Getty Images Acquires PicScout

PicScout, an image tracking and licensing company, announced today that it has been acquired by Getty Images, which is a well-known stock photography company.

PicScout provides image detection tools useful for both monitoring where visual content is used online through its ImageTracker system and, in the case of its ImageExchange system, for enabling purchasers to locate images to be licensed and used legitimately.

Getty Images paid $20 million for the company and PicScout is still expected to operate independently and without any major changes to staff. However, the move will still likely come with some controversy as Getty Images has been the leader in the stock photo industry’s controversial copyright campaign, where it has routinely demanded settlements as high as $1,000 per infringing image it finds on the Web.

Getty has used PicScout’s technology for at least some of that campaign, which likely explains why Getty wanted to have PicScout under its roof.

PicScout’s sister company, PicApp, which licenses images for free for use on websites via a custom widget, was previously sold in 2008 to the Indian company Ybrant Digital Ltd. and is continuing today.

The purchase of PicScout is just the latest in Getty’s acquisitions, which have also included the free stock photo site Stock.XCHNG and microstock company iStockPhoto. Getty Images itself was purchased in 2008 by a private equity firm.

Obviously, I’ll be monitoring this merger moving forward to see if and how it affects copyright enforcement and licensing for visual artists. Though few individual photographers used PicScout due to the expense, many stock photo agencies, including Corbis, Image Source, Masterfile, etc. currently use PicScout’s services. It will be interesting to see if and how some of Getty’s competitors respond to this purchase.