Rob Minto

Sport, data, ideas

The Getty watermark is a stroke of genius. Here’s why.

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I had an article in today’s FT (June 1, 2012) on Getty Images watermark (Getty shifts with new stamp of ownership), but in the interests of journalistic fairness, I couldn’t say exactly what I thought. So here’s what I think.

In brief: the company has changed the watermark from an obstructive, possessive gesture to a helpful, open one. It is not longer a simple stamp across the image, but a cleaner box with a short-form URL and a photographer credit.

It’s a stroke of genius, in my view. Why? Well, there are several reasons I can see. In no particular order:

1. What it says to bloggers (like me) is “hey, use our stuff, that’s fine”. This is a braver message than “we will tolerate you using our stuff without paying, but we’re not happy” which is the message of the old watermark.

2. It is actually useful. If you want to know more about a picture, a short URL to the full description, date, all that metadata – that’s useful stuff, rather than some reverse-image search, or guessing.

3. Getty resisted the temptation to overload the new watermark with extra data. It’s minimal enough to be cool. Good call.

4. It’s still their content though, and you can’t miss it. I don’t mind that. But it does allow you to enjoy the image more.

5. It’s a great example to other digital content companies. Don’t be afraid to experiment, to encourage sharing and free usage. The company doesn’t have shareholders (it’s owned by a private equity firm) but is thinking of listing. However, if I were a shareholder, I’d be happy. Getty has just scored high on brand points, and that is worth a lot in the long run.

6. The previous post, a picture of Nadal, uses the new watermark image. I would NEVER have used that in the past, being too wary of copyright. But now, if Getty are cool with it, I’m happy. I can pick a few pictures to liven up my blog. It doesn’t make money, so nor do Getty. But it’s not always about money.

One designer who I contacted about it, Dan Mall in Philadelphia, had this to say (it didn’t make the FT piece due to space):

I think it is a good move from a few different perspectives. Strategically, watermarks seem to be in the best interest of the stock site only, which sort of puts it at odds with the customer. Like locking the door when a homeless person walks by your car, that’s not a great way to start a relationship or convey any sort of warmth or trust. The new Getty watermark seems much more about focusing utility and attribution; protection is a side effect. I think that’s a golden combo.

Exactly. Here’s a video on it.

1 Comment

  1. “What it says to bloggers (like me) is “hey, use our stuff, that’s fine”.”

    Except that it’s not their stuff – it’s the photographer’s stuff. And it’s not necessarily fine at all. It’s interesting that that’s the way you see it – as an invitation to use it without payment or explicit permission. My first impression was that it’s actually a more effective safeguard against image piracy because it covers a far greater area than the previous watermark (albeit subtly) and makes it more difficult to appropriate without credit. Creative Commons it ain’t.

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