Does Google Map’s Use of All Rights Reserved Photos From Flickr Violate Copyright?

Does Google Map's Use of All Right's Reserved Photos From Flickr Violate Copyright?

It was interesting to read over at Rev Dan Catt’s blog today that Google has now begun including Flickr photos into their Google Maps product. I love Google Maps and use it *heavily,* especially when planning trips to new cities to photograph.

Basically, when you are in Google Street View mode for any part of Google Maps, you are presented with an option to click on “user photos.” Google then presents you with a list of thumbnail sized photos that you can go through one by one and view actual photos on the maps based on their own Picassa photo sharing and now Flickr. As you click on the various photos, it pulls up a high res version of each of the photos, showing you the image.

When I first learned of this feature I thought for sure that it would be limited to Creative Commons Flickr photos. I wasn’t sure how Google could legally take high res photos for CC non-commercial photos or all rights reserved photos and integrate full sized versions of them into their product. But it seems as though this is exactly what they’ve done.

If you look at the screen shot above, it features a photo by Flickr photographer Patrick Boury, if you look at that photo on Flickr, it is licensed as “all rights reserved.” I surfed Google’s Street View around San Francisco today checking out lots of the photos and many (in fact I’d say most) of the Flickr images that Google is presently using are either Creative Commons non-commercial licensed photos or all rights reserved licensed photos.

While I know that in the past Google has used thumbnail images in their Google Image Search product of all rights reserved Flickr photos, I haven’t actually seen them use full scale large versions of all rights reserved photos in other products like this.

Me personally, I have no problem with Google using any of my own geotagged photos this way, but I’m pretty open and willing to share my photos. Especially though with thousands of Flickr users now formally licensing their all rights reserved photos through Getty Images, it makes me wonder if Getty Images would consider this sort of use by Google as infringing on the exclusivity that Flickr users give them over images when licensing them for sale with them.

I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not exactly sure if Google is infringing here or not, but it raises an interesting question about fair use. Google is a for profit company and even displays adverts on the street view pages using Flickr photos.

It should also be noted that Flickr has a way to exclude your photos from being indexed by Google and other search engines in your Flickr preferences. I suppose if someone felt strongly enough about this issue then they might consider hiding their images from search engines and I’d assume that they’d then not be indexed in Google’s Street View product.

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19 Comments

  1. Ryan Smith says:

    If they are copying the image into their servers and then showing it, it probably is breaking copyright somehow. If they are just displaying the image from Yahoo then they are just doing what Flickr allows with the images, which you agree to I’m sure somewhere when you upload it no matter what copyright you select.

  2. JeffPHenderson says:

    Ryan I disagree, It doesn’t matter where or how the image gets to Google’s web pages. The bottom line is that Google is a for profit company and they are displaying Copyrighted all rights reserved or Creative Commons non-commercial images without consent. This clearly sounds like a copyright infringement to me.

  3. The Wallbanger says:

    What’s to stop Flickr users from intentionally misattributing photos’ map coordinates, tags, and images to confuse Google’s servers? Would it be difficult to place the Eiffle Tower in Times Square if I tagged it as such? Lots of potential for mischief if you ask me.

  4. JeffPHenderson says:

    Wallbanger, sounds like a fun experiment! Better yet, replace a known used image with something objectionable, or just geotag and keyword inappropriate images as if they were images of locations…

  5. Michael says:

    flickr’s TOS trumps your copyright when you click the agree box.

    Commercial use of an image is using the image to sell a product or service. Google displaying the pictures is not a commercial use. Google being “for profit” has no bearing on commercial use. A church could use an image from flickr to advertise their church. They are non-profit but are using the image commercially.

    Black’s Law Dictionary not Webster-Merriam.

    Displaying the image may or may not be infringement depending on the judge you get. PRINTING the image for display is.

    Infringement isn’t clear cut. It all depends on the judge you get and how good of a writer/speaker your lawyer is over the other guy.

    Unless you register your stuff with the Copyright office there is not a single lawyer that will take your case.

  6. Thomas Hawk says:

    Wallbanger, with every image Google has a “report a problem” link. I’d suspect that mistagged or inappropriate images would be quickly reported and removed by the community.

    Michael, if you look closely at the image above, you will see an advert at the bottom of the image advertising KIA cars. They are selling cars. That is commercial use. The majority of the screen is of a flickr users all rights reserved image advertising KIA cars down at the bottom.

  7. Some photographers may not like it, but Google proved that thumbnails are fair use when they went to court with Perfect 10 over their Google image search. I don’t see how this integration is any different than the indexing that they are already doing.

  8. Thomas Hawk says:

    @Davis. I think the issue with Perfect 10 was that they were using thumbnails. Now they seem to be using full page high res imagery here. Size matters?

  9. Chris Nixon says:

    My issue is not that they are using it. It’s that I did not sign up to allow this. I would have happily granted permission to most of my shots…but probably not family ones taken at my house.

    It’s very different people on flickr looking at my shots, and then finding out where they were taken as opposed to virtually taking a trip up my street, and seeing what photos are available. The latter seems much more creepy.

    I’m going to have to very carefully readjust my privacy settings in Flickr.

  10. Jason says:

    I assume that Google is pulling photos through the Flickr API. The main problem that I have with the Flickr API is that there is no way to block your “All Rights Reserved” photos from the Flickr API. The same setting that removes the “All Sizes” button from the Flickr UI for “All Rights Reserved” photos should also block them from being searched and retrieved using the Flickr API.

  11. Michael says:

    Did not see the link at the bottom. Argument could go either way depending on the judge. Will be interesting to see how this plays out. Anybody dig into the latest TOS on flickr yet?

  12. Brad says:

    Rather than speculate, why not ask a media-arts attorney? Such as from California Lawyers for the Arts at Fort Mason…

  13. Ryan says:

    No, lets just speculate, don’t change the direction of this blog.

  14. Adam says:

    Using an ‘All Rights Reserved’ (and presumed properly registered Copyright) image in a web page/product is about as clear cut as an infringement can get. I realize that it never seems ‘black and white’ when it comes to copyright issues, but this is definitely ‘grayscale’.

    I can speak from personal experience – when images our firm had copyrighted were re-used as depictions of particular personalities on their website. The other side argued it was fair use based on the fact they were used as ‘reference examples’ (i.e. not used to directly sell their product) and that they linked directly to the source. The case was won in our favor initially, and on appeal. The other firm is no longer in business.

    The fact that Flickr, and almost ALL of the Flickr API ‘users’, do NOT even seem to care about whether your images are All Rights Reserved or not (remember the LA Times Slideshow?) is why myself and many of our colleagues no longer use the website. While we understand copyright infringement is actually quite commonplace, we refuse to use a service that won’t even help its own source of contributions by recognizing an author’s rights.

  15. travispuk says:

    I agree that if they are simply displaying the image then it is no different to flickr displaying the image. If however they are then added advertisements that possibly link to the pic then I think that is clear commercial use.

    It does fall into the same category as the recent issue with the Independent Newspaper in the UK. Same sort of thing in my opinion.

    As Chris Nixon says though if I was able to opt-in or out for this specific use scenario then I would opt-in as in my opinion it is no different to flickr displaying the images on their site, but not having ever been given the opportunity I would not be happy about.

  16. […] introduction of geo-tagged Flickr photos into their Google Maps Street View. Thomas Hawk writes on his blog: When I first learned of this feature I thought for sure that it would be limited to Creative […]

  17. […] Does Google Map's Use of All Right's Reserved Photos From Flickr … […]

  18. William Beem says:

    I’m sure this is covered under the Flickr TOS to allow them to display the photos as they like. Per Flickr’s blog post today, it seems they’ve made arrangements with Google, Bing, and Apple. More money for Yahoo, nothing for the content creators.

    While I don’t think it’s illegal, given that we agreed to the TOS, I do think it’s damaging to Flickr’s community. When we signed up for the service, we acknowledged permissions as we understood them. We also acknowledged future usage, like these examples. Would we have made the same agreement if we knew then what we know now? Maybe, maybe not.

    I would prefer the choice of opting in/out for any display outside of the Flickr site itself. Although I’ve changed my permissions to restrict blogging, it doesn’t seem to stop folks that I didn’t authorize from doing it. I imagine it may be due to some of the group policies where I share my photos.

    Given the recent choices by Flickr & Yahoo management on how they can profit from my work or tell me how I must share it, I’m less and less inclined to renew my membership when it comes due in April. I enjoy my friends on Flickr and some of the communities, but I’m not a fan of Flickr’s policies or management anymore.

    I have no idea if any of my photos are being displayed by Google, Bing or Apple – that’s the point that annoys me. I’d like the simple courtesy of choice or awareness regarding my photos. Flickr doesn’t seem to get it, though. If they do, they don’t seem to care.

  19. These types of uses and policy changes allowing Flickr by Yahoo to profit from photographers’ works while simultaneously telling photographers “no commercial use allowed” and “no SEO linkage for you” have made me take a hard look at the value of displaying my work on Flickr. It turns out that Flickr has become an “SEO sink”; capturing and hanging onto searches that would otherwise direct potential clients to my own website. Needless to say, I have since deleted my Flickr account and am working on recovering my lost SEO value.

    There seems to be a trend where media companies (and I consider Flickr to be one) want to monetize content but not pay for it.