Google has made it more difficult for people to save pictures from its image search product, as part of a “peace deal” with photo library Getty Images.
In 2017, Getty Images complained to the European Commission, accusing Google of anti-competitive practices.
Google said it had removed some features from image search, including the “view image” button.
Getty Images said it was a “significant milestone” but critics said the move was “a step backwards”.
Getty Images is a photo library that sells the work of photographers and illustrators to businesses, newspapers and broadcasters.
It complained that Google’s image search made it easy for people to find Getty Images pictures and take them, without the appropriate permission or licence.
Google’s image search feature had a button labelled “view image” that would open an individual picture in the web browser, making it easy to download.
People could find and take images – albeit not in high quality and usually watermarked – without visiting the Getty Images website.
As part of its agreement with Getty Images, the “view image” button has been removed.
While it is still easy for people to download an image, people are now encouraged to trawl through the website it appears on to find it.
Google said the change would “help connect users and useful websites”.
Getty Images said Google had also agreed to display image copyright information more prominently next to results.
“For those asking, yes, these changes came about in part due to our settlement with Getty Images this week,” Google said.
“They are designed to strike a balance between serving user needs and publisher concerns, both stakeholders we value.”
But critics said the changes were “awful”, “user-unfriendly” and “degraded the product”.
“This is a terrible idea… you find an image on Google Images only for the image to be nowhere in sight,” said one user on Twitter. “Talk about destroying your own successful service.”
Many suggested people should try rival image search engines such as Bing, which still have a “view image” button.
Others pointed out that right-clicking an image in Google’s Chrome browser, and clicking “open image in new tab” replicated the missing function.
In a statement, Getty Images said: “We are pleased to announce that after working cooperatively with Google over the past months, our concerns are being recognised and we have withdrawn our complaint.”