Adapting to Reality

I was excited to read about Getty Image’s change to their copyright and use policy. It appears that they have read the tea leaves and rather than fight use of their images online, they are embracing it in a way that they believe will still bring them profit and a measure of control over use of their images.

Getty Images will now allow individuals to legally and freely use selected images on websites, blogs and social media as long as the user embeds the image with the code provided by the Getty website. In exchange for using the embedded viewer, the terms of service state that “Getty Images (or third parties acting on its behalf) may collect data related to use of the Embedded Viewer and embedded Getty Images Content, and reserves the right to place advertisements in the Embedded Viewer or otherwise monetize its use without any compensation to you.”

While some non-profit purists may rail against commercialization in this fashion, I think that there needs to some reasonable middle ground. I hope that Getty Images has found it. They provide access to a plethora of high-quality images that individuals can easily search for and use. On the other hand, the potential monetization of the embedded viewer allows them to continue to function as a profitable business, and therefore to continue to provide images now and in the future. Below is an example of an embedded Getty image.

Embed from Getty Images

I think libraries and publishers can learn from this type of give-and-take. Publishers, at  least trade book publishers, continue to resist working with public libraries, claiming erroneously that libraries will give everyone access to every ebook at all times without any restrictions. I have written about this problem in a past post.

On the other hand, I think that libraries have to take stock of the new online landscape and be willing to work with publishing systems that may include commercialization aspects if that is the key for publishers to continue to make a profit.

For example, Overdrive, a popular ebook platform used by many public libraries, funnels users through Amazon when borrowing books. The lending of the ebook is free to the patron, just as the lending of print books is. After the lending period is over and the book is no longer available to the patron, the patron is provided with a link where they can purchase the book directly from Amazon. Of course, the patron could simply check the book out again for free if they want it, realizing that they may be put on a waiting list if it is a popular book. However, they are also given the option to purchase it if they want instant and permanent access. This arrangement creates incentives for trade publishers to work with libraries as it opens the doors to other potential buyers; individuals who already know they like the book and want their own copy. Some voices in the library world claim that this type of commercialization should never occur in libraries but I disagree. It might not be needed in the print world, but I think it may be a reasonable accommodation in a world of ebooks and low profit margins. One concern that I do have about this model, and which I feel must be addressed by publishers and book vendors is one of confidentiality. Print books checked out from libraries carry certain privacy guarantees; this provides a measure of safety for members of the public to explore and read whatever they wish. Similar protections must exist for patrons using library ebook collections if they are to flourish in library settings.

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