And Out Come The Wolves: Now Getty Images Files EU Antitrust Complaint Against Google About Image Piracy

from the uh,-why-not-a-copyright-complaint? dept

With the EU making the first big antitrust move against Google in the EU over Android bundling practices (and more still expected over search), it seems that lots of other companies that have had trouble adapting to the internet are coming out of the woodwork to file complaints of their own (well, everyone except Microsoft, which has agreed to drop its complaints — despite kicking off much of the EU antitrust focus on Google). Last week, we wrote about News Corp. confusingly arguing that Google News was an antitrust violation, because it both linked to its content and because it wouldn’t link to its content (don’t ask me, I don’t understand it either).

Next up? Getty Images complaining about Google Images. According to Time, Getty has filed an antitrust complaint against Google in the EU, apparently arguing that Google’s image search is undermining Getty’s licensing business and “encouraging piracy.”

Photography company Getty Images is accusing Google of scraping images from third party websites and encouraging piracy, adding a new wrinkle to the Mountain View, Calif.?s ongoing legal battles in Europe.

In its complaint to the European Union?s antitrust commission, Getty says Google Images, which displays full-screen slideshows of high-resolution copyrighted images, has hurt the stock agency?s licensing business as well as content creators worldwide. Google first introduced the feature in Jan. 2013. Previously, the search engine only displayed tiny thumbnails of images.

Getty has not actually released the complaint but put out a press release with a few more details and had its General Counsel Yoko Miyashita, post an open letter. The big issue, it seems, for Getty is that three years ago Google made its Images search act a little different, in that you can display full resolution images, rather than just purely thumbnails. Getty claims that this is decreasing the rate of clickthroughs to its site, where it might be able to extract some licensing fees.

Getty, of course, has a troubled history with the internet. It has a pretty long history of fairly idiotic bouts of pure copyright trolling, demanding cash as a bully, often in cases where there was no legitimate infringement at all. We were cautiously optimistic a couple of years ago, when the company finally started experimenting with offering up images for free, via a system that would let you embed many images (though there were some concerns about the setup and conditions).

Reading between the lines, it sounds like that effort has not taken off to the level Getty had hoped… and rather than recognizing that people just aren’t comfortable with embedding images from Getty (or that they don’t really know about the program), the company appears to be blaming Google Image search. And that’s doubly weird since an actual analysis of why Getty’s internet efforts haven’t taken off shows that it’s got nothing to do with Google’s Image search and everything to do with cheap stock photo sites and Getty’s inability to understand basic search engine marketing practices. Rather than take that to heart and adapt, the company joins many others in just whining about another company that is more successful.

The whole complaint is confusing. Most people searching Google Images aren’t going to be licensing a photo in the first place. People who are looking to license a photo go elsewhere. So it’s not like Google Images is likely to have a real impact on Getty. But that’s not how Getty sees it:

Because image consumption is immediate, unlike other mediums searchable through Google, such as news or music, once an image is displayed in high-resolution, large format, there is little impetus to view the image on the original source site. These changes have allowed Google to reinforce its role as the internet?s dominant search engine, maintaining monopoly over site traffic, engagement data and advertising spend. This has also promoted piracy, resulting in widespread copyright infringement, turning users into accidental pirates.

Of course, this is interesting, because you’ll note that Getty isn’t filing a copyright case here, it’s filing an antitrust case. If this were really about “piracy” why not file a copyright case? It’s because Getty knows damn well it would lose any such copyright case. And it would lose badly. So it’s filing this antitrust case as a sort of backdoor copyright case, hoping that in the EU’s current hatred towards Google, regulators won’t pay attention to the nuances.

Getty Images? General Counsel, Yoko Miyashita says: ?Getty Images represents over 200,000 photojournalists, content creators and artists around the world who rely on us to protect their ability to be compensated for their work. Google?s behavior is adversely affecting not only our contributors, but the lives and livelihoods of artists around the word ? present and future. By standing in the way of a fair marketplace for images, Google is threatening innovation, and jeopardizing artists? ability to fund the creation of important future works. Artists need to earn a living in order to sustain creativity and licensing is paramount to this; however, this cannot happen if Google is siphoning traffic and creating an environment where it can claim the profits from individuals? creations as its own.?

I’ve read this four times now and none of it makes sense. Again, people searching Google Images aren’t looking to license images. Getty is breezily mixing up very different markets because of just how weak its overall argument is here. Also, the whole “artists need to earn a living” bit is similarly misleading. It’s a favorite line that comes up over and over again but is bullshit. Most artists don’t earn a living doing artwork. That’s just a fact. That’s true with copyright and without. It’s not the copyright that pays people. It’s having a good business model that people find worth supporting. That’s it.

And, really, if Getty were really in this to help photographers get paid, then why is it so easy to find photographers online bitching about the ridiculously low royalties that Getty Images pays? This isn’t about helping photographers get paid. This is about Getty Images and the fact that it hasn’t figured out how to make a compelling product on the internet.

And, going back to the way in which Google displays images, it does so because it knows that it’s providing a better consumer experience. When people are looking for images online, they want to see the images, and thus Google is delivering what people want. Getty may not like that, because it hoped that Google would fail to deliver what people want, thereby forcing them over to the also terrible Getty Images experience, but it’s difficult to see how that’s an antitrust issue. If Getty wants to compete, why doesn’t it compete? Build a better image search engine and layer its business model on top of it.

But, no, instead, it whines to the EU about “antitrust” and pretends that it’s helping photographers, all while making sure they get only a tiny percentage of any money that Getty actually makes from selling their photos.

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Companies: getty images, google

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Comments on “And Out Come The Wolves: Now Getty Images Files EU Antitrust Complaint Against Google About Image Piracy”

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Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

“By standing in the way of a fair marketplace for images, Google is threatening innovation, and jeopardizing artists’ ability to fund the creation of important future works.”

Here’s a good rule of thumb: anytime the largest player in a market complains about someone else interfering with a fair (or free) market, it’s generally safe to assume a priori that the complainer is either a sleazy monopolist or trying to become one.

Skeeter says:

Re: Re: Getty, Getty, Getty

Yeah, Getty should pay some techs for solutions…but wait, that would mean they would have to pay a salary to someone for a ‘real product’. Ask any artist that Getty wants to reference – this is NOT how Getty works. Then again, if Getty edited their .htaccess then NO ONE would hit Getty images, and pretty soon, it would make Getty the new MySpace.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Mike Masnick defends Google so often, you’d almost think it was his job to do so.

Yeah, I mean, and he never ever says anything bad about Google. Except…

Look, feel free to criticize our opinions on things. We’re totally open to that. But to argue that we uncritically support Google is pretty easy to prove wrong and just makes you look somewhat ridiculous.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Too bad a computer screen isn’t big enough to hold all the apologist articles you’ve written in favor of Google…

Sure it is. And I don’t deny that I’ve defended Google plenty of times. I do so when I think they’re in the right. And I’ve criticized Google plenty of times as well. When I think they’re wrong.

Frankly, I think the company is right more often than it’s wrong. That may not be the case in the future, and I’m certainly aware of that.

But your original argument was that my views in support of Google here had no merit because you falsely believed I was paid only to post pro-Google stories. I have proven that false.

Rather than admitting it’s false, you come back with a response that I’ve also written lots of articles in support of Google — something that is true and that I don’t deny. But that is kind of meaningless. Your original point was flat out wrong.

I write my opinion. Sometimes that aligns with Google. Sometimes it does not. The fact that it does this time is because I think Google is in the right and I provided my explanation for why. People can judge that on the merits. What was false was your attempt to pretend that my argument is meaningless because I’d never criticize Google. The fact is I do frequently criticize Google, just like I also frequently praise it.

I recognize that you’re just angry and dislike me so none of this matters, but I’m assuming that your brain does work and it might be aided by seeing the logical contradiction you’re in here. I proved you wrong. You should apologize. Instead, you tried to ignore that and make a completely different point which no one has argued.

That’s weak, man.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

So Mike writes 19 or 20 articles that he claims are adverse to Google’s positions, and that negates the literally hundreds, if not thousands of pro-Google posts. Ok.

That’s not what anyone said. The original comment was designed to make the argument that I blindly support Google. To disprove that I would only need to show a single criticism of Google. Instead I showed many, demonstrating that yes, I am regularly critical of Google.

But no one is arguing that means I’m always against Google

Again, most people seem to get this. Do you, perhaps, have a vested interest in not getting this?

I speak my mind. Sometimes I agree with Google. Sometimes I do not. Thus it’s pretty silly to suggest that my arguments are invalid because I always defend Google when I clearly do not.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Any artist or creator that happens to be aware of you dislikes you.

I am a creator and I think most of Mike’s arguments are spot on the target.

I also happen to think it’s pretty silly for people to blame the messenger. Mike didn’t create your problems, he has only written about them. As a matter of fact, Mike has attempted, many, many times to offer up solutions for creators to earn more only to be called “Pirate Mike” because those solutions aren’t “the way we have always done things”.

It’s really fairly simple: “The world is always changing, so adapt or die.” That axiom never changes.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

Any artist or creator that happens to be aware of you dislikes you.

Really? Then can you explain the emails I got today from two separate musicians asking for my thoughts on things? Or the fact that a musician wrote and recorded a song for our podcast. Or the fact that we’ve had numerous artists and content creators write guest posts or appear on the podcast?

Or how about the fact that we were able to fill a room with content creators when we held our “artists and entrepreneurs workshop” not all that long ago, and I don’t think we’ll have much trouble filling it again next time we do a similar event.

They all dislike me?

Yes, I recognize there’s a small group of artists who seem to dislike me because I’ve pointed out why the business model they cling to may not be the best idea. But is shooting the messenger really going to help you?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Re:

Curious if it will be anything but a bunch of tech douches that happen to own an acoustic guitar.

I’m talking about full time artists. So, no. I mean, we’ve written about tons of them as well in various case studies. They all hate me?

But, also, I’m not revealing private correspondence or violating the privacy of those who attended our sessions leading folks like you to attack them.

But rest assured, lots of artists out there recognize that we’re showing them how to embrace new technology to be better off.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

No true Scotsman fallacy incoming!

More than that. These “tech douches with acoustic guitars” are artists, and they are just as valid as any other artist with an acoustic guitar.

This is a tactic that copyright maximalists regularly pull. If an artist isn’t a “professional” (registered with a PRO, has a label deal, etc.) then they’re not “artists” and don’t count.

It reveals that they’re pro-industry, and in fact are anti-artist.

Anonymous Coward says:

The best Market Regulation

Since everyone is so regulation driven around here…

how about we just make a regulation that says organizations like Getty Images cannot be allow to own copyrights period.

Only authors of a work can hold a copyright and never an organization, never transferable either, except when the author dies it will pass to their family where a trust can be created to manage it until it expires!

Or at the very least a regulation that does not allow copyright owners to be distribution. You can either be a distributor of copyright works, but you cannot own them!

The same way that Auto Mfg’s cannot sell their own cars, only a dealership can!

Anonymous Coward says:

Has Getty lost its mind? An American company files antitrust against Google in the EU? UH, I hate to sound obvious about this, but shouldn’t Getty be filing that complaint in the United States? It’s like filing a lawsuit in Japan against the mayor of Washington, D.C. It’s ridiculous and out of the jurisdiction.

Anonymous Coward says:

Perfect 10 tried this for years with Google and finally lost that a thumbnail was not a copyright violation. So now another attempt will be made on pretty much the same thing in Europe. I hope they have as much sense to tell Getty where to get off at.

Notice that Getty has always had the option of adding Google to robot.txt to keep them out. No word or mention of that. This is a pure attempt at a money grab. Were I Google, I’d tell them no problem and then delist Getty everywhere on the internet and watch their business disappear.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

If you’re foolish enough to tie the success or failure of your business to the actions or status of another business it’s probably not a good idea to perform actions(lawsuits, threats of lawsuits and so on) that are likely to make that other business cut you off from their service or otherwise not want to have anything to do with you due to the legal risk of doing so.

If being removed from Google’s search results is really so damaging to Getty that’s just too bad for them, and says more about how they put all their eggs in one basket than Google’s popularity with the public(because ‘more popular than the alternatives’ does not a monopoly make).

Dan A says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Definitely not a good idea but he is right that it is a strong argument that Google has such an overwhelmingly dominant control over the search market that it could fall within the scope of monopoly regulations.

The real question is what to do IF Google were ever found to be a monopoly. Google earned its place by offering a vastly better service than its competitors rather than any intentional action on their part – short of nationalizing it as a public good I can’t see anyway you could break up Google’s search that wouldn’t just cascade back to the current state because one segment improved more than a different one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Same thing happened in Belgium when newspaper and media sources attempted to make a money grab from Google, which is what Getty is attempting. Once it was ruled that Goggle would owe them money for snippets, Google delisted them to obey the law. Nothing in the law said Google had to carry their news snippets, any more than it says it has to carry Getty’s thumbnails.

This is a matter of a company depending on another company for their business model. Getty could easily create their own search engine which you hear nothing about here.

They could also have sued Bing and Yahoo. No mention of that here, only Google.

It’s not that Google has a monopoly as Getty does have choices. It’s about a money grab plain and simple.

Dr evil says:

Got it all wrong

The key is in Gettys ‘instant consumption’ comment. A person looking for an image MIGHT find a high res Getty image – because Google could find it with a complicit Getty – but more likely they would find non Getty images, and use those instead (you know, without watermark and all). Google, Bing, et al have a link to the source, just no one is following it.. Duh…

Peace out

Seegras (profile) says:

From the worlds biggest violator of copyright

This is rather rich.

Getty Images is the outfit that claims rights on reproductions of paintings from the 15th century and wants you to “license” them. We call this copyfraud.

See for yourself, go search Getty Images for “Da Vinci” and discover a whole abyss of illegally claimed rights.

So in fact, Getty Images is siphoning traffic and creating an environment where it can claim the profits from individuals’ creations as its own..

Monday (profile) says:

Start their own Search Engine???

If Getty Images is so extraordinarily, and uniquely qualified to distribute images, and can distinguish with certainty that they are not the problem, but suing Google is, why don’t they just start their own search engine? One that specifically links the user’s search terms to the very photo / image / what-have-you that the user is after?

I mean, “Getty Images represents over 200,000 photojournalists, content creators and artists around the world… “, out of the 23.633.010.000 sites on Earth atm, surely Getty Images has enough drawing power to get the “Creators” paid.

And Out Come The Wolves: … Image Piracy (Legal Issues)

Oohhhhhh… I get it now… that’s funny 😀

Aidian says:

Getty has a good business going online....

Getty has a good biz with professional ‘content creators’* because it delivers exactly what’s needed when it’s tough to find a copy-left licensed image that works.

Today I needed an image of concealed guns on campus. Not a picture of campus cops or students with guns or mass shootings or guns at Texas Tech. Yesterday I needed an image of Chavez/UFW marching in the 80s. Our archives don’t have it. AP (at least our AP subscription) doesn’t have anything older than several months ago.

I can’t pirate an image because I a) believe it’s wrong to rip off peers and/or b) I don’t want to risk getting (rightfully) sued. I’m not going to spend a couple of man hours to arrange something.

Getty images to the rescue. That’s why we pay them. Lots of media organizations do the same. Pretty much any outfit larger than an individual blogger winds up in the same position. Getty offers quality product. By the standards of medium sized and larger media organizations the prices are reasonable.

This was a (too) long way of saying Getty has most of this market wrapped up, and there’s not much of a market in the sort of people who are going to just rip an image off google image search.

I find it hard to believe they really think this will result in a payout. So what is their beef? What are they trying to accomplish? Why are they picking this fight?

*god I hate that term. I do news. Business scumbags talk about ‘content.’ That’s a rant for a different time.

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