How not to use Google’s new “Usage Rights” Image Filter

Update: Google Search's Licensable Images - 2020.08.31As of August 31st, 2020, it is possible to easily search, identify, and license stock photos using Google Images search, thanks to the new updates done around Licensable Images!

Learn more about the Licensable Images features (video walkthrough inside!)

As one of the Matt Cutts, one of the company's managers, announced via Twitter

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.

Usage Rights filter by Google Images

Usage Rights filter by Google Images

What is the Problem with the new Google Image Filter?

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.

The dangerous of using these 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

Amos Struck
Amos Struck

I am a publisher and entrepreneur in the stock imagery field. I focus on providing knowledge and solutions for buyers, contributors and agencies, aiming at contributing to the growth and development of the industry. I am the founder and editor of Stock Photo Press, one of the largest networks of online magazines in the industry. I am the founder of Microstock Expo, the only conference dedicated to the microstock segment. I created several software solutions in stock photography like WordPress plugins. Plus I am a recurrent speaker at Photokina Official Stage, and an industry consultant at StockPhotoInsight. I am passionate about technology, marketing and visual imagery.

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