Google is about to help sell the content of images found in Google Image Search without sharing a penny with anyone.  Here is how it works:

Using content recognition, it will scan all images found in a Google Image search and display the matching items to users that can, in turn, purchase them. In other words, a photo of a celebrity wearing a Vuitton handbag will showcase a thumbnail of similar handbags linked to an e-commerce site where it can be purchased.

For now, the feature, called “Similar Items” is on trial and visible only on the android google search app and for a limited set of items ( handbags, sunglasses, and shoes). But plans are to release it to browser search as well, along with many more items.

Google  new

Google new ” Similar Items” search

A special procedure has to be implemented by sellers for items to be recognized and displayed, but it will not be long before the highly competitive e-commerce world catches on.

What does it mean for the Stock photo world and independent photographers who have millions of images indexed by Google Image? Well, all of them have the potential to become a free billboard to promote a product. There are no plans to compensate any creator for usage of their images to promote products. Is this legal? Well, maybe (Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer). Images, in this case, are used as a reference point. The same way as advertising refers to the surrounding text to display targeted ads. Furthermore, Google does not charge for the feature (unlike Adwords) nor does it collect any revenue share. It is purely an additional search result. What can be done? Besides removing all images from indexing, not much.

Google has always made clear that its role is to facilitate the discovery of just about everything. This feature clearly falls into this parameter as it increases users’ ability to discover items in photographs. In fact, this is probably just a beginning. It should be too long before Google ( or Microsoft Bing) release another feature which would allow users to take or upload images and find out more about every element in the photograph without typing a keyword. Pinterest has just released a version of this. Called Lens, the feature simply allows users to snap a photo or use an existing image on their camera roll to find pins and themes related to the photo.

Pinterest's Lens

Pinterest’s Lens

The issue here is not the technology. Some stock photo agencies already use visual search to facilitate the finding similar images. Others also use content recognition to not only automatically tag images but to make text-based search more performant. Rather, it is the usage of unlicensed images for commercial purpose. Since Google display of image search results as thumbnails as been deemed perfectly legal, it assumes that it can do whatever it wants with them, a thorny topic that has been under intense debating in Europe and challenged by the likes of Getty Images.  This will only increase the mistrust the stock photo industry already has regarding Google’s practices with images and provoke deeper conversation about the current inappropriateness of copyright law to our modern world.  To be continued…

Ever since Google display of image search results as thumbnails as been deemed legal, it assumes that it can do whatever it wants with them, a thorny topic that has been under intense debating in Europe and challenged by the likes of Getty Images.  This will only increase the mistrust the stock photo industry already has regarding Google’s practices with images and provoke deeper conversations about the current inappropriateness of copyright law to our modern world.  To be continued…

 

Photo by markus spiske

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