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Google comes clean on photos

TODAY, 1 September 2020, Google started flagging photographs that are available for legitimate licensing. Do a Google image search and you will see a smattering of pictures - almost all of them, so far, from a handful of agencies such as Alamy and Getty - labelled "Licensable".

Screenshot with IPTC

Make sure your IPTC metadata is in order...

The majority are still labelled grudgingly "Images may be subject to copyright. Learn More." Oddly, what you see depends on what device you use. On an Android mobile running the default Chrome browser, I see the "Licensable" label superimposed on picture thumbnails. On a Windows laptop I don't: in both the Chrome and Firefox browsers the information appears only when I click to enlarge an image.

Google says one way it decides where to send users who want to ask for a licence is by reading the "IPTC metadata" (see above) in images. It provides instructions here - though it's not clear to us what is the relevance of the stress it puts on the need for your pictures must be accessible to Google. Those behind a paywall won't get a label - d'oh. The Freelance will be running tests to see whether this works for us, or whether there's more to it.

In the meantime, making sure that the IPTC metadata on your photos is in good order remains as good an idea as any. So does our campaign to make sure that companies such as Facebook don't strip it out - which continues.

As blogger Paul Melcher says: "For most of the world, it has absolutely no interest. For the few that still rely on licensing photos to make a living, it's a big deal." As the PetaPixel blog says, "Photographers have long complained about Google Images making it easy for their photos to be found and then misused without consent, compensation, and/or credit... [this] may help reduce misuse and make it more commonplace for photographers to generate sales of their work through the image search engine."

Of course Google's move is political. It is one of the internet companies facing demands to pay for the writers' and photographers' work on the back which it makes so much of its profit...

...but internet giants fight payment

As we've regularly reported, the EU Directive on Copyright in the Digital Single Marked will require Google (which owns YouTube) and Facebook to seek - and pay for - licences for copyright works uploaded by users; and for their use of extracts from newspapers. Step One in Google's fightback was to announce that it would pay selected newspapers - those it chose, hoping to get around the legal requirement.

The Directive still has to be "transposed" into the laws of EU member states. France is steaming ahead - on 8 July its Senate passed a measure stating its intention to do so.

Australia is, meanwhile, considering a similar measure that would require Google, Facebook and friends to pay for use of newspaper content. Facebook announced that if this went forward it would ban users in Australia from "sharing" news on its platforms. This mirrors Google's response to a similar law in Spain, which was to close news.google.es.

Today the International Federation of Journalists and Australia's Media Entertainment Arts Alliance condemned the company's threats and called on lawmakers "to ensure Facebook and other tech giants pay a fair share for the content they are exploiting for free."

The internet giants are clearly not going to give in without much more fight. It's almost as if it's a point of principle that no law should apply to them. We're not quite sure they have appreciated the downsides for them of operating in a world without governments, though...