December 1, 2008

Life goes Google, but what can you do?

Life Magazine has together with Google put a large amount of their image catalog online. But what can one use them for? And what will they use them for?

The initiative is really good, to be able to search through the 10 million images in the archive where only 3 % have been published previously. It has been applauded by the photo community as well as other actors. But the main question still remains to be explored; what are you allowed to use the images for?

Time Inc. EVP, John Squires says in the press release from 18th of November:

"We're delighted Google recognized the rich value of our photo archive and worked with us to bring it to millions of consumers. Consistent with the launch of the TIME Archive, PEOPLE Archive and the SI Vault, this initiative continues our efforts to build valuable new revenue opportunities from our rich heritage."

As of today, the only revenue streaming from the new online archive is the possibility to buy a framed copy of the image. That merchandize opportunity is of course one good way, but most certainly not the only one.

Usage rights

The key passage in the information which I have found on the topic of usage rights is from the above press release:

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.

This is well in line with Google’s ambition to provide information to the public and enhance their importance as the hub of all the information on the web. But as Greg Sterling writes on the subject on Search Engine Land, why do they not state this explicitly on the search page. When you look at any image, the only information on how to use the images are that they are watermarked with © Times.

If you look at the Q&A on the Life archive there are some information on the usage rights, but it is not in line with what is provided in the press release since it states that:

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.

Information is good

Since the meaning with the archive drastically is limited without explicit information on the usage rights I would like to see more clear information in relation to the images. To be able to buy them framed is good, but what if I would like to use them in some other setting. For me, it is especially the research option which needs to be specified since use for private purposes are allowed within most jurisdictions.

Further monetizing

The other information piece missing is who to contact or how to act if you would like to use some of the images in a commercial setting. Imagine too be able to go through Google to license some of the pictures for any specific use. There are of course many image agencies online already, but why not at least link to the one to contact?

Johan Örneblad

[Through] [More on the topic here, here and here.]


  1. Images in the LIFE Photo Archive are available for personal, non-commercial use only. Photos taken by LIFE photographers and most other photos are protected by copyright and cannot be used for any other purpose without permission. All requests for the photos should be referred to LIFE’s agent, Getty Images.

  2. Thanks for the clarification Jeff.

    Still, I believe this information would be good to provide in relation to the images.

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