The Google Image Search Clipart Ad Blunder

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When I work with visual artists, one of the most common complaints that I hear is that too many people treat Google Image Search as a clip art or stock photography library, taking and using works without permission, assuming that it is ok.

Yesterday, I was beta testing the ImageExchange Firefox plugin (full report should be tomorrow) and part of it was entering a lot of queries into Google Images to see how well the system works.

At one point I had an issue with trying to determine if “clipart” or “clip art” would produce more results so I punched both into Google’s regular search engine, below is the ad that came up.

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In short, Google was advertising its image search feature as a means to find “Clipart Pictures”, even above Clipart.com.

In Google’s defense, it appears to have been a one-time thing. I haven’t been able to replicate it today. Also, it is almost certainly an automatically-generated ad based on keywords. Still, the fact that Google could connect Google Image Search with clip art, even though it is made up of images from all over the Web, most of which they do not have the copyright in, is disconcerting.

Update 12/16: Even though I haven’t been able to replicate it today, artist Meredith Dillman was able to get it to work last night following my original tweet on the topic. It appears that it wasn’t just me.

Granted, the ImageExchange extension, which I am testing aims to make Google Images (as well as general Web browsing) useful for stock photo searches, by itself Google Image Search has no means to license images, only point to sites that can (such as iStockPhoto, etc.)

To be clear, I don’t think that Google thinks of its image search product as a clip art gallery and it seems that this was a mistake and one that has already been fixed. But I would also argue that Google hasn’t done a great deal to dispel the idea either. Other than a vague “Image may be subject to copyright” warning in the frame above the clicked link, there isn’t much notice that the images aren’t for reuse without permission, especially for a layperson.

To make matters even worse, their CC-licensed search, which might actually be useful for finding clip art and stock photos, is buried at the bottom of their “Advanced Options“.

While it isn’t Google’s responsibility to make sure that everyone who uses its image search does so properly, it would be nice to see Google make it easier and more effective for what is almost certainly one of its most commons uses. This would help both artists and those seeking to use art at the same time.

That and not advertising it as a source for clip art would also be good idea…

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