We recently came across two stories in the news about people creating art from Google Earth imagery. The first is this one about Mishka Henner. His work appears to consist of unaltered screen shots from Google Earth, either of aesthetically pleasing locations or collections of places of particular interest, such as “51 U.S. Military Outposts”. The article also mentions that to make high resolution images he takes hundreds of screen shots and laboriously stitches them together to make a final image. There are actually ways to automate this sort of thing, however, as we will discuss further on, doing so may violate Google Earth’s licence agreement.
The second story is this one about Meike Nixdorf, who creates stunning landscapes from Google Earth’s imagery. Unlike Mishka Henner’s work, which is mostly unaltered satellite / aerial imagery, Meike takes advantage of Google Earth’s 3D terrain and also retouches the screen-shots in Photoshop.
We have looked at similar art work in the past, including artist Federico Winer, who creates images from satellite imagery with adjusted colour and luminosity, Roosmarijn Pallandt, who creates carpets based on Google Earth imagery and a website dedicated to collecting artistic images from Google Earth imagery (sadly it appears to no longer be active). The USGS has an “Earth as Art” collection collected from landsat imagery and Google themselves have released the “Earth View” chrome plugin that shows selected satellite imagery in new Tabs in Chrome and has its own layer in Google Earth.
So, are these artists in violation of the Google Earth licence agreement? First of all, artists that use Landsat imagery obtained from the USGS have nothing to worry about, as there appears to be no restrictions on its use. To find out what uses of Google Earth and Maps are permissible read through the geoguidelines here. There are some clauses that some of the artists we mention above may be violating.
Firstly, whenever you use imagery from Google Earth or Google Maps you must always include full attribution for both Google and the supplier of any imagery or mapping data that appears in your image. Generally, whatever copyright notices appear at the bottom centre in Google Earth must be included either in your screen shot or added to the image caption. It is not clear whether the artists mentioned above are including proper attribution in their artwork, but certainly the images have been presented in the news articles without proper attribution.
Secondly, the geoguidelines forbid making changes to the imagery. The intention seems to be to ensure that you do not misrepresent what Google Earth or Google Maps look like to the detriment of the products’ reputation so it is not clear whether adding artistic touches would concern Google, but it does appear to violate the Terms of Service (TOS).
Thirdly, the sale of artwork based on Google Earth or Google Maps imagery appears to be explicitly forbidden in the case of physical items such as T-shirts or mugs. This suggests that a physical ‘painting’ would also be forbidden. The restriction doesn’t apply to books (with the exception of books with navigational content such as guide books) but it is likely that selling a book consisting mostly of Google Earth / Google Maps imagery is in violation of the copyrights unless permission is explicitly granted by both Google and the imagery providers.
Mariveles Reef, Spratley Islands. Whenever you use a screen shot from Google Earth as above, make sure that the Google Earth logo and the copyright notices at the bottom centre are clearly visible, or include them in the image caption.