A blogger at Photo Business Forum noticed something strange about some Getty Images photo credits on pictures featuring Kim Kardashian.

These are not portraits, but paparazzi-style “look, I captured this famous celebrity on her way to the mall/gas station/dinner” or whatever.

Instead of saying “Frazer Harrison/WireImage” the credit reads “Frazer Harrison/KA/WireImage,” which blogger John Harrington thought was odd.

Until you realize that “KA” could easily stand for the first two letters in Kim’s last name.

Photos of Kim’s sister Kourtney that have surfaced on Getty have a different two-letter code, KK, which appears, interestingly enough, in both unposed shots of Kourtney and a portrait session of her—taken by the same photographer on the same day.

A photo editor friend of ours assures us that if the initials were just meant to tag the photo with the celeb’s name, they wouldn’t have put them in the photo credit, because Getty has other means to tag names. He also tells us that Getty typically lists all parties getting a cut in the credit line (hence the “Frazer Harrison/WireImage” line to begin with, because both the wire and the photog would get a percentage of the image’s sale).

So is Getty sneakily splitting photo revenue with celebs and passing the shots off as editorial?

(On the other hand, most of the photos of Kourtney shopping are so obviously posed we’re not sure they’d fool anyone.)

Harrington:

When a photographer starts a fire, and then, oh, just happens to be first on the scene to make great photos, that’s called a crime. However, when a celebrity says something like ‘I’ll tell you where I will be so you can photograph me but you have to share all the money you get from the photos with me’, and then does not disclose this arrangement in the course of their “reporting”, that’s bad ethics.

Is this phenomenon new? No. Do other celebrity photo organizations do it, sadly, yes. The key is to disclose these things and be up front about them. You might suggest that this isn’t “photojournalism” so who cares? Well, when the subject is a politician (like the many Congressmen) or a businessman (like Maddoff) who is marched in and out of courtrooms and photographed on the streets, we call that photojournalism, but then when a celebrity is photographed on the street, it’s not the same?

We’re sure that Getty’s just trying to stay afloat in this economy, just like everyone else, but how do you feel about this?