😊

From the user’s point of view

Matter No 4
Will Getty Images be more transparent about Unsplash’s legal policies?

We always, always, always advise our customers to keep their hands off free stock images platforms.

Usually those platforms make outsized claims about allowing for unlimited commercial use without any restrictions or worries. The content itself seems perfect. Is this an exception to the rules? In this case the devil is in the details and we have to read the fine print. When studying their terms and conditions, it quickly becomes clear that those platforms do not assume any responsibility for model or property rights clearance, nor for clearance of any rights related to brands or artwork shown.

Last but not least, legal disclaimers leave the unsuspecting downloader left holding the bag if any legal issues arise. Consequently, using free stock image platforms can quickly become a really expensive and time-consuming problem. For more information, I recommend the article Do you still “google” your pictures or are you sminting already?.

I think this is going to be a very interesting topic and I am looking forward to seeing how Getty Images handles it.


Matter No 5
Have you downloaded pictures from Unsplash?

Okay, maybe you should ask yourself following questions:

Have you or your company downloaded Unsplash pictures?
Where are they?
Do you use them for advertising or on your website?
Are there people in these pictures?
Is there creative work visible in these pictures?

The basic principle is: as soon as people are visible in a picture or in a video it is best to get a model release. Whenever possible, make sure to get a property release for creative work. This will minimize your legal risk.

You can find more details about those topics in this article: What is a model or property release? When do I need a release?


Did we forget anything important?
Do you have any thoughts or questions about this topic?

Come and share with us – we would love to hear what you are up to!

Christina Holzner

Christina is our Chief Marketing Officier and loves great tips & life hacks.

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