Google has finally acquiesced to demands from photographers and content creators across the world by adding important metadata to every photo found in its search engine. The move culminates a year of massive changes to Google's image search after Getty Images filed a 2016 antitrust lawsuit against them in the EU.
Getty eventually withdrew the lawsuit in February after agreeing to a partnership with Google that included many of the changes announced today. Getty Images is one of many news or content organizations who have long charged that Google effectively aids digital piracy by making it easy for users to take images without knowing anything about who took or made the image and who owns the rights.
In their 2016 lawsuit, Getty claimed Google's practices "promoted piracy, resulting in widespread copyright infringement, turning users into accidental pirates," and said Google's "view image" function -- which allowed you to view an image without going to its original location -- was a specific effort by the company to "reinforce its role as the Internet's dominant search engine, maintaining monopoly over site traffic, engagement data and advertising spend."
"Artists need to earn a living in order to sustain creativity and licensing is paramount to this; however, this cannot happen if Google is siphoning traffic and creating an environment where it can claim the profits from individuals' creations as its own," Getty Images lawyer Yoko Miyashita said.
In a blog post yesterday, Google Product Manager Ashutosh Agarwal said they were working with the Center of the Picture Industry (CEPIC) and International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) to set up better rules for attribution and create clearer guidelines that kept things easy for users while protecting the rights of the content owners.
"As part of a collaboration between Google, photo industry consortium CEPIC, and IPTC, the global technical standards body for the news media, you can now access rights-related image metadata in Google Images," he wrote.
"It's traditionally been difficult to know the creator of images on the web, as well as who might own the rights. This information is often part of image metadata, and is key to protecting image copyright and licensing information. Starting today, we've added Creator and Credit metadata whenever present to images on Google Images."
Google removed the "view image" button in February as part of the deal to end the Getty lawsuit, forcing many users to go through the host website to find the image. While there is still a way around this, a number of Google users complained that photos were often difficult to find within websites and some outlets had protected their images so they could not be downloaded at all. Google also made significant changes to the search by image function to reflect their commitment to protecting creators' rights.
Getty and Google agreed to a years-long partnership in February that will see them license their work to Google and assist in improving the search engine's capabilities regarding images.
"We will license our market leading content to Google, working closely with them to improve attribution of our contributors' work and thereby growing the ecosystem," said Getty Images CEO Dawn Airey said in a statement earlier this year.
Agarwal said Google will also be rolling out a Copyright Notice feature in the coming months as well, which will attach legal information to other metadata that comes with photos.
Google has made a concerted effort this year to work with news outlets and photo websites to assuage complaints that the search giant was purposefully robbing hundreds of websites of ad revenue by allowing users to effectively bypass these websites for their content. Last year, Google was fined 2.42 billion Euros by the EU for distorting their search results in order to push users to their own services, specifically for shopping, as opposed to others. Google was forced to make changes to their algorithm due to the fine, and it brought a greater spotlight on the search engine's practices.
But image creators are rejoicing at Google's decision, hopeful that the changes will bring better photo attribution and revenue to those creating the content itself.
"Employing IPTC metadata standards in Google Images results will help ensure proper attribution of credit and support photographers' copyright, while also boosting the discoverability of content and creators," said Andrew Fingerman, CEO of PhotoShelter.
"This is a win for the professional photo community."
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- The move culminates a year of changes to the image search function after Google and Getty Images settled a 2016 lawsuit over alleged rampant copyright infringement.
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