Getty's intention is of course to find tens of thousands of saleable images on Flickr and market them, a project which will go live in March. Despite Flickr's T&C expressly prohibiting use of the system for commercial purposes, Yahoo! seem to have had no qualms about agreeing this 'monetising' of Flickr photos, probably because they need tihe money.
Many of the Flickrati are of course excited by the prospect of 'recognition' and representation by the world's largest photolibrary and are looking forward to the prospect of serious money from their work, even if they do gain only ~30% of gross in the usual Getty manner. They also seem unaware of Getty's ubiquitous price-slashing subscription lock-in deals with publishers, and that Getty's once-premium brand now includes microstock. Thomas Hawk says that for Yahoo!, owners of Flickr, 'one of the big reasons for choosing Getty for the deal was that iStockphoto is one of the best companies in the world at clearing images'. Apparently Flickr is being trawled for microstock fodder.
This collision of cash and web 2.0 community has its problems. Flickr's default licensing for punters' photos is Creative Commons to encourage non-commercial photosharing. Getty now wishes to market many CC images as Rights Managed, and they suggest anyone whom they approach to offer representation should revoke CC licenses and alter the status of their image to all-rights-reserved copyright.
Unfortunately CC licensing is essentially irrevocable. It is designed to freely facilitate sharing and dissemination. Once images are in circulation that allow free use and reproduction it is hard to see how Getty will manage to enforce RM fees or damages against infringers who may well be legitimately using CC-licensed copies. But Getty has a lot of weight and a lot of lawyers, and a lot of history for coming down hard on infringers . Whether they deserve it or not might not matter.
Quite how this will play out remains to be seen, but it's likely to be messy. Flickr's API is widely used to embed photos in third-party websites, and is known to disregard the license status assigned at Flickr. This has already led to many infringements where copyright photos have been used without permission. Anyone legitimately using CC photos via the API will have no way of knowing if the status has changed to full copyright, and Getty's large-scale use of Picscout to detect infringing copies will catch them apparently infringing copyright.
On existing form, Getty will deal with this by having lawyers send a threatening demand that a large amount of money (typically £2000-£7000) be paid wthin 7 days else court action will be commenced. Most recipients will be unable to prove that the images ever had CC status, and furious that the Flcikr free lunch now has a large bill attached. In the long term this seems likely to undermine Flickr's popularity for easygoing sharing, and earn Getty yet more black marks for 'extortion'.