Google is making it much simpler to work out which photos you're allowed to use for what, and which you aren't. The company is allowing people to search for pictures and you can filter by what's available for reuse, what's available for reuse without modification and so on. It's using the Creative Commons scheme among other things.
This is a very good thing indeed. I'm on a number of social networks old and new and one of the most frequently asked of the FAQs is about whether you can use a picture or not that you've found on the Internet. Time after time, people insist that if they've found it somewhere it's so easy to download, it must be usable. I've even had my own words copied into someone's blog entry and when I pointed out that I owned the rights I was told 'I was able to download it so it must be legal'.
Different legislations apply in different territories of course, which does make for a slight gray area. American readers might be a little baffled that I consider I own the copyright in all my work without asserting it; that's the position in Europe, it's mine by default. It's the same in America but it's your duty over there to assert that you own it with a (c) sign or a statement on the end of the piece. It's pretty reasonable actually - over here someone can be guilty of breaking copyright without realising it. Over in the US that can be used as a defence.
It's now the case that you can build rights and their status into your initial search. I find that very positive - and a large number of people will benefit from it. Possibly larger than those who'll benefit from Google's new OS - but I'll bet the story makes many fewer waves.