The internet is awash with pictures. An ever-growing library of images uploaded from phones and computers the world over. Most of them don’t have a price tag attached, and whether strictly offered for download or not, get duplicated, re-uploaded, saved, and spread across dozens of sites.
But, there is a portion of pictures on the internet that do have a price-tag. Those shiny, beautiful things we refer to as ‘stock images’. Stock images are professionally taken photos or illustrations that are then uploaded to sites like Getty images, and are available for purchase for use on websites and the like. These services aren’t uncommon, but with Getty being one of the largest, it’s their prerogative to make sure that if people are indeed using their images, that they’re paying for them.
So what’s happened to Google?
You may have noticed if you’ve found yourself in a Google Image Search recently, that you’re without a ‘View Image’ button. The button used to exist, and when clicked, would open the image in a seperate tab. The issue has developed off the back of this, and from what Google have said; “For those asking, yes, these changes came about in part due to our settlement with Getty Images this week,” it seems pretty clear that it comes as a direct response to their settlement with Getty. They said that this ‘View Image’ button ws allowing people to open a photo that wasn’t free to download, in a new tab, and then download it without visiting Getty’s site.
Why is this a big deal?
Because people earn their livings from having their work bought and downloaded from sites like Getty, it becomes that murky argument of whether or not the person who downloaded it illegally without visiting Getty’s site (albeit in low resolution or size, and usually with a watermark attached) knew that it was a stock photo for which they were supposed to pay. Now, each could argue themselves blue one way or the other, but Google have held their hands up and removed the button from their search. Now, we’re left with a ‘View Page’ button, which takes us to the webpage on which the photo resides.
What’s the point in that?
It’s adding a middleman, of sorts, but what Google and Getty seem to be lobbying for is the notion that if you’re sent to a Getty Images page, and are forced to sift through it for the photo that you want to borrow, then you won’t be able to claim ignorance and say ‘Hey, I didn’t realise it was a stock photo’ after downloading it. Google made the agreement with Getty, and said that the change would “help connect users and useful websites”. Whether the change comes because they truly believe that or if it’s simply them wanting to remove a thorn from their sides, we’ll probably never know.
How are people taking it?
As usual, badly. People don’t like change, and a little bit of public outrage has spilled out of the Twittersphere, as usual. In response to Google’s statement that, “For those asking, yes, these changes came about in part due to our settlement with Getty Images this week […] [the changes] are designed to strike a balance between serving user needs and publisher concerns, both stakeholders we value.”
In the wake of that, critics have called the change “awful”, “user-unfriendly”, and even went as far as to say that it has “degraded the product”. Still, I don’t see anyone switching to Bing any time soon.
Tweeters in favour of the ‘View Image’ button were quick to point out that Google was “destroying [their] own successful service.” and that should anyone wish to relive the glory days, they could simply right-click an image and select the ‘open in new tab’ option, which replicates the now removed button.
Getty’re all smiles
Getty released a statement that sought to soothe the savage seas, saying: “We are pleased to announce that after working cooperatively with Google over the past months, our concerns are being recognised and we have withdrawn our complaint.”
And just like that, all was well on the internet. Whether these changes will spell long-term disaster for the internet colossus that is Google, who can say… But honestly, it’s pretty unlikely.