Google Image Search Plays Nice with Creative Commons for Bloggers

Google adds a usage rights tool in its Image Search to help users find images protected by Creative Commons and other fair use licenses. The move should help the search engine giant fortify its position as a company that respects copyright holders as it seeks to fend off a Justice Department inquiry over its Google Book Search deal.

Google July 9 made another overture to make life easier for Web content creators, adding a new feature to Google Image Search that lets bloggers find free images that are available to share and modify for free.

The move constitutes Google's latest olive branch to artistic license and copyright owners, and could be one of the efforts Google points to should it find itself having to counter copyright infringement issues over its Google Book Search agreement.

Bloggers can now restrict their Image Search results to photos that have been tagged with licenses such as Creative Commons, a nonprofit group that lets users use and build on the works of others while respecting copyright laws, the GNU Free Documentation license, or are in the public domain.

Creative Commons licenses allow artists to specify the ways others may use their work, but the licenses are very clear about how the work may be used according to the artists' wishes. Artists can license their images for general reuse, or strictly for noncommercial reuse. Artists can also decide whether or not to grant people the right to modify or remix their images.

Users can enable this new usage rights feature by going to Google's advanced image search page and selecting the type of license they'd like to search for under the "Usage rights" section. Thereafter, results should be restricted to images marked with CC or other licenses. Once a user confirms the license of the image and makes sure that their use complies with the terms of the license, users can reuse the image.

However, while this utility picks out images that are tagged with licenses that authorize reuse, Google stressed that users still have to verify that the licensing information is accurate. Read more about the new Image Search on TechMeme here.

"We can help you take the first step towards finding these images, but we can't guarantee that the content we linked to is actually in the public domain, or available under the license," wrote Google Software Engineers Lance Huang and George Ruban in a blog post.

Naturally, the Creative Commons representatives were thrilled with Google's new Image Search tool. Every time a technology provider implements technology that helps uphold Creative Commons licenses, it lends greater validity to the cause to foster fair use.

"This is a huge step forward for the future of image search on the Web, so congratulations to the Google team on another great CC implementation!" Creative Commons rep Fred Benenson wrote in a blog.

The move is a huge step for Google, which has not always endeared itself to copyright holders in the past and may soon have to defend itself against a formal inquiry by the U.S. Justice Department over Google Book Search, its sweeping plan to digitize the world's books and make them accessible to users and libraries over the Internet for fees.

Google and the Authors Guild raised eyebrows last October when they announced their settlement of a class-action lawsuit, which the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers filed against Google in 2005.

Libraries, consumer rights advocates and other parties expressed concern such a deal would grant Google too much power in the online book realm, particularly over "orphan works," or books that are out of print and whose authors or rights holders are unknown.