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Whereas regular search results index content, make snippets, and otherwise modify content, the image bot uses the material in its totality. Further, it encourages people to hotlink.
With few exceptions Google image search does not benefit the website at all, and in many cases there are very real negatives.
IMHO image search should be opt-in.
Whereas regular search results index content, make snippets, and otherwise modify content, the image bot uses the material in its totality.
So if you didn't have access to robots.txt or some sort of server side control over your files you would be powerless to prevent bots from taking your images. No opt about it. Robots.txt is not an option for everybody.
Meta tags have no effect on image gathering robots. Where would you stick it? ;)
Image's are found via PAGES. So, if [domainX.com...] has the
<meta name="googlebot" content="noimageindex" /> on it, NOT ONE of the images that are on that page will be indexed. That wont stop people "hard linking" to your images though, but should be a pretty good start.
As for opt in, absolutely! Pages in cache...hmmmm, that is bad, but understandable. But image search? That is outright copyright violation! That said, if you did have images that you want to protect, then some other form of protection is absolutely vital, not just to stop Google, but to stop others as well.
Even if Google did, it wouldn't matter much. There are a lot of image gathering robots on the web that don't honor noimageindex and I'm sure some of their image link databases are crawled regulary by the likes of Googlebot and others.