Getty Images, the world's leading distributor of photographs, said it was making much of its archive available free to online users for non-commercial purposes, such as personal Web sites, blogs and social-networking sites.

The service, which became available on Wednesday, provides a free embed tool that allows people to copy photographs and share them on social networks or paste the photo code into a Web site or blog.

"Getty Images is leading the way in creating a more visual world. Our new embed tool makes it easy, legal and free for anyone to share our images," the company said.

The company had charged licensing fees for the use of its images until now.

"Getty Images content will only be able to be embedded for editorial use (related to newsworthy events or those of public interest). It cannot be used for commercial purposes, such as advertising and promotions, or to suggest sponsorhips," the company said.

The company made the decision to offer some images for free because management determined that many photographs owned by Getty Images were being used without permission on the Internet and had entered the public domain, The Wall Street Journal reported. EFE