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.