Colin in the forum writes “This is pretty cool to be able to browse through each decade of pictures” but notes you’re “limited to 200 results per search”. Colin adds:
Once you click on any photo result, it will load a landing page giving you more details about that photo and the chance to rate the photo with up to a 5 star rating. You can then click on the photo to view an even larger version. I hope over time they remove the 200 result limit. Otherwise you have to constantly tweak your search query to see any other photographs similar to your query. Besides photographs, they also scanned in TIME magazine covers.
As many photos are quite old, this also means many should have passed into the public domain zone, meaning you may be allowed to copy, edit, and republish that portion of the photos any way you like, including for commercial uses. Wikipedia says that “the copyright in a published work expires in all countries ... when ... The work was created and first published before January 1, 1923, or at least 95 years before January 1 of the current year, whichever is later”. However, Wikipedia also mentions some exceptions to these rules.
[Thanks Colin! Also see the official Google blog post.]
Keep in mind that the copyright clock starts ticking when a document or picture is published not when it is created. Google notes that many of these pictures have never been published, so the ’before 1923 is always public domain’ rule doesn’t apply to them.
A quick look at what Stephen Fishman’s The Public Domain says on unpublished works suggests we’d have to do a bit of work to figure out the copyright status. If the photographer is known and if the rights belong to him, it depends on when he died. One chart suggests if the photographer died before 1938, his unpublished photos are public domain. A chart for anonymous works or works for hire (which is what Life photos probably are) says a photo has to be before 1888 to be sure of being in the public domain.
(If you know more, your comment is appreciated.)
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