Getty this week made up to 35 million images free to use.
The new policy – which is likely to upset many photographers – applies to bloggers and social media users.
They will be able to display Getty photos – including famous shots of Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy – on their websites via an embed tool.
— Sally Press (@PS_SallyP) March 6, 2014
They won’t have to pay a cent for the licensing fee or worry about receiving a threatening letter from an intellectual property rights lawyer.
Commercial organizations, such as media outlets, will still have to pay for the right to use the photos.
Getty has been fighting a losing battle against the illegal use of its images.
“Our content was everywhere already," said Craig Peters, a senior vice president of business development, who likened the situation faced by Getty to that of the music industry during the pre-iTunes era of the 1990s when content was being shared without attribution or payment.
"If you want to get a Getty image today, you can find it without a watermark very simply.
"The way you do that is you go to one of our customer sites and you right-click. Or you go to Google Image search or Bing Image Search and you get it there. And that's what's happening…"
Now Getty is trying to turn this illegal behavior into an opportunity to make money.
"What we're trying to do is take a behavior that already exists and enable it legally, then try to get some benefits back to the photographer primarily through attribution and linkage," Peters said.
Previously, all images displayed on Getty's website came with a watermark and users wanting the photo without the transparent placard had to pay for it.
That's not the case anymore. A large number of images will be framed with an embed code that attaches a credit and link back to Getty’s website where the user can get more information about the image or photographer.
It's based on the same system that lets you embed tweets or YouTube videos.
Getty's new embed tool.Screengrab
While the move seems counter intuitive given Getty makes money from selling permission to use photos from its vast library of images, there is method in its madness.
The Verge explains: “The new money comes because, once the images are embedded, Getty has much more control over the images.
"The new embeds are built on the same iframe code that lets you embed a tweet or a YouTube video, which means the company can use embeds to plant ads or collect user information.”
While Getty's announcement is great news for bloggers, photographers will probably have a different view.
"I do anticipate a great many photographers being unhappy if not that their images can be licensed for free in non-commercial contexts, but that they don’t have the opportunity to decide how their images can and cannot be used," Daniela Bowker, editor of photography website Photocritic.