Life.com collection

April 1, 2009 · 0 comments

LIFE magazine and Getty images have teamed up in a new website life.com to allow viewing and licensing of their collection of millions of images.

The release is controversial among photographers because the site allows the free use of embedded images on personal and non-commercial websites through the use of embedded javascript code. Daryl Lang of PDN concludes “Under the free sharing model advanced by LIFE.com, no one is going to pay to license photographs online.” Photographer Vince LaForet expresses concern about “setting a precedent that images shared via those avenues should not lead to any income for photographers or agencies”

I am not sure it is such a bad idea, however, for several reasons. First, whereas traditional licensing involves delivering an image (jpg or tiff) to a client for them to work on and incorporate into their publication, this offering by life.com only provides a small piece of javascript which the user embeds into their blog or website. Advantages are that the image is still maintained and served from the life.com site, they can tell what site it is being used on, what amount of traffic is generated, and most importantly they can stop serving the image or serving it onto certain websites at will. By some measure life.com is displaying the image inside the website of the users. By providing embed code they are creating an alternative for traditional infringers who otherwise would either hotlink or just take the jpeg. Also the embed image script contains a link back to the life.com site for a viewer to get a traditional license or get more information. This may indeed generate additional revenue for he photographer and the agency.

There are three elements I would change though. First is registration. It is extremely easy to set up website registration (via email confirmation). If life.com were to only make embed scripts available to registered members then there would be an additional level of monitoring and a way to link embed usage to actual users. A similar service has already been rolled out by Picapp offering embeds of images from Corbis and Getty Editorial.

Secondly, the issue of financial return to the photographer could be ameliorated if there were a feasible micropayment system in widespread use. Google manages what are in effect micropayments on a per-click or per-page-view level with AdSense and Adwords, with iTunes we have the 99¢ song. One of the reasons blog usage has either been free, unauthorized or now script-based is that there’s isn’t in place a viable means to gather microrevenue. The third change I’d like to see is the incorporation of caption and credit info into the embed. The above well-known image by Dorothea Lange of a Migrant Mother in Nipomo California should always have her name and credit prominently displayed alongside, ye the embed code does not provide that.

There is one last issue that warrants serious review, though, and that is how this program fits with the original contracts and licensing agreements photographers signed with Time/LIFE.

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