Photography’s business model must change, and what Google has just done is sort of pointless. It’s an interesting time for photography at the moment, a disconcerting time. People are being photoshopped beyond all human recognition, everyone and their mother thinks they should use their DSLR to generate some money and call themselves a photographer, which is diluting the single-malt scotch potency of the moniker (one glance at YouAreNotAPhotographer.com should convince you), and iPhones take more photos than any other camera – though it’s not not even a camera. But the biggest issue – it’s the bruised side of the apple; the pimple on prom night; the tax on your lottery winnings. It’s licensing – or the lack of.

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Google has made image searching easy, with a range of refining abilities. They also have made it easy to see if any image of yours can be found anywhere else online, through a simple reverse image search, which I highly recommend you all do from time to time. However, Google has always hidden the search field, for usage rights, in the bellows of advanced options. Not anymore. Now, it joins Bing (who has done this for a while) and it’s right up front with the rest of the search criteria fields. Simply typing in a search query, selecting images, then search tools, will bring this new option to your screen.

It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a big enough step, and it’s not entirely in the right direction. This may simply provide info as to an image’s status, but frankly can be easily dismissed. Better would be a move towards making it more difficult for those images to be downloaded/saved, somewhat like Flickr does. Except even protected images on Flickr can have that protection bypassed with ease, from your browser ‘Develop’ functions. The image below show where they can be found in Safari, using my own Flickr page to show my images aren’t safe:

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Broader Applications

I’d long mentioned that one of my fears for the future was the Internet’s slack distribution of media. I don’t refer to the easy ability to lift songs and movies from torrent sites. More that it has made the distribution side of the factors of production so inexpensive, and quick to set-up, that it poses a risk of killing quality media productions, if the model doesn’t change. Allow me to explain.

On YouTube, for example, you can spend a fortnight watching people falling off things without seeing the same video again. There are videos of everything, most harmless. But what you can also find, are full episodes of television programs, or even movies, even ones that haven’t aired yet. This means that the production crew who have toiled at the scripts, selected and paid the actors, and have gone through all the trouble of creating something of value, have less chance of it being picked up or sponsored by a television company for screening – since everyone’s already seen it online.

[REWIND:Government Shutdown Affects U.S. Copyright Office]

No problem you may say, the production company will just file some legal proceedings against YouTube, likely win, and then get on with life. YouTube will be made to respect copyright laws and all’s well. Except, you haven’t thought it through. YouTube is a weed. Even if it were to crumble today or unable to host copyrighted materials, by morning some kid in his pajamas, for the price of 50 cents, will anonymously start up a new sharing site and it’ll be posted on there. Sue him, you may say. No, that’s pointless because he is just a kid with pajamas who still picks his nose and has no assets.

So What?

So what? Well, the upshot is that media in all forms from video, to print, to music can be put online and accessed by all. Except that this model means the ones creating it won’t get paid. And if they won’t get paid, people will cease to produce quality videos and photos. The art forms are not cheap endeavors, as equipment and talent is expensive, and the time needed even more steep. So, why would anyone make anything at such cost if there’s no payment?

Music and film have slowly been molting their old business model for a silky new one, which is beginning to gain ground on monetizing ‘free’ online media. It’s more difficult for photography. Often, people won’t pay to look at a photo. Largely, there is still this notion that a photograph just takes a click of a button to make, so it’s no big deal to take one, nor crime to use one without permission. One of the problems in this regard has been how images are found and farmed online. It’s almost always through a search engine, and since it’s the biggest, it’s mostly Google. This change needs to be bigger, and would be great to come from them.

So, what do you think of this? Is it useful? If so, who will benefit from this most? Is this a move to simply add a veneer of legal protection for Google with no altruistic thought at all?