Counting Chromosomes
A blog of random musings on genealogy, genetics, and history
Threlkeld House, Shelbyville
The Threlkeld/Weakley House, Shelbyville, Kentucky

If you happened to visit Google Images today you noticed that, quietly and with no fanfare, Google has removed the "View Image" button from the results of image searches. I know many genealogists—and you may be one of them—who regularly use Google Images to search for new instances of photos depicting geography, structures, and particularly people of interest to you. It's convenient, lets you preview the images, and of course employs the robust Google search engine.

Beginning a few hours ago, though, you no longer have the easy option to click on a button and view an image at full resolution in a new web browser window. That's good for businesses, publishers, and artists that make money from their products; not so good for genealogists who simply want a century-old photo of a great-grandmother to put in a family tree.

There is a rather singular reason for the change which we'll touch on in just a moment, but the result is an implication that people can no longer download an image, or an intention to drive them to the website hosting the image. Most will probably believe they must now visit that website, wait for innumerable advertisements and plug-ins to load, and finally scroll around to locate the image and try to download it. Here's what the Google Image results screen looks like now:

Google Image search result


You'll notice a new caption below the thumbnail version of the image that gives the dimensions of the original, and that includes a new statement, "Images may be subject to copyright." No problems there. On the right-hand side, though, under the website title, you now have options only to Visit, Save, View saved, and Share. You might think the Save button is the choice you want, but it isn't about saving the image: if you're logged into your Google account, think of that as a Favorites button; it marks the image as a favorite in association with your account (ergo the View saved option) but it doesn't actually download the image, or store the full-sized version for later downloading.

This whole thing was announced six days ago, again albeit quietly, as part of a global licensing arrangement between Google and Getty Images. We have to go back about two years to understand how this began, when Getty filed a suit against Google with the European Commission. In part, the complaint accused Google of displaying "high-resolution, copyrighted content," and of "promoting piracy resulting in widespread copyright infringement."

The Getty complaint has been dropped in light of the new marketing deal between Getty and Google. In a prepared statement the CEO of Getty Images, Dawn Airey, said, "We will license our market leading content to Google, working closely with them to improve attribution of our contributors' work and thereby growing the ecosystem." That ends the Getty lawsuit, but not Google's increasing scrutiny from regulators, particularly European regulators. Last June, Google had to absorb a massive €2.42 billion fine from the European Union, accused of manipulating search results to favor its own shopping services over its competitors. But that's another story.

My accounts at iStock, Adobe, Shutterstock, and PresenterMedia are testament to my respect for copyright and my willingness to pay for the right image, but how many of us do not save photos that are—to the best of our knowledge—neither for sale nor rights-restricted? Most of the volunteer contributors to Find a Grave, for example, are happy to share their photographs of headstones so long as they're credited in the source citation. Others, like the image shown at the top of this article of the old Threlkeld/Weakley House in Shelbyville, Kentucky, are part of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division and come with the rights advisory: "No known restrictions on images made by the U.S. Government" (see www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ky0265/ for the survey of this Thomas Threlkeld home, National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number 84002021).

Susan B. Anthony
Susan Brownell Anthony
(15 February 1820–13 March 1906)

But don't despair. Google hasn't blocked our ability to download those copyright-free images that we find using their search utility...like this circa 1885 portrait of Susan B. Anthony, whose 198th birthday we celebrate today.

It just requires an extra step to get to the image. Once you've clicked on an image of interest and brought it up in the preview pane (see the screen-capture above), the button on the right side of your mouse is your friend. The exact options you see will differ somewhat based upon which web browser you're using, but right-click on the preview image, the one on the left side of your screen. You'll see several options. You may be tempted to select Save image as, but don't. Find the choice that reads something like Open image in new tab. That preview is actually pre-loading the full-sized image...it's just now more difficult to get to it. Opening it in a new tab of your browser will display the image in full resolution, and then you can right-click and choose Save image as.