You may have noticed a few weeks ago that Google made some minor changes to its Image Search service. Prior to this change, you used to be able to search for an image and view just that image — making it easy for people to download.
The problem here is that people took advantage of this a little too much, often violating copyright.
Now, when you search for “summer in Michigan” (wishful thinking), you’re provided with an option to visit the page that the image appears on, but there’s no direct way to view the high-resolution source image.
How Did This Come About?
Nearly two years ago, Getty Images filed a competition law complaint against Google in Europe. This was done to support the European Commission’s investigation into Google, which addressed a number of complaints against the search giant. One of these complaints was due to third party usage of images found on Google Images–people copying the images and using them without permission.
In January 2013, Google changed the way it displayed images on its service, by displaying higher resolution images instead of the previous low-resolution thumbnails. This lessened the chance that someone would visit the website where the image was located and increased the chances that someone would just view the image to download it directly.
When the complaint was issued, Getty explained that the changes made by Google in 2013 to Google Images negatively impacted Getty’s image licensing business, as well as “content creators around the world, by creating captivating galleries of high-resolution, copyrighted content.”
In February of this year, Getty and Google announced the forming of a multiyear licensing partnership. As a part of the partnership, Google changed the way its images were displayed on its search results pages. This included the removal of the “View Image” button, and it also added a prominent copyright notification below each image.
Because of this agreement, Getty withdrew its 2016 complaint.
The agreement also means that Google will be able to use Getty content in its products and services, primarily with the Google Images search service.
Why Photographers Should Care
One of the biggest complaints I hear regularly by photographers is that their images get stolen. They’re posted on blogs and personal websites, and often even corporation websites (who should know better). This has happened to me a handful of times.
People seemed to assume that, because they found the image on Google, it was open for usage.
The changes make this assumption less of a problem, as there’s no longer a one-click way for people to save an image, and therefore use it when they aren’t supposed to.
While photographers and other digital artists still have a long way to go in terms of copyright acceptability and terms, this is a big step in the right direction. It should hopefully sway some people away from stealing images. Before now, the copyright notices were hidden on search results — now they’re prominent and clear, and can help to educate the public about copyrights when it comes to photographs.