Getty Images

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Getty Images, Inc.
IndustryPublishing, media, web design
GenreStock photography
PredecessorGetty Communications, PhotoDisc
Founded14 March 1995; 26 years ago (1995-03-14) (as Getty Investments, LLC.)[1]
FounderMark Getty[1]
Jonathan Klein[1]
Seattle, Washington
Area served
Key people
Craig Peters (CEO)
Rik Powell (CFO)[2]
ProductsDigital images, audio, video
ServicesRights-managed and royalty-free images, audio and video
OwnerGetty family
DivisionsGetty Productions
Tony Stone Images
Hulton Getty
Contour Collection
The Image Bank

Getty Images, Inc. (stylised as gettyimages) is a British-American visual media company with headquarters in Seattle, Washington. It is a supplier of stock images, editorial photography, video and music for business and consumers, with an archive of over 200 million assets. It targets three markets—creative professionals (advertising and graphic design), the media (print and online publishing), and corporate (in-house design, marketing and communication departments).

Getty has distribution offices around the world and capitalizes on the Internet for distribution. As Getty has acquired other older photo agencies and archives, it has digitised their collections, enabling online distribution. Getty Images operates a large commercial website that clients use to search and browse for images, purchase usage rights, and download images. Image prices vary according to resolution and type of rights. The company also offers custom photo services for corporate clients.


The Getty Images gallery at Eastcastle Street, London

In 1995, Mark Getty and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Klein co-founded Getty Investments LLC in London.[1] Mark Getty is the company's chairman. In September 1997, Getty Communications, as it was called at the time, merged with PhotoDisc, Inc. to form Getty Images. The company relocated to Seattle two years later and expanded in the United States, reaching 2,000 employees by 2006.[1] In April 2003, Getty Images entered into a partnership with Agence France-Presse (AFP) to market each other's images.[3]

Getty Images acquired the Michael Ochs Archives in February 2007.[4] The Michael Ochs Archives were described by The New York Times as "the premier source of musician photography in the world".[5]

In 2008, the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman (H&F) acquired Getty Images for $2.4 billion.[1] In 2012, H&F put Getty up for sale.[6] As of the ensuing sale to Carlyle Group, the company was said to have an archive that included 80 million stills and illustrations.[7] The company was acquired by the Getty family in 2018.

The company moved to its current headquarters, in the Union Station office complex in Seattle's International District, in 2011.[8]

In 2015, Jonathan Klein became the company's chairman and Dawn Airey was hired as chief executive officer (CEO) of Getty Images.[9][10][11] Airey remained in the role until 31 December 2018, at which time she became a non-executive director member of its board.[12]

In 2019, Getty Images introduced Market Freeze, simplifying exclusivity of rights-managed images.[13] Later that year, it announced that due to customers' needs changing, it plans to phase out rights-managed imagery by 2020 in favor of royalty-free images.[14]


PhotoDisc's online image sales website (2000)
The Hulton Archive website (2001)

Since its formation, Getty Images has pursued an aggressive programme of acquisition, buying up many privately owned agencies that had built up the stock photography industry, from small family-run firms to larger agencies. By 1999, it had acquired one of the largest agencies, Tony Stone Images; the online art seller; the sports photography agency Allsport; the market leader in the Benelux and Scandinavia: Word View (1996, from Mr. Bert Blokhuis, four offices, for undisclosed sum); journalistic specialists Liaison Agency; Newsmakers, the first digital news photo agency; Online USA, a specialist in celebrity shots; and the Hulton Press Library, the former archive of the British photojournalistic magazine Picture Post. The Hulton collection was sold by the BBC to Brian Deutsch in 1988, when it was renamed Hulton Deutsch. In 1996, the Hulton collection was sold on once more, this time purchased by Getty Images and renamed Hulton Getty. With the acquisition of the Hulton library, Getty Images took ownership of the rights to some 15 million photographs from British press archives dating back to the nineteenth century. Hulton Getty also included photographs from the Keystone Collection, as well as images by notable photographers such as Bert Hardy, Bill Brandt, Weegee and Ernst Haas.[15]

Getty has branched out into stock audio, music and sound effects, and also video with the acquisition of EyeWire and Energy Film Library.[16] Getty has partnered with other companies including Slidely for companies and advertisers to use the Getty Images video library of around 2 million videos.[17]

In 2000, Getty acquired one of its main competitors, Archive Photos of New York (a division of The Image Bank), for US$183 million.[16] The Archive Photos library was combined with the Hulton Getty collection to form a new subsidiary, Hulton Archive. Archive Photos had been formed in 1990 from the merger of Pictorial Parade (est. 1935) and Frederick Lewis Stock Photos (est. 1938), two well-established US photo agencies. Their collections included archive images from The New York Times, Metronome and George Eastman House, and works by photographers such as Ruth Orkin, Anacleto Rapping, Deborah Feingold, Murray Garrett, Nat Fein and John Filo.[15]

Further acquisitions followed, with the purchase in 2004 of for US$20 million.[18] On 9 February 2006, the microstock photo website iStockphoto was acquired by Getty Images for US$50 million.[19] In 2007, Getty successfully purchased its largest competitor, MediaVast, for $207 million. The acquisition gave Getty Images control of WireImage (Entertainment, creative, and sports photography), FilmMagic (fashion and red carpet photography), and Contour Photos (portrait and studio photography). Getty Images also acquired other subsidiaries, including Master Delegates, which includes Isifa Image Service in Prague and Laura Ronchi in Italy.[20] In 2008, Getty purchased Redferns Music Picture Library, the music photo library built up by British jazz photographer David Redfern.[21]

On 23 October 2008, Getty Images announced their intention to buy Jupitermedia's online images division, Jupiterimages, for $96 million in cash.[22] The sale went ahead in February 2009; Jupiterimages (including the sites stock.xchng and StockXpert) is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Getty. Jupitermedia, now trading as WebMediaBrands, continues its Internet publishing business, which they didn't sell to Getty Images.[23]

On 25 January 2016, Corbis announced that it had sold its image licensing business, including the Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and Veer libraries and their associated assets, to Unity Glory, an affiliate of Visual China Group—Getty's exclusive distributor in China. Concurrently, it was announced that VCG would, after a transition period, license distribution and marketing of the Corbis library outside of China to Getty. Getty now manages Corbis's physical archives on behalf of VCG and Unity Glory.[24][25][26]

In March 2021, Getty Images acquired Unsplash, a free-to-use stock photography website, for an undisclosed sum.[27]

Corporate ownership and management[edit]

In February 2008, it was announced that Getty Images would be acquired by the private equity firm Hellman & Friedman in a transaction valued at an estimated US$2.4 billion.[28] On 2 July 2008, Getty Images announced the completion of its acquisition. Getty Images common stock ceased trading on the New York Stock Exchange at the close of the acquisition and was delisted from the NYSE.[29]

In 2012, H&F engaged investment bankers to sell the company. While a price of $4 billion was initially discussed, in August when the private equity firm Carlyle Group emerged as the likely acquirer, the price under consideration was said to be $3.3–3.4 billion. CVC Capital Partners Ltd. was also said to have been bidding but had yet to top Carlyle's price.[6] The sale to Carlyle thereafter was announced at $3.3 billion, with co-founders Getty and Klein and the Getty family all carrying their investments over into the new ownership structure. Getty continues to serve as chairman and Klein as chief executive.[7]

In September 2018, the Getty family announced it would acquire majority stake in the company from Carlyle Group.[30]

Copyright enforcement and controversy[edit]

An image formerly available at Getty Images, displaying a watermark with "Getty Images", the author's name, and a file-ID number. This watermark exists on all images on Getty Images when previewing the images, to prevent copyright infringement.

Beginning in 2008, Getty Images has been the subject of controversy for its methods of pursuing copyright enforcement on behalf of its photographers. Rather than pursue a policy of sending "cease and desist" notices, Getty typically mails a demand letter that claims substantial monetary damages from owners of websites it believes infringed on their photographers' copyrights. Getty commonly tries to intimidate website owners by sending collection agents, even though a demand letter does not create a debt.[31]

One photographer noted, "Courts don't like to be used as a means of extortion." In one case, Getty sent a church in Lichfield, Staffordshire, a £6,000 bill for photographs it used on its website, apparently placed there by a church volunteer. In this case, the church offered to pay Getty what it thought was a reasonable amount. The diocese's communications director said:

Getty was not playing ball or following the normal litigation or dispute resolution procedures and [I advised the church] to ignore them. We don't deal with bullies; we deal with legal threats appropriately. I told [Getty] by letter that's what [the church was] doing, that we were not going to play, and didn't hear any more.[31]

The Guardian described other instances in which Getty or other stock photo businesses dropped a claim when a website owner refused to pay and hired a lawyer. A law firm was quoted as saying: "Once we get involved generally Getty does back off."[31]

In 2009, Oscar Michelen, a New York attorney who focuses on such damages claims, said: "The damages they're requesting aren't equal to the copyright infringement," and "there's no law that says definitively what images are worth in the digital age."[32] He called Getty's effort to assess four-figure fines "a legalized form of extortion".[32]

In an effort to combat online copyright infringement, in March 2014 Getty Images made over 35 million images available free for non-commercial online use via embedding with attribution and a link back to the Getty Images website.[33][34] According to Getty Images executive Craig Peters, "The principle is to turn what's infringing use with good intentions, turning that into something that's valid licensed use with some benefits going back to the photographer".[35]

On 15 February 2018, Google Images' interface was modified in order to meet the terms of a settlement and licensing partnership with Getty. The "View image" button (a deep link to the image itself on its source server) was removed from image thumbnails. This change is intended to discourage users from directly viewing the full-sized image (although doing so using a browser's context menu on the embedded thumbnail is not frustrated), and encourage them to view the image in its appropriate context (which may also include attribution and copyright information) on its respective web page. The "Search by image" button has also been downplayed, as reverse image search can be used to find higher-resolution copies of copyrighted images. Google also agreed to make the copyright disclaimer within the interface more prominent.[36][37]

Copyright infringement lawsuits[edit]

In 2009, Car-Freshner Corp., makers of Little Trees, filed a lawsuit against Getty Images in U.S. Federal Court, Northern District New York (Case 7:09-cv-01252-GTS -GHL).[38] Car-Freshner claimed that Getty Images had in its catalog photos that included the famous "tree-shaped" trademarked car fresheners. In 2011, Getty Images attempted to have the case dismissed, but its motion was denied.[39] In 2012, Getty Images agreed to settle by paying $100,000 to Car-Freshener Corp., but admitted no wrongdoing.[40]

In September 2013, Avril Nolan brought a $450,000 suit against Getty Images. Nolan alleged that Getty Images improperly let her image be used in advertisements that depicted her as HIV-positive. She claimed the ad's depiction of her as HIV-positive (she is not) hurt her personal and professional relationships and caused her emotional distress.[41][42] In March 2014 a judge ruled the lawsuit will be taken to court rather than dismissed.[43] Getty Images settled with Nolan in January 2015.[44]

In November 2013, Getty and Agence France-Presse were ordered to pay $1.2 million compensation to freelance photojournalist Daniel Morel for using his images posted on Twitter related to the 2010 Haiti earthquake without his permission, in violation of copyright and Twitter's terms of service.[45][46]

In July 2016, Getty was sued, unsuccessfully,[47] for over $1 billion by Carol Highsmith, an American photographer notable for donating her 100,000+ image collection, royalty-free, to the Library of Congress, when Highsmith found that Getty had been selling unauthorized licenses of her work (an instance of copyfraud).[48][49] Highsmith found out about this when she received a letter from a law firm representing Getty, demanding $120 for displaying her pictures on a personal website of hers.[50][51]

In August 2016, Zuma Press, an independent press agency, filed suit against Getty for alleged copyright violations and unauthorized licensing of more than 47,000 images.[52]

Claiming copyright over public domain content[edit]

Getty Images has continued the practice that Corbis (whose license it acquired in 2016) has been criticized for of claiming copyright, watermarking and selling images that are in public domain, including images related to The Holocaust like the Warsaw Ghetto boy photo,[53][54] the Polish cavalry in Sochaczew photograph,[55] or images created by NASA.[56] Getty has also tried to collect fees from photographers for use of their own images that they had previously put in the public domain.[56]

Public-domain photos from historical photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans have long been available for unrestricted downloading from the United States Library of Congress. The exact same images are also available from Getty Images, subject to a licensing fee of up to $5,000 for a six-month term.[57] This demonstrates an example of copyfraud.

Prestige Grant[edit]

The Getty Images Prestige Grant is awarded to two commercial photographers to realise a dream project, awarding them US$15,000 and $7,500 respectively. The first recipients, in 2015, were Lisa Barnard and Andy Lo Po.[58][59]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Roberts, Paul (1 December 2019). "It's crunch time for Seattle-based photo giant Getty Images, and for photographers". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  2. ^ Franklin, Joshua (4 September 2018). "Getty family to regain control of photo agency". Reuters. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  3. ^ "Getty Images and Agence France-Presse (AFP) Enter Into Partnership to Increase Breadth, Depth, Reach and Quality" (Press release). Getty Images. 1 April 2003. Archived from the original on 24 October 2008. Retrieved 23 November 2008.
  4. ^ "Getty Images Acquires the Michael Ochs Archives". Getty Images. 27 February 2007. Archived from the original on 11 July 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  5. ^ Schwarz, Alan (28 May 2006). "They Had Faces Then: An Archive Keeps Stars Ever Young". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 May 2010.
  6. ^ a b Alesci, Cristina, and Jeffrey McCracken, "Carlyle Group Said to Be Leading Bidder for Getty Images" Archived 16 August 2012 at the Wayback Machine, Bloomberg, 14 August 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2012.
  7. ^ a b "Carlyle in $3.3 Billion Deal for Getty Images", New York Times Dealbook, 15 August 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2012.
  8. ^ "Getty Images moving HQ to International District". The Seattle Times. 12 August 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2019.
  9. ^ "Dawn Airey takes over from Jonathan Klein as Getty Images boss". Financial Times.
  10. ^ Jasper Jackson. "Dawn Airey joins Getty Images as CEO". The Guardian.
  11. ^ "Getty Images appoints Dawn Airey as Chief Executive Officer" (Press release). Getty Images Press Room.
  12. ^ "Dawn Airey". Getty Images. Retrieved 9 August 2020.
  13. ^ Pickerell, Jim (13 March 2019). "Getty To Push Exclusive RM". Selling Stock.
  14. ^ Banwell, Paul (7 November 2019). "Service Announcement: Important licensing changes that will affect your images". Getty Images.
  15. ^ a b "About Hulton Archive". Hulton Archive. 2001. Archived from the original on 21 October 2001. Retrieved 14 August 2009. (archived on the Web Archive)
  16. ^ a b Gross, Larry P.; Katz, John Stuart; Ruby, Jay (2003). Image ethics in the digital age. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-3824-6.
  17. ^ "New Promo Feature from Slidely Aims to Make Every Marketer Into a Video Creator: But Does it Succeed?". 6 October 2016. Retrieved 11 May 2017.
  18. ^ "About".
  19. ^ "Getty Images Buys For $50 Million". Archived from the original on 27 January 2009.
  20. ^ "Getty Images Acquires Its Italian Master Delegate, Laura Ronchi, S.p.A." Archived from the original on 24 October 2008.
  21. ^ "David Redfern obituary". 25 October 2014. Retrieved 14 April 2018.
  22. ^ D'Souza, Savio (23 October 2008). "Jupitermedia to sell online image unit to Getty". Reuters. Retrieved 14 August 2009.
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  25. ^ "The Decade-Long Image Licensing War Is Suddenly Over". Time. Retrieved 26 January 2016.
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  27. ^ Simpson, Meagan (30 March 2021). "Unsplash to be acquired by Getty Images | BetaKit". BetaKit. Retrieved 30 March 2021.
  28. ^ "Getty Images Press Release" (Press release). 25 February 2008. Archived from the original on 29 February 2008.
  29. ^ "Getty Images Announces Completion of Acquisition by Hellman & Friedman" (Press release). 2 July 2008. Archived from the original on 30 June 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2010.
  30. ^ "Getty family to buy majority stake in Getty Images from Carlyle". Reuters. 4 September 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2018.
  31. ^ a b c Grossman, Wendy, "Is a picture really worth £1,000?", The Guardian, 27 November 2008. Retrieved November 2011.
  32. ^ a b Lazarus, David (13 September 2009). "Controlling illegal use of copyrighted material on the Web - Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 12 September 2013.
  33. ^ Laurent, Olivier (5 March 2014). "Getty Images makes 35 million images free in fight against copyright infringement". British Journal of Photography. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  34. ^ Brustein, Joshua (6 March 2014). "Since It Can't Sue Us All, Getty Images Embraces Embedded Photos". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  35. ^ Brandom, Russell (5 March 2014). "The world's largest photo service just made its pictures free to use". The Verge. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  36. ^ "Google removes 'view image' button from search results to make pics harder to steal". The Verge. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  37. ^ Amadeo, Ron (16 February 2018). "Internet rages after Google removes "view image" button, bowing to Getty". Ars Technica. Retrieved 12 April 2019.
  38. ^ "No. 7:09-CV-1252 (GTS/GHL)". Google Scholar. United States District Court, N.D. New York. Retrieved 27 January 2015.
  39. ^ Michelen, Oscar (4 October 2011). "Makers of Pine-Tree Deodorizers Allowed to Proceed With Lawsuit Against Getty Images".
  40. ^ Michelen, Oscar (28 August 2012). "Getty Images Pays $100K to Settle Car-Freshner Suit".
  41. ^ Marsh, Julia. "Model sues after HIV-positive ad". New York Post.
  42. ^ Ryan, Órla (20 September 2013). "Greenpoint Model Tired of Telling Dates She's HIV Free Sues Getty". The New York Observer. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  43. ^ Marsh, Julia (10 March 2014). "Model wins round in HIV-ad lawsuit". New York Post. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  44. ^ Butler, Office of Joy R. "More Lessons on How Not to Use Stock Images. Improper Use of Stock Image in HIV Ad Results in Successful Lawsuits against Getty Images and Advertiser". Lexology. 8 February 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  45. ^ Ax, Joseph (22 November 2013). "Photographer wins $1.2 million from companies that took pictures off Twitter". Reuters. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  46. ^ Laurent, Olivier (24 November 2013). "Getty Images disappointed at $1.2m Morel verdict". British Journal of Photography. Incisive Media. Archived from the original on 26 November 2013. Retrieved 25 November 2013.
  47. ^ "$1 Billion Getty Images Lawsuit Ends Not with a Bang, but a Whimper". Retrieved 16 February 2020.
  48. ^ Hiltzik, Michael (29 July 2016). "Photographer sues Getty Images for $1 billion after she's billed for her own photo". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 3 August 2016.
  49. ^ Farivar, Cyrus (28 July 2016). "Photographer sues Getty Images for selling photos she donated to public". Ars Technica. Retrieved 28 July 2016.
  50. ^ Hiltzik, Michael (2 August 2016). "Getty Images will bill you thousands to use a photo that belongs to the public. Is that legal?". LA Times. Retrieved 2 August 2016.
  51. ^ "Getty Likely To Settle $1B Suit By Photographer For Appropriating Her Public-Domain Work". Forbes.
  52. ^ "Getty Images sued again over alleged misuse of over 47,000 photos". Ars Technica. 2016.
  53. ^ Struk, Janina (2004). Photographing the Holocaust: Interpretations of the Evidence. I.B.Tauris. pp. 208–209. ISBN 978-1-86064-546-4.
  54. ^ "Nazis Arresting Jews in Warsaw Ghetto". Getty Images. Retrieved 1 November 2018.
  55. ^ "Battle of the Bzura. Polish cavalry in Sochaczew in 1939.World War II". Getty Images.
  56. ^ a b Getty Images Sued Yet Again For Trying To License Public Domain Images, Mike Masnick, techDirt, 1 April 2019
  57. ^ "Getty Images will bill you thousands to use a photo that belongs to the public. Is that legal?", Los Angeles Times, August 2, 2016
  58. ^ "Getty Images Creative Grants 2015". Getty Images. Archived from the original on 4 October 2015. Retrieved 8 October 2015.
  59. ^ "Getty Images announces recipients of new Prestige Grant". Getty Images. 7 October 2015. Retrieved 8 October 2015.

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