On February 15, 2018, Google announced that it would be removing the “View Image” button from its Image Search in an attempt to encourage users to directly visit the hosting website to download an image.1 The company stated that the changes were designed to strike a balance between serving user needs and publisher concerns.2 More significantly, however, the changes stemmed from Google’s recent settlement with Getty Images, Inc., the world’s largest photo agency which represents over 200,000 photojournalists.3
In April 2016, Getty Images filed a complaint against Google with the European Commission, the European Union’s antitrust watchdog.4 Getty accused the U.S. tech-giant of abusing its dominance in search to display copyrighted images without compensation.5 In 2013, Google changed the way it displayed images so that users could easily view and download high-definition images directly from Google instead of clicking a thumbnail through to the source website to do the same.6 Getty General Counsel Yoko Miyashita said that following the change, traffic to the company’s site fell immediately by eighty-five percent.7 Getty’s complaint argued that by displaying high-resolution photos in its search results, Google directed traffic away from Getty’s own site and made it too easy for users to download photos without paying for the images or giving appropriate credit.8 Specifically, the changes made by Google “reinforce its role as the Internet’s dominant search engine, maintaining monopoly over site traffic, engagement data and advertising spend,” and promote piracy by causing unknowing users to engage in widespread copyright infringement.9
In addition to removing the “View Image” button from Image Search, the two companies announced an agreement that includes a multiyear global-licensing partnership that allows Google to use Getty’s content within its various products and services.10 Dawn Airey, CEO of Getty Images, stated that her company “will license [its] market leading content to Google, working closely with them to improve attribution of [its] contributors’ work and thereby growing the ecosystem.”11 Cathy Edwards, Engineering Director at Google, said that the company will begin “using [Getty’s] images across many of [Google’s] products and services, starting immediately.”12 As part of the deal, Google will also take steps to properly credit contributors that generate content for Getty.13 Currently, searching for images on Google will still bring up numerous Getty Image photographs, but a user must purchase a license to access and use the full-size image.
The intention behind removing the “View Image” button could be either stopping people from taking an image altogether or driving them through to the website where the image is located. The change allows the hosting website to generate revenue through ads and make notice of any associated copyright information more apparent.14 Although great for publishers, these changes do make Google Image Search less useful for its users, requiring extra clicks to access the desired image, though still making it the users’ responsibility to abide by copyright law. Many images on Google Image search are images in the public domain and creative commons and hence do not pose a question under copyright law.15 Furthermore, many organizations are permitted to use copyrighted images under the principle of fair use.16
For now, Google users can access an image directly by right-clicking on it and choosing “open image in new tab” or “view image,” or whatever the equivalent browser option is.17 However, since the “visit” site button is now the most visible button, it will likely be the most travelled path for Google users.18