On April 27th, Getty Images filed an official complaint with the European Union’s antitrust commission concerning Google Image’s use of third-party-owned photos. Getty Images asserts that back in early 2013, when Google first began displaying full-size photos without directing visitors to the site the photo belongs to, it created a precedent that Getty believes encourages photo piracy. With Google Images’ current format, users have the ability to find the photos they’re looking for and then download them right from Google without actually visiting the site the photo was taken from. Using these photos is, of course, illegal – yet, for the average internet user, this may come as a surprise. This is essentially what Getty is complaining about.
Getty states that Google Images has severely crippled their web traffic and revenue stream, as before – when Google Images would just show a thumbnail of a photo – users would be more inclined to purchase Getty-owned photos. While Google does offer searchers the ability to modify their search to only display images labeled for reuse, Getty believes this feature will go unused by most visitors.
Back when Google first made this update, they were approached by Getty to find a solution to this issue. However, no resolution has since been met, as Google initially left Getty with two options: either quit allowing Google to use their images or simply accept the new format. While Getty was rightfully disgruntled by this response, they began practicing a form of copyright quasi-extortion, in which they aggressively started targeting users who used their images without consent. Getty would send intimidating letters to infringers, whom most were doing so unintentionally, threatening legal action unless they were compensated for hundreds of dollars.
While these unethical practices of Getty are well-documented, they pale in comparison to Google’s current legal situation. Just last week, Google was charged by the European Commission for antitrust issues stemming from Google prioritizing their services on Android mobile devices. Now with this most recent charge, Google’s legal team in Europe certainly have their work cut out for them. Regardless of the outcome of these cases, it’s best for web users to know about copyright law and to use sites that allow free downloads of copyright-free images.