Google Moves Toward a More Copyright Friendly Image Search

April 25th, 2018 by Courtney Cummins

If you’ve recently used Google’s image search engine, you may have noticed a small change to the options when viewing image results. In an effort to appease photographers, publishers, and stock photo agency Getty Images, Google has removed its ‘View Image’ feature from image search results. This update, along with more attribution visibility for images, comes as Google looks to provide more copyright protection for image owners and publishers. The change to the image search, which is already in full effect, and a plan for more image copyright visibility comes with a new partnership and some likely irritated users.

Copyright Deal With Getty Images

Michelle Obama, James Carden, and Missy Elliot singing a car together - Search Influence

After a 2016 copyright dispute filed between Getty Images and Google, a multi-year deal has been reached that will now allow the search engine to use Getty images through many of their products and services. The dispute, which was eventually withdrawn, stemmed from Getty Images’ allegation that they were losing traffic and revenue to customer sites since users could easily access and download the stand-alone images. They also accused Google of biased search results, claiming the search engine altered search results to favor their own services. This is not the first accusation of the like for the search engine giant. Last year, Google was heavily fined by the European Union in an antitrust ruling that also claimed biases toward their own services. With these recent updates, however, Google looks to be working to gain back the trust and respect of copyright owners.

Along with the removal of the ‘View Image’ feature, Google will also take a step further in providing copyright protection by making attribution information more visible to users. If you complete a Google image search today, you’ll notice that all images come with a disclaimer once the image is clicked noting that the image “may be subjected to copyright.” This change is still a work in progress and will likely include several different updates. Additionally, Google has also updated their mobile image search to contain page title tags below images. This update will most certainly prove to be a vital SEO ranking factor. Though no character limit has been announced, it’s estimated that the length is around 35 characters.

How It Affects Users

Screenshot of a twitter post from Google - Search Influence

Though a minor change, this new update will likely prove to be a frustration for users, who have grown used to the option of downloading the image directly from the image results. The idea here is that users will now be prompted to view the image through the site it lives on, thus providing websites the traffic, and revenue, they deserve. Unfortunately, there still appears to be a flaw in this update. Users are still able to access the image in its own tab by right-clicking on the image and selecting the option to do so, although this may not be the obvious option for every user. It is also not yet clear what, if anything, Google will do to prevent this loophole in the future.

Despite a few shortcomings with the recent changes, It’s a step in the right direction for a company that has drawn criticism in recent years over copyright issues. The question still remains what other steps they’ll take to protect copyright owners and how soon these changes will go into effect.


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