Google recently announced the launch of some new features in their Google images search tool. Google previously provided a creative commons search but not integrated into Google images. The new filter allows users of Google images to search for images licensed for free use under creative commons licenses. Google is not the first to offer a creative commons image search everystockphoto has been doing it for a while (although they only seem to show me results from flickr and sxc).

Is this going to "spell the end of image libraries like iStockPhoto"? I doubt that very much - not everyone wants a creative commons attribution plastered on their website or printed design. From my tests the results are nothing like as correctly matched as those on a stock photo website.

At present the new search filter is buried in "Advanced Image Search" so most Google users won't see it unless they go looking. I'd prefer it if Google showed icons alongside each image to show their probable license status, perhaps defaulting to "copyright / unknown").

I thought I'd put it to the test and see what I could find. My favourite test search "apples":

google creative commons search for "apples"

Wow what a lot of flickr images! Getting a little more advanced made things very 'interesting', a search for "London" reveals that the tuning of this search is not that perfect. Far more concerning is the aerial photo showing third in the results:

 google images search

There is no evidence I can see that the third result is creative commons in the blog that the result links to, Infact that blog then links to a big picture page of aerial photos on the photos on which are quite clearly copyrighted. Until more pictorial content on the web is semantically tagged (more about rdf and photography) services like this will remain useful but imperfect, searching for images with text is a difficult thing to do properly. This is not something of concern for people selling to the average stock photo buyer, but more the army of amateurs looking for something free who likely do no fully understand photography licensing.

We'd all like to think that people looking on Google images will read any terms and conditions that are shown with images that are found but sadly some, perhaps quite a lot of them, won't. A lot of bloggers now think it's "fine if you include a link", and while that's better than what people previously did (just to rip it off without attribution) it's no good if you as a photographer want to keep full control over your copyrighted and not cc licensed photos.

Problems aside I have no doubt some enterprising photographers will leverage this feature to their advantage, It's just another step towards 'the internet' filtering photography by popularity. Those with creative commons images on flickr already have a head start. Popularity is one thing but converting that into cash is another, It appears that popular photos on flickr are more likely to be 'noticed' for the Getty collection, but it should also be noted that offering an image as creative commons blows any chance of Getty reselling it for you as rights managed or you offering it as exclusive microstock


Related Posts:

Preventing Image Theft

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Promoting your Stock Image Portfolio

Image Licensing and Creative Commons

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