Don’t Be Evil

Posted on 3/21/2014 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

The informal corporate motto for Google is “Don’t be evil.” This motto is sometimes incorrectly stated as Do no evil. But the company’s image search tool facilitates and encourages theft. The same is basically true of Bing and Yahoo.

There is a very easy fix to this if any of these search engines wanted to implement it. Under the search box they should place something like the following warning:
    The image creator’s permission may be required to make certain additional uses (such as copying and pasting to another web site) of  images found using this tool. In some cases it may be necessary to pay a license fee in order to make an additional use. To determine if the image found needs to be licensed and how to do it CLICK HERE.
Clicking would take the user to a similar tool, operated by the same search engine. Instead of searching the entire Internet, this tool would only search a relatively few private registries where those image creators who wished to control the use of their work had placed copies of their images.

The registries would have to comply with certain rules in order to be included in the search.
    1 – They would maintain a database of image fingerprints which is what the search engine’s tool would search
    2 – All of the images in the registry would require some type of permission or license for any additional use.
    3 – When an image is found the database would immediately deliver a copy of the image contained in the database for comparison purposes and the copyright holder’s name.
    4 – The database would also deliver contact information for the individual or licensing organization, enabling the potential user to immediately start the process of obtaining permission for use of the image.

    5 – The database would maintain a record of, and be able to deliver on request, the date the image was uploaded to the database in order to later determine if any future use was made after the date of upload.
Such databases already exist including: PicScout,, UK Copyright Hub, CEPIC Image Registry, and others. Some of these databases are not fully functional at the moment for image search, but it would be very easy to turn on the addition features required if there was an effective Hub promoting this type of search.

Government Action

At the moment the U.S. Copyright Office and the EU are looking for ways to modernize copyright rules and regulations to provide additional protection to all copyright holders. In the case of the U.S. Copyright Office they hope to develop recommendations for Congressional action.

The single most important thing the U.S. Congress should do is ask Google, Bing and Yahoo to voluntarily create a tool like the one described above, and provide clear notice to their users of the new tool’s existence under their existing image search tools. If the companies refuse then the Congress could move to enact legislation.

In the U.S., private industry is required to put certain notices on food and drugs to protect consumers and help them be better informed. Why shouldn’t private organizations that operate Internet search engines be required to protect copyright holders as well as consumers (because they run the risk of getting into legal trouble for unauthorized use).

The EU and the UK Parliament might want to support and provide encouragement to the U.S. Congress if it were to take such an action. If the companies refuse to implement such a search tool for U.S. searches the UK and EU might want to require such a tool for searches in their jurisdictions.

Giving Google, Bing and Yahoo More Power

Some in the photo industry are opposed to Google, Bing and Yahoo taking on the role of Hub for an image search that would enable users to locate images creators. Their argument is that these search engines already have too much power. They believe the Hub should be operated by a non-profit organization. Various for profit registries would then collect the data that would be searched by the non-profit Hub. I disagree.

1 – One of the big problems with a non-profit is figuring out how to fund it. In the UK the Copyright Hub is already facing that issue. The UK Parliament funded the development of the Copyright Hub, but the government is not prepared to fund it long term. The UK is struggling to come up with a dependable alternate method of funding.

In the US we have, which is non-profit. It has been a decade in development. It has been funded through grants from trade associations, various companies and interested parties in the industry, but it does not have a solid, long-range plan for adequate funding.
2 – Possibly the most important issue is how to make users aware of the existence of the Hub and convince them to go there to check if the image they want to use needs to be licensed. Traditional customers are aware of UsePLUS, but the average new customer and Internet user will have no idea that it exists.

Some believe the answer is a massive Public Service Campaign. It is unclear to me how such a campaign will be funded. And it will certainly need to be more than a one-shot effort.

3 - Meanwhile, the three major search engines already have the attention of users. They will be competing against any private non-profit Hub for the attention of image searchers.

4 - Part of the Orphan Works thinking is that there are major commercial and non-profit organizations that want to use images they find on the Internet, or in publications, but they can’t conveniently find the image creator (on someone who represents that creator). In such cases, for the good of society, these organizations believe they should be allowed to use the images with impunity. Image search can easily solve a significant portion of this problem. (There may be some historical that are not in any of the registry databases, but this is a very small portion of the problem and going forward it will be less and less significant.)

But, these large organizations that have trouble finding the creators of images that were produced 50 or more years ago are only represent the tip of the iceberg of users. There are a huge number of smaller users, not just high school students building personal blogs, but small businesses that want to operate within the law, but really don’t understand what is required or how to do it. We have to make these people aware of what they should do and make it easy for them to do the right thing. I’m skeptical that a public service campaign will solve this problem.

5 – We have to combat the general belief that everything on the Internet is free. A statement under the Google, Bing and Yahoo image search boxes will do much more to combat this idea than any public service campaign promoting another site where uses could find the owner of certain images.

The motto of the existing search engines is no longer “Don’t be evil,” it’s more like “Don’t do anything that might reduce our profit.” The irony is that if they were to make the move I recommend it would cost them almost nothing, give them more useful data about image users, and probably result in increased advertising revenue. Then they could “increase profit,” and still “not be evil.” 

Copyright © 2014 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


  • Charles Cecil Posted Mar 22, 2014
    Good thinking, Jim. I hope your idea gets the attention it deserves. Chuck

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