Posted on 1/16/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (2)

This is the third in a series of articles on the image collection that is available to Google Drive users. (It looks like there may be many more articles as more details unfold.) To see the first two articles go here and here.

For readers who thought this was only a microstock issue – think again. It now appears that there are only about 700 photos from iStock in the collection. Based on the latest count there seems to be about 7,000 images from traditional RF contributors. There are 118 images from Image Source; 80 from Tetra Images; 55 of Jamie Grill’s; 21 of Daniel Grill’s; 14 Pete Saloutos images from Blend and images from hundreds of other Royalty Free photographers.

To see a list of all the images as of a couple days ago, and who they belong to, go to The list is indexed by number of images in the collection and alphabetically for all those with the same number of images. Probably something the range of 2,000 of the images are  wholly owned by Getty, but the rest are owned by individuals that have contacted with Getty to represent their work. To see exactly which images are included go to the list, find your name and click on the number. All your thumbnails will be shown on the right.

It is believed that virtually all the images in the Google Drive project were licensed from Getty. At least 17 of the images appear to come from Shutterstock, but it is not clear how they got there. (See here.) It appears that all Getty contributors were paid a royalty of $12 for the use of each of their images in this collection. If these contributors are entitled to 20% or the gross sale price that would mean that Getty charged $60 per image.

Why Should You Care?

The rights that were licensed for this low fee appear to go far beyond the rights granted in most stock photo royalty free licenses. Traditionally, the customer can make unlimited use of a RF image but cannot hand that image to some other individual or entity and allow them to also use it. Given this requirement some microstock images are often licensed hundreds of times. The first person that licenses an image can’t say, “Here, I bought this image. You can use it and pass it on to all your friends.”

Normally, the price charged for a royalty free image will not cover its total cost of production. The fact that each image can be licensed many times, to many different users, for a variety of non-exclusive uses makes it possible for a single image to eventually earn enough to not only cover its production costs but generate a profit.

However,in the case of Google Drive the customer purchasing the image has no plans to publish it. Instead, Google plans to hand the images out to maybe tens of thousands of unique users who subscribe to Google Drive.

From Getty’s perspective there are some limits. According to Mr. Erin of iStockphoto the following are the terms of Getty’s license agreement with Google.
    Google has a bespoke EULA to allow these images to be used by Google users through the Google Drive platform. Users of this platform are granted rights to place this imagery in content created using Google Docs, Google Sites, and Google Presentations and these end uses can be for commercial purposes; however, users are not granted rights to use this imagery outside of Google Drive created content and Google users have no rights to redistribute image files outside of the context in which they’re used.
So, not everyone in the world can use these images for any commercial purpose they dream up. The images must be used within a Google Doc, a Google Site or a Google Presentation. But, Wikipedia say, “Google Drive is now the home of Google Docs, a suite of productivity applications, that offer collaborative editing on documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more.

Google’s vision is that Google Drive will replace the desktop. Users will create all the documents they need using various Google supplied programs, instead of Microsoft Office, and storing all their data in the cloud instead of on a hard drive. In the not to distant future, if Google has its way, more and more people will do all their work in the cloud using the free resources Google provides.

As far as I can tell, those who create documents using the productivity applications within Google Drive can legally output their production in any form whatsoever – printed material, on a website, audio-visual presentation, poster, T-shirt, TV program, etc.

Will Everyone Operate Legally?

While, in theory, it might not be legal for someone to go to Google Drive, grab a full size image, take it into Photoshop or InDesign and create an ad, does anyone believe that a lot of people won’t pay the $2.49 a month for the minimum amount of Google Drive space and then use as many images as they can find that fit their requirements.

Many microstock contributors have already gone to the site and grabbed a number of high resolution images that have a maximum width/height of 3200 pixelks.

One image creator pointed out, “If anyone is thinking of downloading and using these files for anything other than their stated Google Drive uses, you should be aware that Getty is making a big deal of the fact that they own PicHunter. It's possible these files have been embedded with some sort of code that will enable Getty, through PicHunter, to track illegal uses, and sue you. Be very careful.”

But, just finding a use would not be enough. Getty would have to prove that the offending use was created using a program that is not part of the Google Drive suite of applications. It will no longer be enough to just to find a use for which there was no specific license.

Is There Any Good News?

Given the uproar from iStock photographer in the last few days Getty is re-thinking what it has done and going back to Google to try to re-negotiate their original deal.

On the iStockphoto forum, speaking on behalf of iStockphoto, Mr. Erin said,
    “We’ve heard you, and we've met with Google and are working with them to refine the implementation which we believe will address some of the concerns raised over the past several days--including copyright ownership. Implementation aside, our goal is to do the best deals for Getty Images, iStockphoto and our contributors for the more than one million customers we service on an annual basis.” (Read his full statement here.)
But one must ask, how incompetent are the people who negotiated this deal in the first place? Why would they give away so much for so little? Were they totally unaware of Google’s plans? Didn’t they see that this has the potential to dramatically cut into the future market for stock photography? Didn’t they see that while they might make a little money now ($420,000 for 7,000 images at $60 each) they will undoubtedly lose a significant number of sales down the road? Are they planning to license a much larger portion of their entire collection in the same manner? Can they really be concerned at all about the best interests for image producers? In the future can image producers have any confidence that Getty will make licensing decisions that might be in their best interest?

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Todd Klassy Posted Jan 16, 2013
    You've done an excellent job bringing this story to light, Jim. Good work.

  • Jaak Nilson Posted Jan 17, 2013
    Getty has new owners and maybe they wish to get more profit from company. Boys from Wall Street and pressure for company. Who knows.

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