Is Google’s New Image Search Violating Their Own Policies? The Law?

copyright-notice2

I have been doing more research about Google’s update it its Image Search and have come across a few things that I find of interest. I will be providing links and telling my viewers which paragraphs to look for and adding a short quote from the pages which I believe falls under “Fair Use” since I will not be grabbing the entire content of a page or making screen shots which might be in violation of copyright laws.

Let’s discuss the first question in my title: Is Google’s New Image Search Violating Their Own Policies?

I believe they are, take a look at Google’s Terms of Service for people who have Blogger Blogs on a page called Blogger Content Policy: http://draft.blogger.com/content.g?hl=en

One paragraph on that page; outlining what Google expects from the users of their free blogging platform, stands out in clearly written language.

Copyright: It is our policy to respond to clear notices of alleged copyright infringement. More information about our copyright procedures can be found here. Also, please don’t provide links to sites where your readers can obtain unauthorized downloads of other people’s content.

I made that one sentence red so it would also stand out clearly. So; let me get this straight, according to Google’s terms of service for the people who publish blogs on their Blogger platform tell those users to not provide links where other people can download our content without our authorization.

But Google is providing links to our content and facilitating unauthorized downloads of that content.

Does Google apply or follow the same terms of service to themselves as they do to their users? It sure looks like they don’t, doesn’t it?

I recently discovered one of my juvenile Red-tailed Hawks in flight on a Google Blogger blog, the image was “hot linked” to my web site galleries and I sent in a DMCA Copyright Infringement Notification to Google to have the image hot link removed. This is their reply and response to my notification:

Hello,

Thanks for reaching out to us.

In accordance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we have completed processing your infringement notice. We are in the process of disabling access to the content in question at the following URL(s):

http://birdsflyingpictures.blogspot.com/2013/01/mvscience-tailed-hawk.html

The content will be removed shortly.

Please let us know if we can assist you further. If you would like to file additional requests, we ask that you contact us by using the online forms at: www.google.com/support/go/legal as we do not accept add-on requests.

Regards,
The Google Team
I went to the offending URL to make sure that my image was no longer displayed on a Google Blogger Blog and this is what I saw:
page-removed

Not only did they remove the hot link to my image they removed all of the content on that blogger’s post.

But wait; isn’t Google doing the exact same thing this blogger was doing by hot linking to my image files on Google’s new Image Search engine?

Yeah, they are, they are infringing in the SAME manner as the owner of this Google blog had been.

Shame on Google for not following their own terms of service in regards to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, shame, shame, shame.

Next question: Is Google’s New Image Search Violating The Law?

It sure looks that way to me.

Let’s visit the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s pages on Intellectual Property theft and read the statements on their Anti-piracy Warning Seal page: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/white_collar/ipr/download-the-fbis-anti-piracy-warning-seal#unauthorized

Warning language specifying current penalties

  • FBI Anti-Piracy Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Okay, see the word “distribution” in the FBI’s warning language?  Google’s update to their Image Search pages DOES distribute our works without our authorization. Is hot linking considered “reproduction” when our images show up full size on their Image Search pages? Well, I sure didn’t authorize them to have my image “reproduced” on their pages. Did you?

This page on the FBI’s website about Intellectual Property Theft is a VERY interesting read regarding Google’s update to their Image Search: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/white_collar/ipr/anti-piracy

Additionally The FBI has a partnership page about Intellectual Property Rights which is also very informative: http://www.iprcenter.gov/

It appears to me that artists, photographers and other content providers whose works show up on Google’s Image Search results have the option of reporting Google to the FBI through their partners at the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center for Copyright Infringement. http://www.iprcenter.gov/referral

I am seriously considering taking that action, Google isn’t listening to the artists, photographers and other content owner’s feelings on how wrong the changes are to Google’s Image Search, they think they are bigger than we are, but are they bigger and stronger than the FBI and its partners?

I wonder how many complaints through the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center for Copyright Infringement against Google it would take before the hot linking to our original files would be removed from Google’s update to their Image Search and that “View Original File” button would be removed?

Isn’t what Google is doing Criminal? Sure feels that way to me.

What Google has done isn’t “Fair Use”. If in accordance to the DMCA they have to remove our content that is hot linked on their Blogger blogs then in accordance with the DMCA Google needs to remove the hotlinks on Image Search to our files immediately, remove the “View Original File” button and stop facilitating the unauthorized distribution of our Copyrighted work.

Anything less is criminal.

Mia

See my previous post about this Google issue: Google has become the biggest image scraper of the Millennium

Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and none of the content above is to be considered legal advice, the opinions are my own and nothing more.

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54 comments to Is Google’s New Image Search Violating Their Own Policies? The Law?

  • GS

    http://www.scriptsocket.com/imagehotlinkingcode.html

    This will watermark any hotlinked images. Including on Google Images.

  • One problem.

    The Anti-Piracy is not about images, it’s about sharing of software, movies and music

    “Beginning in December 2003, the FBI implemented a pilot program in which
    the FBI entered into separate

    Memoranda of Understanding with each
    of five entertainment and software
    industry associations. Members of these
    associations were able to request
    approval to use the APW Seal from the
    association, and the association
    administered the process and record-
    keeping.”

    It’s the same warning on rented movies and when we sit in a theater and watch a movie.

    Sharing an image does not rise to criminal infringement.

    The FBI doesn’t monitor my images on the web, nor do they respond to DMCA complaints about images shared.

    • Mitch, I am guessing you did not read the link I posted to the FBI’s Anti-piracy Warming Seal so here it is again: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/white_collar/ipr/anti-piracy

      It states: A new federal regulation regarding the FBI’s Anti-Piracy Warning (APW) Seal took effect on August 13, 2012. The new 41 CFR Section 128-1.5009 authorizes use of the APW Seal by all U.S. copyright holders, subject to specific conditions of use. Copyrighted works can include, but are not limited to, films, audio recordings, electronic media, software, books, photographs, etc. (I put the emphasis on photographs)

      What you posted here is outdated information.

  • Jordan and Scotch,

    I hadn’t thought about you both not being U.S. based. Thanks for sharing the contact information for William Restis though.

    I think one of the most critical issue photographers are dealing with in the aftermath of Google’s change to their Image Search is the hot linking and display of their full sized images without the viewer going to the sites where the images are hosted. I know for sure this has affected me in the high number of images that are being stolen and displayed on other sites.

    I’m not certain about the validity of Google’s claims that this change reduces the “fake” visits. I’m not about to take Google’s word for anything at this point.

      • Jordan, I did receive an email from Bill Restis today, they are still conducting due diligence and locating suitable plaintiffs. So I think it is just a matter of time now.

        • Good. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. For what it is worth, Google continue to show a complete lack of respect for the people who make their empire possible – they recently also closed down their Google Affiliate Program without notice after I had spent a lot of time getting a client set up as a merchant with them. (I made the mistake of thinking that because Google was a big name it was better to go with them than a smaller company).

  • Thanks Mia, I’m pleased that legal action against Google seems to be taking off. I’m in a similar position to Jordan (not US-based) so not sure if we can join a class-action suit.

    Without wanting to detract from this initiative, I thought I should bring to your attention some research by Site Build It, a company that hosts many thousands of sites and has access to a wealth of data about the sites. Below is the gist of what SBI has concluded re drop in traffic.

    In the old image search, when you clicked on a thumbnail, the image appeared in an iframe with the web page somewhat grayed out in the background. (You can still use see how this worked by clicking on the “Switch to basic version” at the foot of the new image search page).

    At this point, a searcher could access the actual page by closing the image in the iframe (clicking on the X in the top right) or clicking on the link in a column on the right, saying “Website for this image”.

    According to SBI’s research, Google was counting this image in the iframe as a page view, even though the searcher never visited the actual page and could copy the image at this point. So these “visits” were in fact fake, showing up in traffic reports as page views, whereas the website was not actually visited. In other words, “real” traffic has possibly not declined nearly as much as the stats indicate.

    This could explain the massive traffic drops that image-rich sites are reporting. Certainly on my site, reported traffic has dropped substantially, yet there has not been a corresponding drop in AdSense clicks or revenue, suggesting that some of that lost traffic was not real. Some sites, on the other hand, are reporting a corresponding drop in revenue, so it’s difficult to reach definitive conclusions.

    I remain outraged by the way Google is displaying our copyrighted images and art work on its site, thereby encouraging image theft with no incentive for searchers to visit our sites.

    I firmly believe that, under the old image search, there was more incentive for the searcher to visit the website. The web page showed in the background, at least giving the searcher a better idea of what the site was about and quite possibly making them interested or intrigued enough to see more by visiting the site.

    • I agree with you Scotch. With one caveat… With the old image search, you could a simple javascript ‘framebuster’ to the header of your site (most sites that got a lot of image search traffic would have done this), this meant that effectively, the viewer would see the page the image was on rather than the image within a frame.

      • Jordan, you’re dead right. I’d forgotten about the framebuster js that was widely used to ensure searchers landed on the actual page, rather than the iframe that Google displayed.

        Confess I’m confused by the talk of “fake” and “real” traffic and who or what decides when a page view counts as such (never been hot on raw logs/analytics). Seems to me that if the page in the iframe was being counted as a page view when in fact it wasn’t, there are potential repercussions, like getting paid for cost per impression ads.

        More to the point, have you seen a drop in AdSense revenue that’s in line with the drop in traffic? There are obviously many other factors that could also cause revenue loss, like fewer clicks on affiliate links, banner ads etc.

        • Yes, I did see a drop in page views and corresponding loss in earnings (I was using a Javascript framebuster). Though I have to admit that we are not talking over a long enough period of time to say with 100% certainty that the drop was caused by the new Google Image Search, though I’d be 90% sure, and I would believe others who have a hell of lot more page views than me and say the drop in earnings is because of the new image search.
          Though it does look like so far the IMA Guard plugin for WordPress has restored things to more or less normal (I think), as you say, it doesn’t negate the fact that Google are effectively trying to steal other people’s copyright material.

  • Scotch, Jordan, et al, check out my post from this afternoon on a possible class action law suit against Google.

  • Hi Mia,

    In case you’re still looking for some way to prevent your full size images showing up in a window on their own when searcher clicks on “view original image”, there’s another WP plugin available, called Imaguard. I’m using it now instead of Break Dance as there are evidently potential problems with redirecting to the original post.

    I’m using the non-agressive option in Imaguard. Now when you click on a thumbnail, the image still shows within the search results, but it’s fairly fuzzy as Google has to use the thumbnail as can no longer hot-link the original image. Then when you click on “view original”, you see see an image (not full size) with your blog in the background so menus etc are visible. If you click on this image, the full size one opens in a floating window as in an image gallery.

    At least the searcher now sees your blog in the background, and is not taken to the full size image in a blank window with no inducement to visit your site. The plugin automatically updates the .htaccess file, so no need to fiddle with that.

    Jordan, don’t know if this will work with YAPB plugin, but worth a try.

    • Thanks. I actually installed that plugin about 4 hours ago and got it working. It’s not 100% perfect (I’d rather have people sent to the original post as there are related images under the image etc.) But it is 95% there, and a big thanks to the people who wrote it (and no messing with .htaccess either which is nice).
      I had to a little tiny bit of hackery to show my 728×90 AdSense ad above the photo.
      I was going to do blog post update about this plugin – but decided to go to sleep instead… :-)

    • Scotch, I’ve tried the plugins I have seen listed and for some reason they aren’t working on my blog, as Jordan mentioned it might be another plugin I have activated and I haven’t had time to try the hot linking plugins after deactivating the others I am using.

      Since the change was made I see 52% fewer visits to my blog and now most of my views come from Facebook and all I do is post the links to my posts there.

  • Mia, have to confess I’m not very clued up about server set-up and guess it was luck that I got the plugin working. In my case, my blog is in a sub-folder. There’s an .htaccess file in the top-level folder, which I assume is the root folder. I didn’t touch that.

    There’s another .htaccess file in the sub-folder containing my blog, and that’s the one I modified. Hope that clarifies things and apologise for any confusion.

  • Hi Mia,

    Yes, as Jordan says, my htaccess file is in the blog’s root folder, same as wp-admin, wp-content etc.

    Mine already had some code, so added the lines for the plugin.

    Jordan, I couldn’t get it to work till I fiddled with the URL for the blog, removing www and inserting the actual URL. Here’s how my htaccess looks now:

    # BEGIN WordPress

    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteBase /
    RewriteRule ^index\.php$ – [L]
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
    RewriteRule . /index.php [L]

    # note – above was already there, so added the bit below to go with Break Dance plugin #

    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} wp-content/uploads/.*\.(gif|jpg|jpeg|png)$ [NC]
    RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http://blog.wildlife-pictures-online.com/.*$ [NC]
    RewriteRule ^(.*)$ /get_image?$1 [R=302,L]

    # END WordPress

    Hope that helps.

  • Hi Mia,

    Re your comment: ‘I’d be happy if they would just get rid of that “View Original image” button’ – if it’s of any help, I’ve found a WP plugin that prevents searchers seeing the original image on its own in a window.

    After installing the plugin and adding a couple of lines to the htaccess file, when someone clicks on “View Original”, they’re taken instead to the original blog post on which the image appeared. Here’s the link to the plugin, called Google Break Dance: http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/google-break-dance/

    To see it working, do a Google image search for site:blog.wildlife-pictures-online.com, then click on a thumbnail and “view original” and you should be taken to the original blog post.

    Anyway, might not be of any use to you, but thought I’d mention it in case.

    • Hi Scotch,

      I’ve installed the plugin you mentioned but I an not sure where the .htaccess file needs to go, did you put that in your root folder?

    • Scotch, that is exactly what I needed. I can see it works perfectly with your images.

      (Mia, yes .htaccess goes in the root (in the same folder as wp-content).

      However, I can’t get the damn thing to work.

      Maybe it’s because I’m using the YAPB WP plugin. As ever nothing in life is simple.

  • Hi Mia, thanks for the research, links, and your work to help artists and photographers fight copyright violations.

    I have also in the past sent Google DMCA Copyright Infringement Notifications where Blogger sites have used images without permission and usually get a response and positive result very quickly.

    I wonder what would happen if one sent a DMCA Notice to Google itself, citing their unauthorized display of original, copyright images? I suppose if they complied and removed the image from Search, you’d simply be shooting yourself in the foot – might as well use a robots.txt file to stop images being indexed at all.

    I guess we must hope that a clever lawyer/photographer will institute some form of legal action, otherwise the issue will gradually fade away and next we’ll find ads displayed next to our images on Google’s search pages.

    • Scotch,

      I wonder also what would happen if I sent a DMCA takedown to Google citing their unauthorized hotlinking and display of my images. At this point I think they would just laugh but if we can get a huge class action suit against Google they might not laugh at all.

      I’d be happy if they would just get rid of that “View Original image” button.

  • Kim brings up a good point, too. I have wondered why it isn’t easier to apply a © copyright symbol. You have to fish for it in fonts &bitmap images, then cut&paste. Additionally not all photo editors allow overlay of a watermark, ie no text function. I recently discovered that there is even a function in microsoft editors which allow changing the date of the photo taken, over-riding the camera image date! It’s as if the whole digital image process is flawed with regard to protecting one’s image rights, even slated against it. Just makes it more difficult, more work, and potentially harmful when you can lose images messing around with all of this stuff. Now, you have to integrate a design component for a watermark so it doesn’t compete with image, which could potentially raise your price. Maybe if we were to copyright a watermark image (gawd) so that if removed, it would amp up the severity for would be offenders? There must be a way to embed an watermark or © symbol so it is unremovable.
    I was so shocked to learn when starting out with social media that most all sites assume/allow their ‘use’ of images. Seems predatory to me at the base of it. How is this even allowable? When I began at twitter I posted loads of images w/o watermarks or symbols, ones I never knowingly gave anyone rights to, had them up for months and then learned the truth. Had to take them all down. I was sick about it. Just sick. I definitely felt violated.

    • Sally, for me in Photoshop it is easy to add a copyright mark, I have mine on my images but I tried to make them unobtrusive to the viewers. I’m left with the choice of making one so big it detracts from the image or leave it the size it is but only post small/tiny images on my blog & galleries.

      • That’s good to know about Photoshop. I am limited in my resources as I only use an Olympus small digital and can’t invest more right now, in cameras or software. Windows media software is what it is – just ok – but it’s what I have, so I guess in my situation it’s even more hazardous. I have seen where some do a sort of ghost watermark, but all change the image basically. But that’s where it is I guess. I guess there are just snakes in the garden. I’m a beginner & have had questions about all this for a while & am truly grateful to be learning from & with you. Many many thanks Mia.

      • I use Bing for searches usu. I have shyed away from Google since I had Chrome and them for a homepage. I could not get them out of my computer, it took some surgery, and they were messing things up royally. So I haven’t had much to do with them. Years ago they were THE search engine for me, I was a Googlehead for sure, but since the problems with their browser, I have left them. Only use their search occasionally. Bing has nice images at their homepage, and the image links show the website of origin under the images thmbnails, but after that it looks like the door is open to the sleaze factor -it’s glued to the works. With all the good that computers enable, it’s such a shame … but not for the shameless. If there is anything I can do or help with, let me know. We, you whomever could maybe start a petition page for artists, to see if there is interest in pursuing some sort of action against Google. French publishers won a sttlement against them, seems like they (Goog) are criminal dopes with deep pockets who are willing to allow the rape and raid of others’ before they even have a chance to drop in a coin. We could give em a volley for what it’s worth. And I know how to run up a bill if motivated, I am very good at seeing into the corners of an issue, and I don’t like being taken advantage of. I don’t have my images tagged, so I dont’ suppose I am out there so much, but who knows what ‘they’, google and soc media sites are up to behind the scenes?

        • Yes sally, this new Google image search is modeled after Bing’s image search.

          I don’t think a petition is going to work at all with this, it needs to be a class action law suit heard before a judge.

          If Google had any sense they would remove that damn “view original image” button entirely

          • I mean using a petition to see who would be interested in filing a class action. Or one person, or a few take the complaint to the attention of attys, then they pursue getting more plaintiffs from there possibly as well. Isuppose the fewer plaintiffs. Exemplary damages should be pursued as well, I feel, to really drive home the point, make an example of them.

  • kim

    It would be good to have a program that automatically pasted a large copyright watermark across images that are seen away from the home site …

  • Hummingbird Lover

    Hi! I agree with your rights completely! There is so much stealing and also to much Govt controll over how you have to have a Box and antena for older TV’s! Now they are forcing us to use new type light bulbs? What is our country coming ,Too????
    Keep up the good work and keep figthing for our legal rights! You go get them Girl!!!

  • I agree with Sally … impressive background. A lot of my digital copyright understanding is coming from your recent posts on this, Mia. Thank you. =

  • Well Mia, it seems obvious to me that Google is in violation. Maybe a class action lawsuit is in order for something like this? Have you searched out others that are experiencing these violations to see what kind of concerted effort can be put into changing Google’s new image search?

    • Thanks Larry, if I hear of a class action lawsuit regarding this I am going to add my name to it. I know there are petitions circulating but they don’t have many signatures and I doubt that Google would pay attention to a petition. A law suit on the other hand, I think they have to pay attention.

  • Impressive work Mia. Thank you for the links. Absolutely you should report this to the referral site at FBI. It may need to be investigated further, in case the offending blogger has somehow circumvented Google’s measures, if said measures actually exist. Google has recently settled a case filed by French publishers for copyright infringement. http://www.pcworld.com/article/2026989/google-cuts-copyright-deal-with-french-publishers.html

  • Merrill Ann Gonzales

    Dear Mia, I was listening to a program on NPR the other night about this very topic…. although it was music and video/movies that was the subject…. but it was discussing the futility of trying to do anything about violations of copyright. Yet there is a larger and larger body of artists in every form of art that are just fed up and I suspect that you are in the beginning of just such a surge.
    The problem is that most people on the internet expect that everything is “FREE” ….. and so it will take a long time of dedicated effort to do anything about it… not only to stop the practices but to change the attitudes of those who view content. Until that happens I suspect the only avenues are for artists to spend considerable time reaching out to each other, organizing, publishing horror stories, etc. with unrelenting tenacity… and for those of us like me who do not have the wherewithall to do this, to just no longer publish over the internet. All artists, everywhere, owe you a great debt for each of these posts…. and all the work you are doing along this line.

    • Merrill,

      I think photographers and artists need to band together to fight copyright violations of ALL kinds. And what Google is doing just isn’t right at all, THEY should be educating people about copyright violations instead of saying “this image may be subject to copyright”. Every image is copyrighted at the moment of creation so people should ALWAYS assume they are not free to use and should contact the photographer for permission to use them.

      I’m not going to stop posting to the web but I am going to post smaller images than I had been and I’ll reduce the size of the ones already on my server.

      • Absolutely Mia! Whether it says copyright on it or not, there ain’t no ‘may be subject to copyright’ because everything is assumed to be. Also, people know it’s wrong when they are doing this 99.9% of the time. So in addition to outright stating the law and educating them, techinical solutions are really the only solution for criminal intent. And said solutions need to be applied at ground zero, by us apparently, because you obviously can’t trust the big slurps on top.

  • [...] PcPherson, on her blog On the Wing Photography, questions the legality of the new set-up, asking “Is Google’s New Image Search Violating Their Own Policies? The Law?”. Other disgruntled publishers are suggesting a class-action lawsuit could be [...]

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