Getty Images is set to become the exclusive distributor of its rival’s content after a deal in which Corbis Images was sold to a Chinese company that has a partnership with the Getty agency. It was announced recently that Unity Glory, an affiliate of media business Visual China Group (VCG), has bought the assets and brands of Corbis Images for an undisclosed sum. A pre-existing agreement between Unity Glory and Getty will see Getty Images representing the Corbis content in all territories outside China, as the two companies have worked together for over ten years to share content. Once the Corbis still and moving images archives have been migrated into Unity Glory’s own archive, Unity Glory will distribute within China and Getty Images will sell the work in the rest of the world. 

Getty Images and Corbis Images have been rivals since Bill Gates, who was still Chairman of Corbis, changed the name of his Interactive Home Systems company to ‘Corbis Corporation’ and acquired the Bettmann Archive in 1995. The 16 million images of the collection made Corbis the largest supplier of stock images in the world, and the library went on the next year to acquire the rights to 40,000 photographs by Ansel Adams. After numerous other acquisitions Corbis bought the Sygma news agency in 1999, which bought over 40 million images of significant European events into its control. 

Getty Images is said to already control almost 200 million images, including 80 million from its Hulton Archive historical collection. The Getty empire includes iStockphoto (or iStock as it is now), the Tony Stone agency – now called ‘Stone’ – as well as the collection of royalty-free image business PhotoDisc. Thinkstock is Getty’s current royalty-free division. 

The Corbis Images content will be gradually merged into Getty’s own, which may well lead to job losses across the two agencies. An article on the Time Lightbox website quotes Getty Images’ Senior Vice President of Business Development, Craig Peters, as saying that Visual China Group will take over the contracts of all contributing Corbis photographers. “Contributors will [be able] to execute their rights as their contracts stipulate,” he says, according to the report. 

VCG is China’s largest visual media content company and currently has over 14,000 photographers and artists contributing to its collection. It won’t hold the physical assets of the Corbis purchase, such as historic documents and images recorded on film, plate and in print, and Getty will be responsible for taking over the housing and digitising of these. 

Whether this turns out to be good or bad news for contributors we will have to wait and see. Less competition in the market will perhaps stop the downward trend of stock photography prices, but ultimately the likely consequences are unclear. A joint statement from Getty and VCG says ‘details about the transition will be communicated to customers and contributors in the coming weeks’.

For more information see the Getty ImagesCorbis Images and Visual China Group websites. 

Press release:

Getty Images and Visual China Group Partner in Exclusive Global Distribution Partnership for Extensive Visual Content Collection of Corbis Images

Getty Images, the world leader in visual content and communications, and Visual China Group (“VCG”), a leading Chinese visual communications and new media business, today announced an exclusive distribution partnership that will enable Getty Images customers to access the extensive visual library from Corbis Images. As a result, the existing Getty Images collection of almost 200 million images will expand to include Corbis Images content, creating an unprecedented collection of images, videos and historic archival content for creative and editorial use worldwide.

The partnership follows VCG’s acquisition announced today of Corbis Images, Corbis Motion and Veer. Under the terms of that agreement, Unity Glory, an affiliate of VCG, will own and manage the worldwide images and motion archives, names and trademarks associated with these three Corbis licensing brands and Getty Images will have exclusive distribution rights to these Corbis brands and content.

VCG has partnered with Getty Images for over a decade to market and distribute Getty Images’ award-winning content exclusively in China.  After a transition period, Getty Images will exclusively offer Corbis creative stills, Corbis Motion content and Corbis archival and documentary content to its global customer base outside of China.

This partnership brings together the best creative and editorial imagery and combines Getty Images’ renowned Hulton Archive, the largest privately held archive in the world with an estimated 80 million images dating back to the beginning of photography, with Corbis’ Sygma and Bettmann archives. The Bettmann Archive is a significant historical image collection comprising of more than 16 million photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries, while the Sygma Archive holds 34 million images covering Europe’s most important historical events.

“As the most trusted and esteemed source of visual content in the world, Getty Images is always innovating and investing to bring customers the most comprehensive and diverse offering of quality content,” said Craig Peters, Senior Vice President, Business Development, Product and Content at Getty Images.

“We are excited to deepen our longstanding partnership with VCG, a trusted business partner for Getty Images in China, and to offer an unprecedented breadth and depth of gold-standard content across creative, editorial, archival and video, which customers will be able to access through an expanded and unified service at and through our market leading sales teams all over the world.”

Amy Jun Liang, Chief Executive Officer of VCG, said: “We are proud to work with our partner Getty Images to assemble such impressive visual assets and work together to better serve our customers around the world. This maximizes the commercial value of the assets, strengthens our market position in the industry, and marks a significant milestone in the expansion of our business portfolio to the world. As one of the largest companies in the image industry, we foresee a growing interest in China and around the world for premium visual content and we look forward to collaborating with Getty Images to fulfil this demand.”

Getty Images will create specific collections to house this new content on, where it will sit alongside award-winning content from Getty Images’ own staff photographers, its network of over 200,000 contributors and from approximately 330 existing image partner relationships, including prestigious partners NBC Universal, BBC Worldwide and AFP.

Getty Images’ purchasing options such as Premium Access agreements and recently introduced UltraPacks, the simplest way to buy and download content across creative, editorial, archival and video, will provide streamlined and flexible ways for customers to search, purchase and download imagery.

VCG is China’s largest image licensing company. Its website is China’s largest online licensing and copyright distribution for premium visual content, and its contributors’ network includes more than 14,000 photographers and artists and hundreds of image partners globally, serving the needs of advertisers, media outlets, and other organizations using licensed images, videos and musical content.

VCG and Getty Images will immediately begin work to migrate Corbis content, with migration to be completed as quickly as possible to ensure a seamless transition for customers, contributors and other partners. In the interim, Corbis customers will continue to access this content in the usual way via the Corbis websites and sales team.