Google is rolling out new 'Licensable' labels to Google Image search results in order to help people find visuals that they can legally re-use - with permission - via its search tools.
As explained by Google:
"For results where the publisher or image creator provided licensing information, we will display a “licensable” badge over the image. When you select a badged image to view, we will show a link to the license details of the image, and if provided by the publisher, you’ll also find a link to where you can purchase or license the image."
This is an upgrade over the current Google Image 'Usage Rights' filters, which enable you to find visuals that have been 'Labeled for re-use with modification', 'Labeled for re-use' and 'Labeled for non-commercial' usage, as a means to identify images that you may be able to add into your posts and updates.
The problem with this approach is that Google can't definitively say that the images listed under its 're-use' filters are all free to use - you still need to dig a little deeper yourself into the individual licensing requirements for each to ensure that you're not violating copyright.
This new update takes a more proactive approach to the problem, with Google looking to provide explicit links to the image owner and licensing conditions, which should help users find all the information that they need more easily, while also better protecting the rights of creators. Google has collaborated with a range of image creators and stock image providers for its updated display listings.
Image copyright online is a difficult area, with various cases, mostly relating to social media usage, highlighting areas of ambiguity in the current laws as they relate to publicly posted, and digitally hosted, content. That can make it increasingly difficult for social media and content managers looking to add visuals to their posts and updates. Research shows that adding visuals enhances content performance, but you can't just take whatever images you find and repurpose them as you see fit.
The best solution is to take your own photos, but that's not always an option. Which leads people to stock photography. In many cases, free online depositories can provide an equitable, workable solution, but you need to tread very carefully - and as noted, you can't just rely on your filtered Google Image listings.
Providing further guidance, Google is also changing its listing filters so you can narrow your image searches down to only those that have provided license information:
"You can now select either images that have Creative Commons licenses, or those that have commercial or other licenses, in the Usage Rights dropdown menu on Google Images. For any of the license types, you can learn how to acquire a license for the image by clicking on the license details link provided."
This is an important update, as many people will have been using these filters to simply pick and choose 'labeled for re-use' images, in the understanding that they're free to do so. And as noted, that's not always correct.
The new process will help provide more clarity around what you need to do to use these images on your site, with clearer guidance on licensing and attribution requirements.