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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  • icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 11:50am

    "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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 11:57am

    Or they could block Google from hotlinking their images by simply editing their .htaccess file?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      I.T. Guy, 27 Apr 2016 @ 12:08pm

      Re:

      Oh... you darn techies with your solutions and all... sheesh.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Skeeter, 27 Apr 2016 @ 1:55pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 12:20pm

      Re:

      hoe could they lie to get a competitor shut down then.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 1 May 2016 @ 3:58pm

      Re: Or they could block Google from hotlinking their images by simply editing their .htaccess file?

      Ummm ... no. .htaccess blocks all access, not just that by search engines.

      I think you mean the robots.txt file.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 12:00pm

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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 12:07pm

    The other interesting thing is google does have advance search tools for finding pictures based on their licensing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 12:11pm

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 12:14pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 10:44pm

      Re:

      You're forgetting that Getty is also one of the most abusive companies over copyright infringement of images.

      Case in point: Monkey Selfie.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 12:54pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 1:09pm

      Re:

      "Were I Google, I'd tell them no problem and then delist Getty everywhere on the internet and watch their business disappear."

      Why, that almost sounds like Google has a monopolistic grip on the internet! Shocking!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 1:23pm

        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).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Dan A, 27 Apr 2016 @ 9:36pm

          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.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            nasch (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 10:26am

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            The real question is what to do IF Google were ever found to be a monopoly.

            In the US, having a monopoly is not an issue if you don't abuse it. Not sure if EU laws are different.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 1:30pm

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2016 @ 5:04am

        Re: Re:

        You could always use Bing. Or Yahoo. Or just sod off the Internet. Why don't you? Don't you copyright types like to claim, "If you don't like the terms, do without"?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 10:25am

      Re:

      I hope they have as much sense to tell Getty where to get off at.

      Um... a Perfect 10 site?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2016 @ 1:06pm

    "companies that have had trouble adapting to the internet "

    Translation:

    Anyone that has gotten ripped off by a giant multi-billion dollar corporation who bought and paid for the current US presidential administration.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zarvus (profile), 27 Apr 2016 @ 1:57pm

    Isn't this Adobe?

    Isn't Getty owned by Adobe?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Dr evil, 28 Apr 2016 @ 12:20am

    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

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Seegras (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 2:08am

    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..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Monday (profile), 28 Apr 2016 @ 10:58am

    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 :D

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Derp, 28 Apr 2016 @ 1:31pm

    Google is the internet. Google is cool. Google is piracy. Internet piracy is cool.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Aidian, 28 Apr 2016 @ 8:24pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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