TimeWarner and Google have announced that starting today Google will make available millions of images from the Life Magazine photo archive. The vast majority (97 percent) of these images have never been seen by the public (they were sitting around in physical envelopes). These are hard-copy photographs that have been or are being scanned by Google and will be hosted by Google. They will show up in Google.com and Google Image search results. All these photos are available in high-resolution (5 and 6 megapixels).
The images will be free to use for “personal and research purposes” but will be digitally watermarked to prevent unauthorized or unlicensed commercial uses. There are links to appropriate contacts for those who want to use the images commercially.
The images are labeled by subject(s) and organized by decade and category. They can also be searched by photographer and date. In other words you can search for all images by a particular photographer in a particular year or decade.
Why would TimeWarner do this? The company merchandises the photography and there’s a link on every page to a Time page where people can purchase the image:
Today about “three million images” are present, according to Google’s RJ Pittman, and roughly seven million more will be added as they’re scanned over time.
The photos are accessible through a dedicated front door but are also integrated into the core image search index. Pittman said that working on this project for roughly a year has yielded benefits and improvements that will be integrated into Google image search as a whole. He added that Google is looking to make image search, including the interface, better and suggested that the Life archive represents something of a preview of how Google image search could develop over time.
Google isn’t monetizing these images specifically at the present.
Postscript From Danny Sullivan: As Greg says, the images are free to use for personal or research purposes. We know this, because that’s what Google has told us directly. It’s also in the press release about the launch:
LIFE’s Photo Archive will be scanned and available on Google Image Search free for personal and research purposes. Copyright and ownership of all images will remain with Time Inc.
Unfortunately, an ordinary person using the photo archive probably won’t realize that images can be used for personal or research purposes.
Looking at any individual photo certainly doesn’t make this clear. They carry a Time copyright notification (© Time Inc.) that suggests they CANNOT be used for any purpose without explicit permission.
The FAQ page doesn’t say personal use is OK. It actually says something more restrictive:
What can I do with the images I find from the LIFE photo archive? You can browse and view the images you find, rate them, and see detailed information about the photographs. There is also a link to buy image merchandise provided by LIFE.
Meanwhile, each photo has a “Purchase image merchandise” link that somewhat implies restrictions.
Hopefully, Google and Time will get things fixed. Each image should clearly link to permissions information. And Time’s missing out by not selling options to buy images for reuse for commerical purposes. Anyone interested in this and hitting that “Purchase image” option only gets a choice of buying a framed photo. No contact info about how to use the photo in other ways, even if you’re willing to pay.