Well the last post on Google Image Search for Creative Commons Licensed ones being broken did get some notice. The word was that it was JaB (Just a Bug) (I made that acronym up, check it)

And now the evaporation of Google CC Search is being noticed by key figures.

I can’t drop this bone.

From 3 Dogs to 13

Eager to try I looked again for what The Google could yield for Creative Commons licensed dogs, and the results were improved from the 3 I saw last week- yes, we are up to 13 (try it yourself since all google results are variable), a phenomenal increase of 433%.

As I have found in experience, unless you are familiar with the sources and their licencing, then most things merit more inspection, because Google’s results are not very clear.

Amazing, after a few days of my last post Google can now locate 13 images of CC licensed dog images

They all have that “Licensable” badge which means?? They carry an open license? a Commericial license? No very clear, el Google.

Wikimedia Commons images all carry specific CC or public domain licenses, so you can trust them. You can rely on Pexels (their license is pretty much public domain for our uses) and Raw Pixel photos are marked as CC0.

While Google is giving results they say is filtered for Creative Commons License, how do you know? It takes some detective work.

Dogs from Pexels

Let’s start with the pooch from Pexels.

Creative Commons filtered image search results for the term "dog" with arrows pointing to a preview of a white dog, then o its preview of results in Google, then from the link reading "license details" to the url for a Creative Commons public domain license

Yes, it is a dog. Good Google.

The info box on the right never indicates what the license is for this photo, just a link labeled “License Detail” to the Creative Commons public domain license. That’s close in meaning for most people, but Pexels carries their own branded license (as does Unsplash, Pixabay, and more).

I can live with this as I know images from Pexels are reusable. This just shows that Google’s results are vague on licensing. Ironically, the “user” who uploaded this photo is Pixabay! With some quick searching at Pixabay on “adorable white dog” I find the original image, with attribution, as Pexels merely attributes it to Pixbay.

I firmly believe in attributing the source if a license says “you donna hatfa” because its the right thing to do. ABA– Always Be Attributing.

Raw Pixels Pooch

Just to be thorough here, I look at that solemn grey dog from Raw Pixel. What an expression!

Creative Commons filtered image search results for the term "dog" with arrows pointing to a preview of a solemn grey dog, then the link to License Details which indicate a CC0 license

Again, all Google tells us is “License Details”? What license? We have to click or read the URL to see it is CC0. Even more telling, look how the credit for the photo is given to rawpixel.com

Examine the link to the photo to find it is clearly indicated on Raw Pixel as licensed CC0. So you can feel assured on its use. But also note how Raw Pixel indicates it as an “original public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.” That’s even more assuring. Follow this link upstream to Wikimedia Commons and see the credit to the photographer and it’s source (always look for the full TASL). The fine details in licensing says that it is available under CC0 because it was originally uploaded to Unsplash at the time (before June 5, 2017) when they changed to their own flavor of a license. That at least says if a CC license is required, Wikimedia Commons is a solid source.

Alas, we can can go one more step upstream to the source, where the person who took the photo posted it, in Unsplash. That is one popular pooch, like 11, 000,000 views! It indicates that i is available under the “Unsplash Free to Use License.”

The thing you get from going to the source here is a story of the photo:

I photographed this amazing dog in a small park. He was with his “master”, who was a little kid, not much bigger than his pet. The original photo was VERY unsightly, but I saw something amazing behind this “unsightness”. I took it home, passed it through Photoshop, and the result was a wonderful sight! It’s like I can see this ordinary animal’s personality! (If you want to see a before-and-after, check out http://rotalex.wixsite.com/photography/about at the end of the page) Eventually, I started a photo album named “Animal Close-Up’s”, this photo (Dog (close-up)), being Close-Up no. 1.


The story, the photographer’s name, and the license itself are washed out from the flow from several sites to where Google locates it. I find this interesting, and a bit sad, and I wear a face like that grey dog.

If you truly care about open licensed images, go as far upstream as possible to the source.

Playing and Fighting About Licenses/ Attribution

The result of dogs playing and a link to Petful.com raise my suspicious as that does not sound like a source of open licensed images. But who knows? Google thinks they do.

Creative Commons filtered image search results for the term "dog" with arrows pointing to a preview of two dogs fighting or playing, hen to the info box suggesting it is copyrighted with credit to Dagmy Gromer, and license details indicating a link to a CC BY NC ND license

The information Google presents is rather misleading. The only license information again, is a nebulous “License Details” that is a link to a CC BY-NC-ND license.

Here Googl manages to give credit to a “Dagny Gromer” and test indicating this photo is Copyright: © 2019 Dagny Gromer That would suggest to the average person that this is not licensable, or a least would be confusing.

We go upstream first to the Petful article given by Google. At least here, there is both an attribution for the image AND a link to the source (that is TASL) on flickr.

dogs_wrestling-20190323-100-3 flickr photo by Dagny Gromer shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I also know Google’s license link is wrong by a hair, as i links to the version 3.0 of the CC BY-NC-ND license and I know from experience flickr only applies version 2.0. That’s splitting dog hair, right?

And again, by going upstream, look what I find! Dagny took this image at a dog park in Prescott, Arizona- I’ve been to the own a few times, but never the dog park.

Dogs and Cats Licensing Together

Lastly I looked a curiosity at the result for a lovely photo of a dog and cat together from the European Wilderness Society. Awwww.

Creative Commons filtered image search results for the term "dog" with arrows pointing to a preview of a cat and dog laying together, then to the info box which indicates the photo is credited to the European Wilderness Society. The link for license indicates a CC BB-NS-SA license. Also, for interest in the related image results is another dog and cat I know as thats my photo of Felix.

We can see again the nebulous License Details purporting it to be (solely by link to a URL) CC BY NC-SA (4.0). Credit is given to the source of the web page, the European Wilderness Society, did they take the photo too?

Take an upstream link to find out. Interesting post but there is a photo that is 0 for TASL. No attribution at all. A reverse image search finds only 100s of sites using the image not a sign of attribution. There is a version on Shutterstock.

I checked the image EXIF data but there is de nada on creator, license, source.

Somehow Google knows its license. Or does it?

The only interesting bit from this adventure was noticing in the related images a photo I thought I recognized- that sure looks like my Felix- but alas, going upstream, I find it’s his dopple ganger.

See how far off track I can go?

But this brings up Yet Another Reason Not to Use Google. When you have done a search with a Creative Commons filter, you would think they related images apply the same filter. But they do not. This is because of Google’s mission to make you click as much stuff as possible, not to give you what you seek.

There is a Better Way

It’s time to toss the Google Image CC search, its’ not only broken, the information provided is wrong. The license info is not derived from the image, but somehow extracted from the page it is contained in.

That’s why I am going full tilt with using the Spawn of CC Search, Openverse – there is no having to play Guess The License or Who is the Creator or even How do I attribute? They have that covered because all 600 million items have explicit (not hidden and wrong) Creative Commons licenses.

That’s what I used here to locate my featured image, an Openverse search on “sad dog”

Search results at Openverse on "sad dog" with lots of results. The one of a dog looking through a hole in the fence has a CC BY license icon.

Not only do I get more than a scattered handful of results, as I hover over the previews, I can clearly see the exact license (or I could have filtered results by license type). I can full info (all the TASL) on the image of the dog looking through the fence hole.

I could use the cut and paste attribution (i prefer my own tool for flickr photos).

And wait for more, and a future post to gush about Openverse- it is now built into WordPress.

This is definitely a better way to go than google. Do I care now if Google ever fixes their search? Would I trust them? The answer is out there.

Featured Image:

Sad Dog
Sad Dog flickr photo by Orin Zebest shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

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An early 90s builder of web stuff and blogging Alan Levine barks at CogDogBlog.com on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person. And he is 100% into the Fediverse (or tells himself so) Tooting as @cogdog@cosocial.ca


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