Buzzing around in the news today is a story about a Californian based pornographer suing Google.
"They're showing pictures from my magazine and my website for free, so there's no reason for anyone to buy my products." This is the basis for the legal action, it also demonstrates what a total idiot this guy must be.
Let's clear up a few things about how a search engine, such as Google, MSN or Yahoo actually work. Basically they have a program called a robot, sometimes a spider, or a crawler but they all do basically the same thing. It visits a website and stores a record (known as indexing) of its content in order to position it within the search results, if the robot detects the word "flowers" it'll list the page under any search result where you enter "flowers" as your search entry. Yes it's obviously a bit more complex but that's how the basic technology works.
A robot behaves just like a regular person browsing the internet, it can view any public page, but obviously cannot view private pages where you need to login, or where the server simply blocks all access to that directory from the web using .htaccess or similar, because of this there is no danger in it indexing private information. To be extra sure you can also create a robots.txt in a the root of a web server to specify extra rules for the robot to follow, ignoring a particular public directory for example or a range of other options.
The only way the Google robot could have indexed his material is by having that material wide open, with no access restrictions, why bother paying anyway if he doesn't even have any access restrictions?
Now Google image search stores a thumbnail on Google's server for the images that appear within the index, these are typically a fraction of the size of the original, may be 100 pixels wide for example, totally useless for his viewers purposes - this is done to save every page view on Google requesting data from 50 odd servers, which would be insanely slow for users, as it would be requesting the full size image each time. This is partly where the guy has a problem, people are searching within the image search and a thumbnail of whatever pictures he left open for the robot to index pops up. The thumbnail on Google would then link to the page for the full image, if his website is configured correctly, it will just return a 403 Forbidden error or ask for login details.
So what happened? 1) The owner of the website neglected to ensure his content was secured away so public users or robots couldn't access it, or 2) the owner deliberately allowed the robot to access his pages in order to bring legal action against Google. The result… The judge should throw the case out.