Wow, first Yahoo Images and now this! Google Images recently announced that searches will now be able to filter their searches by a variety of use licenses, including Creative Commons and GNU Free Documentation. Searchers will also be able to find items that are in the public domain.
For this one you’ll want to skip the Google Images front page and go directly to the advanced search at http://images.google.com/advanced_image_search?hl=en. At the bottom of the advanced image search page you’ll see an option for Usage Rights.
Note that you can search for everything from “labeled for reuse” to “labeled for commercial reuse with modification”. And note that you can run this search in conjunction with other Google Images search modifiers. You could, for example, find all medium sized black and white photos returned with a keyword search for “cow,” labeled for reuse. Which is what I did.
When Yahoo Images released its Creative Commons search modifier it was limited to Flickr (not that Flickr isn’t a huge repository of images.) I expected to see a lot of Flickr results with the Google reuse search, too, and I wasn’t disappointed. However, I also saw results from other large depositories like Wikimedia Commons and Openphoto. I also saw some images from regular domains which look like they had administered sitewide Creative Commons licenses. There were about 169 results overall.
Due to its sheer size, though, Flick does tend to overwhelm the search results when you get fairly specific. Medium sized green photos responding to the keyword “cow” and licensed for commercial reuse? Most of the results will come from Flickr. Blue clip art responding to the keyword “icon” and available for commercial reuse? That’s all Flickr — all four results of it.
Google’s image search has gotten a lot stronger in the last year or so as Google has added more search options, and I love being able to use those in conjunction with a license search. The disadvantage to doing this kind of search across the Web, though, as opposed to a single environment like Flickr is that it’s hard to find exactly what you’re looking for. Google makes it clear that it’s up to you to confirm that the images you’re finding are actually available for reuse and that the licensing information is accurate.