Starting today you can see user-generated photos of famous landmarks in Street View in Google Maps. Google’s computers analyzed millions of user photos on its location-based photo site, Panoramio, and then matched those photos with specific locations around the world. The pictures will also change depending on the angle from which you’re viewing a particular landmark.
When you get to a location you want to see in Street View, you are first greeted with Google’s own photograph of the area. Then, in the top right hand corner you’ll see a stack of thumbnails that expand across the top of the window when you click on them. You can choose which photo you want to see, and the selection of user-generated photos changes each time you change perspective or move the location place marker (the little yellow man).
I have no doubt this will be a popular and useful feature, because it lets you get up close and personal with a wide range of popular locations including the Eiffel Tower, Golden Gate Bridge, Vatican City and Times Square. But I wonder how long it will take before somebody gets upset at seeing their face on Street View and tries to sue Google. This happened before when Google introduced Street View, and the company eventually opted to blur people’s faces in all Street View cities to avoid legal action. If you look at the bottom left hand corner of the photo below, it seems that Google is not blurring faces in user-generated content at the moment.
This may not be problematic for Google, depending on who owns the rights to the photos. When you open an account with Panoramio, the copyright to your images is owned by you and you alone by default. You can also choose to have only “some rights reserved” for your photos. This means that you retain the rights to your image, but you can allow them to be modified or to be used by businesses for commercial use.
So the question is, how did Google select the user-generated photos for Google Street View? Did they get express permission from the user or did they simply pull from the “some rights reserved” pool of photos on Panoramio? If Google asked permission before using the photos, then is it possible that someone could sue the user as well as, or instead of, Google? Panoramio photos have been used in Google Earth without a significant backlash for a little over two years now; however, putting these photos on the more popular Google Maps service, while a nice feature, may open up a new frontier for people looking to sue Google.