Copyright bully Getty Images complains to EU that Google coerced it into image search


Today, Getty Images is filing a formal antitrust complaint with the European Commission (EC) about Google image search. This was first reported yesterday by Time.

According to published reports, Getty claims that high-resolution Google image search results, “scraped” from its customers’ sites, are “siphoning traffic and profits from photographers.” Getty argues, because people can view high-quality versions of its photos in image search results, consumers don’t need to click through to publisher sites, and traffic and revenues are suffering accordingly.

It also claims that Google’s presentation of these images and their capacity to be saved or downloaded promotes copyright infringement and “piracy.”

Google and Getty Images had been in talks for some time over Getty’s concerns about high-res images in Google image search. However, Getty says that Google ultimately told the company to “accept the new image format or opt out of image search,” according to the Financial Times.

Getty said it felt coerced by Google’s market power into participating. The “scraping” claims, not currently part of the EC’s two formal antitrust actions against Google, are at the heart of European news publishers’ recent efforts to restrict Google’s ability to show their content in search results without paying them. (While there are exceptions to copyright liability, there is effectively no “fair use” doctrine in Europe.)

Getty Images has in the past waged a questionable and aggressive campaign (copyright trolling) against anyone and everyone who used Getty photographs without licensing them. Often, these were dubious or innocent cases involving individuals without any intent to exploit the images commercially. The litigation-threat letters have been widely characterized and criticized as extortion.

Perhaps recognizing the ultimate futility of that approach, Getty began to enable free embedding of its images in 2014. It’s not clear whether this practice will have any impact on Europe’s response to the complaint. Regardless, the new Getty complaint creates another headache for Google in Europe.

As general matter, Google’s potential exposure for breaking European antitrust law could be as much as $7 billion in a worst-case scenario.

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