Getty Images Makes 35 Million Pictures Free

Mar 7, 2014 4:00 PM PST

LOS ANGELES — In an ostensibly paradoxical move, Getty Images, the world’s largest photo agency, has made millions of its images free to use in an attempt to combat piracy.

There is a caveat — all photos will be “framed” with an embed code that links back to the Getty website.

Reps from the company said they made the decision after realizing that blogs, social media sites and other outlets were already using (at least) thousands of its images without attribution.  

"Our content was everywhere already," Craig Peters, a business development executive at the Seattle-based company, told the BBC.

While about 35 million photos can now be appropriated using a pre-fab embed tool, including famous shots of Marilyn Monroe and Barack Obama, some will barred from copy, including photos taken of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The move mirrors a growing trend in the adult and mainstream online markets that essentially concedes defeat to piracy by offering material for free, in exchange for ad revenue. Monolith YouTube and adult site WoodRocket.com both operate based on a business model proferring free content.

While some photographers have responded derisively to Getty's decision, others have welcomed it, arguing that adaptation is key to survival in the ever-changing digital landscape.

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