Google Makes It Easier To Steal

Posted on 2/4/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (4)

Serban Enache, CEO of Dreamstime has explained in a blog post how Google’s new image search techniques make it more likely that unauthorized use of your images will increase. Every image producer should read this story.   

Go to, search for images on any subject and check out how the new system works.

When Google posted information about this change on their blog they titled it “A faster image search” and said, “Based on feedback from both users and webmasters, we redesigned Google Images to provide a better search experience.” Of course, what the majority of users and webmasters want is a faster way to find images they can use for free. There is no indication that Google solicited any input from image creators or distributors.

In an answer to a question in a recent Wired Magazine interview Google CEO Larry Page said, “Our philosophy has always been to get our products out to as many people as possible. Unfortunately that’s not always ease in this day and age. The web has been great; we were able to get products out to everyone quickly and with high quality. Now we’re going backward with a lot of the platforms that are out there. Companies are trying to wall everything off, and I think that impedes the rate of innovation.” (italics mine)

Page seems to think that if a product can be delivered on the Internet then it should be FREE to everyone.

Freely available information is fine for most businesses because they want more people to know about their products and services. Advertisers want to place their ads alongside information about their products and services. But there are some businesses - like ours - where the only way to make people aware that the product exists is to show the whole image on the Internet before anyone has paid a dime to cover the cost of creating, or using it. Images are not a product that has to be delivered by truck or post. They are not a service that someone must be contracted to actively perform. If what we produce can be used without any compensation then there is no incentive to produce.

The same is true to a certain extent of newspapers, magazines and books. However, in these cases it may be possible to provide a teaser for readers that gives them some sense of the whole story which they must then pay, in some way, to read. With images you either show the whole image or you show nothing.

Page seems to think the idea of “walling off” any information is, if not evil, at least anti-American, anti-world, anti-Internet and is unwilling to acknowledge that in certain cases a little judicial “walling” might actually promote creativity and innovation.

With the company’s resources Google could:
    1 - Stop stripping file info data from images and encourage creators to place info in their image files.
    2 – Encourage equipment manufacturers (camera and phone) to build in systems that automatically embed creator information in each file at the moment of creation and make that information at least as difficult to strip out as removing a tree from a landscape image.
    3 – Search the IPTC header for “Creator” when someone clicks “view original image” and place the creator’s name under the image.
    4 – Provide a link to the creator’s website (which they would also get from the IPTC header) so someone interested in licensing the image could easily learn where to go to get a license.
    5 – Stop hiding behind the “Image may be subject to copyright” statement without providing the viewer any practical way to determine how to properly license use of the image.
But it seems unlikely that Google won’t do any of these things. Instead the company with the motto “Don’t Be Evil” prefers to encourage – maybe facilitate is a better word – stealing.

Google has even made it more difficult for people to find the web site that originally used the image (which, of course, may have nothing to do with who created the image). Previously, a view of the web site where the image appeared was behind the image. Now the viewer must click on “View page” to get that information.  

Serban points out that, “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 is worth letting Google know your feelings on this subject. Go to their blog post about the roll out and post a comment. Interestingly, not all the 179 comment so far are supportive of Google. A number of them focus on the copyright issues. It wouldn’t hurt to have more.

Copyright © 2013 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 Feb 4, 2013
    Jim: It's good to be focusing light on this, but I have to say it cuts both ways. Two weeks ago a company found one of my images through a Google search. They clicked on the "Website for this image" link, found my contact info, and called me. Result: $125 for licensing the use of the image. True, I had to pay 9% to my website hosts, and about 3% to PayPal for handling the transaction, but if the company had found my image on Alamy or any of the other three agencies holding my stock I would have gotten 50% of the sale at best, and the agency, not I, would have determined the selling price. So I definitely benefitted from Google showing my image. Are others using them without paying? I don't know, and I don't have time to spend searching. But if more and more buyers find my images through Google I may very well come out ahead. So for now I'm keeping an open mind on this issue. Chuck

  • Serban Enache Posted Feb 5, 2013
    @Charles Cecil: note that there is a strong difference between Google's organic search (web directory) and the Google Images search. There is no denial that Google has significant value for all businesses and that it should also be treated as a business.
    Also, two weeks ago Google Images featured a different layout . Right now, a high res version of your image could pop-up on screen, without the customer having to visit the website (your own or any of your clients').
    Jim, thank you for the article.

  • Karen Ducey Posted Feb 6, 2013
    Thanks for posting this story Jim. Have there ever been any lawsuits against Google for infringement? Isn't stripping copyright information against the law?

  • Laura Dwight Posted Feb 9, 2013
    I tried this search on some very specific newborn reflexes that are in my archive. For the tonic neck reflex a few of my images showed up but many, many images were displayed that were either erroneously key worded or had nothing to do with the search. For a few of the reflexes none of my images showed up, but again many incorrect images did. I did a save as for one of my images and it opened with no metadata but my copyright was in the copyright field and there was some minimal contact info under origin and ITPC under file information. In trying two others I had varying results. In one case all of the metadata was intact in a very small thumbnail, and in the case of an agency image, even less information was available but the copyright field survived. I will post on the google blog as suggested.

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