Tim Aldiss writes for Spectrum Photographic – professional photographic & giclée printing.
A merger of two of the biggest rivals in image licensing is to take place, as Bill Gates’ Corbis Imagery and Getty images, owned by Beijing-based Chinese consortium Visual China Group (VCG) are to unite. VGC have bought Corbis through their international affiliate, Unity Glory, is this latest purchase of a US media company by a Chinese outfit. The value of the deal’s unknown, but the purchase extends to Corbis’ Bettmann Collection, one of the most famous collections of 16m images from the 19th and 20th centuries and the Sygma Archive, comprising 34m images of various historical events from around Europe.
New York-based Getty announced that the exclusive deal had been reached to license the Corbis portfolio anywhere in the world except, bizarrely enough, in VGC’s home country of China! The merger will mark the end of an era for Corbis, which has been running for over 25 years under Gates’ private ownership. He initially named the company ‘Interactive Home Systems’ but switched to the more punchy name of ‘Corbis’ at a later date. Gates had a vision that revolving digital art frames would be the wonder of the future in interior design and he set out to achieve this. The advent of the Internet in the 1990’s only reinforced Gates conviction that he could deliver great art in a high quality digital format to customers in their very own living rooms.
Sadly, Corbis didn’t survive the test of time and by the end of 2015, staff cuts were on the agenda. Shortly after this came the announcement that Corbis Images and Corbis Motion would migrate over to Getty. This is, however, a triumph for Getty and the well-established Corbis portfolio of imagery, video and historic archive content is now running alongside Getty’s own images and videos, which already run into the millions. Corbis isn’t the only feather in Getty’s cap, since it currently has around 330 image partners, including prestigious names such as BBC Worldwide, NBC Universal, and Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Whilst all’s not lost for Corbis, which will continue to operate under its product placement and advertising divisions, there are potentially serious implications for photo licensing, with many photographers unhappy about the merger. One of the main problems is that stock photography sites previously owned by Corbis, such as demotix.com, appear to have vanished, or become inaccessible to members. Many photographers have outstanding balances owed to them by these sites for their images, which they can no longer access into the bargain. Many Corbis photographers are asking what they should do now and the word on the street says that only a small proportion of Corbis photographers will be offered future contracts through Getty. There’s also concern over censorship issues since VGC’s a Chinese company and this country isn’t best known for its freedom of artistic expression. The whole process could take a while to resolve and, in the meantime, photographers who are affected by the changes will have to wait for further news to arrive.