One of the biggest issue facing the professional photos licensing world today is search engines. In their effort to stay appealing to their users, they have all added an image search that allows for the quick and easy return of photos ( or graphics) corresponding to a query. Google, of course, but Yahoo and Bing as well.
They can legally do this as a famous case brought against Alta Vista and a porn website ruled in favor of the search engines, stating that displaying thumbnails of photos as a result of search was not copyright infringement but rather, fair use. Google recently extended the size of the “thumbnail” to displaying a generous preview perfect for any web usage.
While it might seem as a great help for the pro licensor of photography, it is not. Rather, it has become the number tool for copyright infringement, making it easier for anyone to pick and copy any photos they like. Of course, search engines do carry a warning that some of the images might be copyrighted , but without displaying by whom, it has little or no effect.
Enters Baidu, the Chinese Google, who recently went public on the US market with a historical IPO. Baidu , like its western counterpart, offers a dedicated Image Search, at http://image.baidu.com/ . But unlike them, it offers a download option right in the thumbnail images. With one click, users can download to their desktop any image they see, making it even easier to steal images.
Baidu is the highly censored version of Google so a good amount of Western websites are not being crawled and a huge emphasis is made to return chinese websites. Thus the images search results are seemingly and in its vast majority of chinese creation. But if anyone, and a lot of photo agencies do, licenses an image to a chinese website, it becomes fair game to Baidu image search. Baidu represents 70% of the search market in China.
After the Microsoft/Bing photo widget successfully shut down by Getty Images, this is another example on how terribly detrimental the search engines are to professional licensing and how, with a global legislation, it is only going to get worst. CEPIC, in Europe, has been trying to curve Google’s blatant attempt to ignore copyright owners protection, with little success up to now. In the US, Getty Images has reported that it is trying to discuss this matter with Google, with, again, little sympathy. In China, as far as we know, no one is addressing this issue.
Without a converging effort by everyone that makes a living from licensing photographs, this situation will only get more devastating. Companies like Baidu, or Google to a lesser extent, are providing the tools to commit robbery. Copyright infringement is the number 1 issue facing all creators and rights holders of photography and these search engines are pouring fuel on it with no sign of dimming down. Ignoring the issue will not make it disappear but rather send a strong signal that the industry is weak, does not care or is just irrelevant. If the pro photo licensing industry wants to stay afloat in the second part of the 21 st century, it needs to take action now.