February 4, 2013

Google image search and copyright infringement

Google’s latest changes to their image search engine have made the situation much worse than the previous methodology from an intellectual property protection standpoint.

HackerWhat are the implications?
Of course, photographers won't be paid a royalty for the use of their protected images. Images are now more likely to be taken out of context (they may be on a website that sells furniture, for example, and could be licensed images or photos taken by the site owner). Just because Google has found and republished an image doesn't mean that the image can be used by anyone for any purpose. Moreover, a Google label such as "image may be subject to copyright" is not enough. Google should not be able to offer its users the opportunity to grab content for free to such an extent, and then immunize and justify its actions by relying on the “fine print” legal disclaimers.
This new search result layout not only affects photographers and agencies (licensors), but also websites and webmasters (licensees and/or SEO). This new search result layout has and will continue to drastically diminish traffic to the website who published the image. For example, let's say I use a photo of healthy fruits in my blog article because someone looking for a healthy diet will see the image on Google and reach my blog this way. This is what visual search stands for. With the new Google image search facility, finding my healthy fruit image in response to a search query would not lead a user to my blog article. The website is victimized further because, since the image is hotlinked directly from the original website's servers, the webmaster's bandwidth is used when Google displays the image without displaying his or her website to the user who is searching for the image.
Google’s phrase "Google Images lets you find images posted on the Internet" doesn’t tell the whole story. Before Google’s recent change, Google’s phrase could have more accurately been described as: “Google’s Images lets you find images posted on the Internet so that you can visit the website hosting such images.” After the latest Google change, the phrase could more accurately read: “Google’s Images lets you find images posted on the Internet and to download such images without ever going to the website that offered the image to the Internet community.” Even prior to this latest change in Google’s search results, the download rate directly from Google image search results was mind blowing. It was many times above stock photography industry limits. Stats in 2010 show 1 billion pageviews daily! (Google Image Search) We have found instances of all kinds – from famous companies to simple individuals – involving unlicensed uses of images taken from Google search results, in commercial contexts. When challenged about the copyright infringement, too many times we’ve heard the response that the image was "found on the Internet.” There is no reason for the original image to be made available in this or any search result layout. Aside from encouraging theft, it is hard to imagine what the purpose would be. In many cases, the user download of the offered image will not be a malicious copyright infringement by the user, but giving tools to people who don't know that images are not free to use provides the same end benefit to users (and harm to the rights holders), no matter what the users (or Google for that matter) intended. Once again, Google Images should let you "find" images, not "find and download" them. Downloading will always involve the risk of accidental unlicensed use in the best-case scenario, or willful copyright infringement in the worst.  
Article by: Serban Enache

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