Getty Images has just made 35 million of its photographs completely free to use on a website, blog or on social media.

Previously, in order to legally use Getty's images online, you'd need to pay a license fee. The stock photo service has now introduced a new Embed tool that, in a similar fashion to YouTube or Flickr, lets users copy a HTML iFrame code for non-commercial use on their website for free.

Using this code will mean the metadata of the image will be maintained, will also append a footer to the photograph that credits both Getty and the photographer, and provide a link back to Getty's licensing page for the image.

The decision to open up its image portfolio has been made in an attempt to tackle the widespread piracy issue that's seen un-watermarked photographs from Getty spread across the web, easy for anyone to poach, even if they do it inadvertently. The idea is if those people currently using images illegally have an easy way to do it for free, they're less likely to breach copyright.

"With the introduction of the Embed tool, we are acknowledging a content-sharing trend that already exists, and trying to harness its potentail," Lisa Willmer, Senior Director and Corporate Counsel at Getty Images, told us. "Many individuals simply 'right-click, save' and use our content regardless. When this happens, our images are often stripped of their metadata and attribution, meaning they can be used and re-used without us having visibility or control, and without end users having any indication of who the photographer is or how the image can be licensed."

"This content-sharing dynamic will not change; we can either treat it as a problem to police, or consider potential solutions within that dynamic," Lisa continued. "In focusing on innovative solutions, we begin to turn what might have been unauthorised uses without attribution into a robust digital marketing channel, ensuring our photographers' work is seen in more places online with proper attribution and with links back to our site."

It's been likened to the way Spotify is trying to tackle piracy in the music industry, by enabling users to stream music at minimal cost as an incentive not to illegally download it.

If Getty's gamble pays off, it could mean that we see the Embed tool used in the place of what would otherwise have been an unlicensed photo, so, at the minimum, photographers will get the attribution that is rightfully theirs.

Additionally, Getty could monetise the Embedded photos in the future using advertising. By having its photos embedded across the web, Getty will be able to access data that will enable it to run targeted ads alongside the images used.

When we asked Lisa what the reaction to the change has been from the photographers themselves, she replied: "As with any big change, responses have been varied. Many image partners and contributers are open to innovation and have been actively supporting it. Most acknowledge the reality of online copying and sharing and are glad that Getty Images is taking a bold step in the direction of using sharing as a means to promote their work and to encourage legal, attributed use of their content."

"Encouraging people to use the Embed tool will shake up the photo industry, and we're fine with that," she concluded.

What do you think about Getty's decision to open up its portfolio for embedding around the web? Let us know in the comments section below or on Twitter.