— Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) 14. Januar 2014
Google has just added a “Usage Rights” filter to the top of their Image Search. It can now be found after an initial search for an image in the “Search Tools” section on top of the search results. The tool offers five choices from “not filtered by license” to “labeled for commercial reuse with modifications”, the latter theoretically allowing a user to download the image, change it to their needs and reuse it on their own webpage or even in print, including professional work and advertising.
Now here comes the problem: Google does not offer “licenses”, it just filters images by the “labels” it claims to have found along with the image. This is far away from giving the actual right to use the images but could (and likely will) confuse the users. In fact, the resulting images partly do not offer the rights the user might assume. You should check out our article about 5 dangers of using Google Images.
In the search shown above we were looking for “people berlin” with images filtered to “labeled for commercial use”. The second image shown in the search results can be found on Wikimedia. If you click through to the page containing the image, you will find this image is being licensed through a “Creative Commons – Attribution, Share Alike” license. This indeed allows changes to the image and also allows the commercial use of the image. However, it requires to attribute the original author and it requires users to also offer the resulting image for reuse with the same license. If you would be designing an advertising with this image, you would have to allow the reuse of your final design as well!
And there is another stumbling block hidden: Another image result shown as “labeled for commercial use” is this concert picture found on Flickr. This image as well is marked with a CC-SA license. However, the picture was taken within private property and it shows a band of people. If you would use this image, you would have to make sure that the image was taken legally (which usually is restricted at concerts to private use only) and you would have to obtain the personality rights of the people shown in the picture. Both would be your obligation as a user.
Google's license filter can be a dangerous
Therefore, Google's license filter can be a dangerous guide to use when searching for images to use in advertising or for professional uses. It might help you find “free” images to use but you will still need to look closely to the rights granted for the image by its original author and other rights that might cause a problem especially when using images commercially for your business. You might want to buy cheap stock images instead of hurting your business with any image licensing issues.
Image: Google Images Screenshots