LIFE photo archive goes online

November 19th, 2008
Gwyn Headley

by Gwyn Headley

Managing Director

Today there are over 70,000 messages on the internet shouting about this amazing new deal between Life Magazine and Google. We are told that Google is putting 10 million Life images online, 97 per cent of which have never been seen before, and about 20 per cent of it has already gone live.

The link says “Welcome to the future home of LIFE, the most amazing collection of professional photography on the Web: 10 million photos from the legendary archives of LIFE magazine and thousands more added every day. Whatever you want to look at, whether it happened an hour ago, a century ago, or any time in between, you’ll be able to find it here quickly, easily, and for free.”

But you can’t. There’s nothing to see there at all, other than an email harvesting facility.

They’re giving these images away for free? What are the rights situations? Will anyone ever need to consult the Bettman archive again? Or the Mary Evans Picture Library, or the Francis Frith Collection?

Maybe they’re doing it to frighten us. Well I can tell you, it nearly scares me.

You’ll actually find the images on Google Image Search, not all captioned and keyworded as usefully as one might expect:

Caption: A view of African-American integrationists attending a meeting.

Location: Petersburg, VA, US
Date taken: 1960
Photographer: Howard Sochurek
Size: 1280 x 1234 pixels (17.8 x 17.1 inches)

I don’t think so.

They’re selling nice framed prints of the images for $80, but there’s no easily discoverable method of buying any image rights.

I’d love to read the business plan.


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