Keeping the honest people honest…
Many years ago, photographers started sharing photos on the internet. And a few hours after that point in time, someone downloaded and copied that photo and used it for another purpose, without licensing it from the photographer. Or at least it seems like that’s how things probably started. For as long as I’ve been on the internet, back in the 1990s, photographers and other artists have been trying to prevent others from taking their work without properly licensing the images.
One of the accomplices in many swiped photos over the years has been Google Image Search. With the power of the world’s biggest search engine, it allows you to easily find photos an any subject imaginable. And once you find those photos, you’re only a couple clicks away from downloading them and using them to your heart’s content.
Google has (finally) made it easier to keep the honest people honest. The introduction of Google Image Search licensing features at the end of last month means that Google can make it clear that an image is licensable, and how to contact you to do so. In order for this to work, there are two ways you can publish your images onto the web so that they’re ready for Google Image Search licensing.
This is probably the option that’s going to fit best into the workflows of serious photographers. If you’re already using a program like Photo Mechanic or Adobe Lightroom to manage the metadata on your images, this should fit right into your existing systems. There are two IPTC metadata fields that need to be populated for your images on the web:
- Web Statement of Rights: This is a URL for a web page that describes the license for the image. While it could be specific to the image, most likely this will be a general page you create with information about the license that covers a broad set of your work. If you’re publishing images covered by a broad public license, such as a Creative Commons license, you could include that.
- Licensor URL: This is a URL for someone who wants to license your image. It could be an ecommerce purchase link for online payment, or it could be something such as contact information for someone to inquire about licensing.
While you can populate these values manually for a given image, in all likelihood you’ll want to set up a preset that can be applied either as you import your photos into your image management application of choice, or as you export them for publishing to the web.
If you want to dive deep into the world of IPTC metadata and Google, this article from the IPTC itself is a great resource.
Structured Data Markup
The other option for adding licensing data to your images on the web is to use structured data markup, which involves adding code on your website that will provide Google with the metadata needed to understand about licensing for each image.
At this point, this is going to be outside the wheelhouse of most photographers. I only really see one way in which this might come into play for photographers, and that is if photo gallery systems (such as NextGen or Envira for WordPress, or standalone services such as SmugMug) add the structured data to their sites.
Even if they do add the code needed, it will still be up to each photographer to provide that data. The easiest way for most folks to provide that data? It’s via IPTC metadata as noted above. That’s where you should focus your energy.
Image Search Licensing: Easier for the Good Guys
Google making it easier for searchers to see the licensing options for images is definitely a step forward for photographers. If someone honest comes across your image and wants to use it for a legitimate purpose, they’ll find it easier to reach out and make it happen. That said, for someone who doesn’t care about licensing or rights in the first place, this won’t be a magic bullet to prevent online image theft.
My overall summary: ensure you’re adding the IPTC metadata, and do what you’ve always been doing. You might end up pleasantly surprised with a licensing inquiry via Google Image Search, but I’d be surprised…