Getty Images Changes Watermark, Tries to Change Image

Getty Images Changes Watermark, Tries to Change Image ImageEarlier this month, Getty images announced that it was changing its iconic watermark on its images. The move marked both a huge shift for Getty Images but, possibly, for watermarking on the Web entirely.

Getty Images, as the largest stock photo provider in the world, has always been at the forefront of image watermarking. It’s previous watermark, which was simply a translucent version of their logo positioned across the center of the image, was probably the most-viewed and most-recognizable watermark anywhere.

However, as Getty Images also came to recognize, it was also one of the most disliked. Though it’s method of watermarking was simple and effective, if a bit crude, it wasn’t much help to potential buyers and, to many, it was off-putting for Getty’s brand, making it seem obstructionist.

So how did Getty do when reinventing it’s brand? To answer that, we have to take a look at the changes Getty made and how they will likely impact the brand (as well as watermarking on the whole) moving forward.

The New Getty Watermark

Those who are familiar with the old Getty watermark, probably remember it as something like this:

Getty Images Old Watermark

Basically, the watermark was nothing more than a partially-transparent version of the Getty Images logo centered over the image. This made the image viewable, but largely useless for anyone who was trying to take the image for some other use, online or off.

With the recent change, the Getty Images watermark now looks like this.

Getty Images New Watermark

Basically, the new watermark has three key differences:

  1. Location: Thought he new watermark takes up more of the image, it’s moved to the side and toward the bottom.
  2. Content: The new watermark contains a great deal more information, including a short URL to where one can license the image and information about the photographer of the image.
  3. No Logo: The new watermark not only removes the logo but removes all mention of Getty Images entirely (other than the domain that the short URL uses).

According to Getty, they wanted to make a watermark that was helpful rather than obstructionist and it seems to me that they have done just that.But will the tradeoffs they made be worthwhile?

Was It a Good Change?

In short: Yes.

The old watermark was relatively effective at preventing unauthorized reuse (at least of the images that were watermarked) but it wasn’t particularly helpful either. It provided no information about where to license the image legitimately other than Getty itself, which is an amazingly large repository of images that can be difficult to search through.

In short, even if you went to Getty Images to license a watermarked photo, you may never find that exact image without help.

Not only does this watermark provide practical licensing information, but it also provides author attribution, which is useful in tracking down the photographer if, for example, you simply liked that person’s work and wanted to see more.

The sacrifice that is made with the new watermark is that it’s moved to the side, meaning that some images may be able to have the mark easily cropped out. However, a brief search of Getty’s library shows that isn’t the case for most images, largely due to the increased size of the watermark and the shaded background that both makes the text easier to read and the image harder to use.

In short, the trade off between ease of misuse and information provided is likely a good one.

However, there are two gripes that I have about the watermark, though both are relatively minor.

  1. Difficult Short URL: The URL provided is difficult to use. Though the domain is simple, each image is identified by a series of numbers.
  2. Author Info Not Always Helpful: Many of the images are attributed to one-named individuals or seemingly random companies. This is more an issue with Getty’s database, but the author information provided is often lacking.

All in all though, the change is a good one and it may get more business from it. It does a better job encouraging legitimate use of images without appearing too overbearing and obstructionist.

In short, their watermarking system is definitely one others can learn from.

Bottom Line

Over the years I’ve been very critical of Getty Images, including their campaign of sending out threatening letters and some of their mergers.

However, I also want to give credit where credit is due with Getty and this is one of those times. Getty did something very savvy with their new watermark and others could definitely learn from it.

Unfortunately though, Getty still faces a lot of challenges beyond its watermark. Its licensing system is still needlessly complex, it’s rates are extremely expensive, often times over 1,000x more expensive than microstock alternatives, and its site is so confusing that only high-end media buyers will likely take the time to navigate.

In short, there are still many barriers to buying Getty-licensed images and I don’t see those walls coming down any time soon. If Getty, as per its video below, wants to be seen as a modern media company, they’re the walls they need to work no next.

After all, the watermark is just a facelift, the bigger problems lie underneath.


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