Getty Images Allows Free Access to Photos

Copyright battle spurs free access to imaging site in a blow to freelance photographers.

Screen grab of Getty Images' new embed feature, which allows anyone to share the company's photos for free.

Getty Images' new embed feature allows anyone to share the company's images on websites, blogs, and social media platforms.

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Getty Images now allows free, noncommercial use of its galleries of tens of millions of pictures, graphics and other images in a victory for websites seeking to push down barriers of online copyright rules while dealing a serious blow to small photography businesses trying to make money from their craft.

The price of photos online has dropped in recent years as instances of copyright infringement have skyrocketed, and more services offer options for free photo sharing if the artist is given credit, including Wikimedia Commons and Creative Commons. This resembles a disruption of a profit system faced by writers as websites increasingly offered articles for free in recent decades.

[OPINION: Congress Must Reform Copyright Law for the Internet Age]

Images on the Getty website will come with embed code, similar to Instagram or YouTube. That code will include photographer attribution and will link back to the homepage where the photo can be licensed for commercial use, thus providing a legal way to share content and generate licensing revenue, the company announced in a news release. News agencies will also be able to embed photos for free if they are used in an editorial context.

"Innovation and disruption are the foundation of Getty Images, and we are excited to open up our vast and growing image collection for easy, legal sharing in a new way that benefits our content contributors and partners, and advances our core mission to enable a more visually-rich world." said the news release from Jonathan Klein, co-founder and CEO of Getty Images.

The embed feature will be on display at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.