Getty Images Sues Microsoft Citing A “Massive Infringement” Of Copyrighted Images

Sep 5, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

Getty Images Sues Microsoft Citing A “Massive Infringement” Of Copyrighted Images

Sep 5, 2014

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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Getty Images has officially filed a lawsuit against Microsoft, accusing the tech giant of infringing copyright laws on millions of images from Getty’s online collection. On August 22, Microsoft unveiled the Bing Image Widget to the public, which allows anyone to embed images they find using Microsoft’s Bing Search Engine, using a simple code which is supplied by Microsoft. Once search parameters have been entered into Bing’s Image Widget generator, the code can simply be copied and pasted for use on any website, commercial or otherwise, and will display the images yielded from the search results.

The problem with the widget, Getty claims in their lawsuit, is that the widget does not employ any kind of filter to sort images which are part of the creative commons from those which are protected by copyright laws. According to a report by Reuters, the lawsuit states:

In effect, defendant has turned the entirety of the world’s online images into little more than a vast, unlicensed ‘clip art’ collection for the benefit of those website publishers who implement the Bing Image Widget, all without seeking permission from the owners of copyrights in those images.”

Rueters has also reported that Microsoft issued a statement in response to the lawsuit via an email which explains that, as copyright holders themselves, Microsoft takes copyright law seriously and will look into Getty’s claims.

The lawsuit claims the damages to Getty are incalculable and asks a U.S. District Court judge to order Microsoft to immediately remove the widget in addition to paying Getty an undisclosed amount of damages. Getty’s general counsel, John Lapham, says Getty has been speaking with Microsoft for over a year in regards to the disregard and resulting decay of copyright law meant to protect images published online.

Now you have someone else’s picture in full, beautiful display on your website, having never paid for it and with no attribution to the photographer at all.” John Lapham

Though Getty, who currently represent over 80 million photographs, is responsible for initiating the lawsuit, it appears as though it is not just them who will suffer the consequences. Any image (meaning mine and yours, too) which is accessible by Bing’s image search engine, whether it is managed by Getty or not, could potentially be used by the Bing Image Widget. For example…

A quick search yielded several of my images which are protected by copyright law.
A quick search yielded several of my images which are protected by copyright law.

As someone who sells their photography for commercial purposes, I was curious about the widget and how it could impact me. I headed over to the widget’s webpage and entered my name. Sure enough a handful of my images came up. Even using more generic search terms, such as specific locations rather than my name, some of my images appeared in the results. Kinda frustrating to say the least. Needless to say, I’ll be following the lawsuit closely.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the lawsuit, is Getty in the right? What do you think will become of Microsoft’s Bing Image Widget and other services like it?

[ via Reuters | ReCode ]

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Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller

Tiffany Mueller is a photographer and content strategist based in Hawi, Hawaii. Her work has been shared by top publications like The New York Times, Adobe, and others.

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15 responses to “Getty Images Sues Microsoft Citing A “Massive Infringement” Of Copyrighted Images”

  1. J.P. Avatar
    J.P.

    Microsoft deserves a big slap across the head on this one…

  2. Jeff Avatar
    Jeff

    Are you guys stupid? All it does is show a search of images from the search term in the widget. How is this different than what Bing, Google and Yahoo have been doing for 30 years? Except that Bing is providing a little widget to advertise their search engine.

    This is hardly copyright infringement, since the images just lead back to Bing and the original source.

    Additionally, it’s not hard to embed images illegally. No business is ever going to use this widget because it isn’t branded. Your commercial images are safe and this isn’t going to hurt your precious bottom line.

    1. Mensch Avatar
      Mensch

      Jeff, there IS a difference between displaying a search result for a single person and the embedding of these images automatically on your homepage so that everyone sees these images.
      By embedding, you make them “your own” (even if you did not!) and make your personal homepage more attractive. Doing it by hand is time and knowledge consuming, using the BING widget makes it a matter of seconds….
      Additionally, BING does track the visitors of your widget, collecting surfers habits and likes.

      Both generates value for which the real owner of the copyright does not get one single cent.
      Think again!

      1. Jeff Avatar
        Jeff

        If Microsoft can display the images as a regular search, why can’t anyone else do the same thing? They’re embedded on Bing’s site (and countless other search engines). Does that mean those search companies think the images are “their own”?

        Anyone concerned about copyright law (ie: people posting stuff not on facebook/twitter/etc) will not use this widget. Additionally, commercial entities will never use this widget anyway. Random people posting any ol’ images on their personal website without concern for copyright law were going to do it anyway – and may step on a few toes. But, no one is going to waste their time/money and outright sue any individual. That is why Getty is just trying to suck on the tit of Microsoft and leech whatever they can get monetarily.

  3. Z Avatar
    Z

    Nope – it’s a silly lawsuit. The images are already there and it’s up to the person installing the widget to make the determination whether the photo is legal or not as the person could just as easily copy/paste at will. MS can’t be held liable for someone else’s mistake in displaying illegal photos. MS just provided a tool – how you use it is entirely up to you and you take ownership of it!

    1. Jeff Avatar
      Jeff

      What if the widget images change based on image search algorithms (ie: to make the search ‘better’)?

  4. Ahmet Avatar
    Ahmet

    If I understand right, the problem is, that Bing embeds the photo. If you save it, and put it on your website, that is copyright infringement, but if you practically just link it, than you did not make an illegal copy, so you did not break the law while the result is exactly the same: someone else’s photo on your site for free.

    1. Jeff Avatar
      Jeff

      If this is the case, then anyone can just post any pictures anywhere (and link to the source) without paying for anything. That obviously isn’t the case.

  5. Andy Avatar
    Andy

    This seems like a very non issue. If your images are publicly available through a widget utilising a Bing search, surely they are also available on Google!

    The problem is maybe not that people will steal images (this happens already, as frustrating as it can be), is it not that the general public do not realise it is illegal?

    1. Jeff Avatar
      Jeff

      Linking to a search engine using this widget is only as illegal as Bing displaying the images on their website in the first place.

  6. SwissMountainLeader Avatar
    SwissMountainLeader

    Getty are a bit late to this party. I’ve had livestrong and demandmedia doing exactly the same with my images over 4 years ago using a Bing API. I was surprised at the time that Bing didn’t really care they were facilitating industrial scale image theft. Livestrong and demandmedia were producing nearly content free articles and then padding them by using Bing to find images to illustrate them. This didn’t link to my site or credit me any way. I was particularly ticked off by the content as it was little more than medical quackery. I had some fairly comic responses from them about it all.

    I’ll try and post the blog I wrote about it but I suspect I can’t post links….

    https://www.swissmountainleader.com/2010/05/unauthorised-image-reuse-by-demandmedia-and-livestrong-com/

  7. Rick Avatar
    Rick

    Simple solution. Microsoft should just eliminate Getty images from its searches. Let’s see how upset Getty gets about that.

  8. David Addams Avatar
    David Addams

    I think Microsoft can easily defend the embed tool under the “fair use” doctrine. It only displays the thumbnails of images returned by an image search.

    On the other hand, the full-scale images you can view on the Bing search page when you perform an image search might prove problematic. That requires Microsoft to store copies of those images on its servers. Those copies are then made available in a way that can easily involve copyright infringement.

    If I were a judge, I’d allow the widget and tell Microsoft to stop showing full-scale images in its search results.

  9. Ahmet Avatar
    Ahmet

    Downloading an image and putting it on a website and embedding one is technically very different, but at first glance looks the same.

    It’s like building a website and instead of producing quality content you put a window in the middle that shows someone else’s content, but masks out who the owner is, and the bits that brings money for the owner. And the owner can’t say a word, coz “hey, I didn’t copy your image” f-off.
    The difference is like stealing the Mona Lisa and show it for money or go to the Louvre and put ads around it, which brings money for you. Hey, it’s still there…

  10. Charles O. Slavens Avatar
    Charles O. Slavens

    I just clicked on the Bing site:
    Image Widget
    We have temporarily removed the beta.