GETTY Images will give more than 40 million of its stock photos away for free as it seeks to address online photo piracy.
The stock photo agency introduced a new "embed" function on Thursday that will enable its images to be published on websites, blogs and social media free of charge, provided the images are not used to directly promote a product, service or business.
The move is a bid to address the largely unchecked illegal use of Getty's vast trove of images, said Craig Peters, the company's head of product and content development.
"Millions and millions of people are using this content without licence – they're right-clicking and stealing it," he said.
Photographers are going uncredited and users unwittingly placing themselves at risk of prosecution.
The new feature will include photographer attribution and when clicked will link back to Getty's website, where the image can be licensed for commercial use.
In future, Getty may look to further monetise the tool by incorporating advertising in the same vein as YouTube videos, Peters added.
He compared the move to the emergence of music download and streaming services, such as iTunes and Spotify, which have encouraged people to listen to music legally.
"We think the vast, vast majority of people will do the right thing when aware of it.
"We're the first in our industry to step out and provide them with a free, valid, legal way to utilise this content within their publishing."
The embed capability will be supported on any sites coded with HTML, and will include the latest news and sports images along with a large chunk of Getty's archive.