Time, Getty Images Launch Life.com

Posted on 4/1/2009 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Six months after the initial announcement of the partnership between Time Inc. and Getty Images, the two have launched jointly owned Life.com. The Web site houses over 7 million photos from LIFE magazine and Getty collections, and an additional 3,000 images shot by Getty photographers will be added daily.

Life.com uses Getty’s search technology. Time editors and sales force will oversee the site’s content and advertising sales, respectively.

In addition to advertising, Life.com will generate revenue by offering products, such as framed prints, photo books and T-shirts, through various third-party vendors, including Amazon.com, Art.com and Cafe Press; companies providing print-on-demand services for photo books initially include HP, Xerox and Kodak. Getty also hopes to drive traffic to its commercial Web site: while Life.com encourages image-sharing and other personal, non-commercial uses of images, such as publishing them on one’s blog, other uses require obtaining a license through gettyimages.com.

From the perspective of a photo lover or history buff, Life.com is a treasure trove. It is the Web’s largest professional photography site, with practically all of its content openly available for the first time: 97% of the LIFE collection has not been digitized until now, and Getty’s own news and editorial imagery has never been available to the general consumer. Combine this with an intuitive interface, well-organized content and non-intrusive advertising, and the general-audience success of the new venture seems near certain.

However, actually using Life.com images is not without its issues, even from a general consumer perspective.

Free personal non-commercial licenses are problematic because of the ongoing confusion as to what actually constitutes a commercial blog. An overwhelming majority of personal blogs generate advertising revenue. A stay-at-home mom is likely to consider her gardening or parenting blog a non-commercial venture, while the only commercially germane difference between her and, for example, PDN Pulse, is the amount of revenue generated—and even this is pure speculation.

And what about a photographer who blogs about the business of photography but does not take advertising? Such a blog is clearly not a commercial venture—but it is definitely not personal, given its editorial focus. Vincent Laforet, for example, thinks that he can publish an essay using Life.com’s imagery—but can he, given that he covers a business-only subject, and that a case could be made for his blog driving his photography revenues?

Beyond determining whether a use a blogger might have in mind is in line with the Life.com definition, another end-user problem is that Life.com has granted consumers the right to use imagery free of charge, but do its owners own the rights to every image housed within the Web site? At least one LIFE-published photographer has already asserted that he has retained ownership of his images and has not given anyone the right to allow their uses free of charge. A user acting on Life.com’s permission may end up in very hot water.

While issues facing consumers are theoretically interesting, they are entirely academic. It is unlikely that Time or Getty will pursue inappropriate image uses. Online infringement is already rampant, and Life.com makes it extraordinarily easy for anyone to grab an image—including Getty’s premium content, which was previously better guarded on gettyimages.com. It is an unavoidable conclusion that Life.com content will be widely pirated. It is equally clear that this is a trade-off: the two companies are banking on traffic, which will bring advertising revenues and secondary revenues from product sales and image licensing through gettyimages.com.

While Life.com owners have deemed this an acceptable trade-off for their businesses, Life.com policies will also affect the broader industry—mainly content owners and image-licensing businesses. Thus far, several observers have expressed content-devaluation concerns.

Laforet, for example, thinks that allowing free image uses in email, on blogs and on social networks sets the precedent that images shared in such venues should not lead to any income for image owners: “Haven’t the photographers lost yet another way of making potential income—even if these images were to be licensed for a nominal fee for personal use? Are blogs and social networking sites in effect being granted a de facto right to publish images for free from hereon out?”

In Daryl Lang’s analysis, Getty’s decision to make its contemporary news and entertainment imagery available for free “means the value of an unlimited worldwide editorial license for a professional news picture has just fallen to $0… Under the free sharing model advanced by LIFE.com, no one is going to pay to license photographs online.”

Copyright © 2009 Julia Dudnik Stern. 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


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