Getty steps up campaign against Google

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Above: Yoko Miyashita. Photo courtesy Getty.

An open letter from Yoko Miyashita, General Counsel, Getty Images on Google image scraping…

Today, on behalf of content creators around the world, Getty Images has taken a significant step to protect the livelihoods of photographers and ensure a fair online marketplace for all. We have filed a competition law complaint against search engine Google Inc. in the European Union

Current proceedings against Google are ongoing and wide-reaching, with Google accused of distorting search results in favour of its own services across a myriad of industries, as well as more recently, additional proceedings examining Google’s business practices around its Android mobile operating system.

Our complaint focuses specifically on changes made to Google Images in 2013, which have impacted the competitiveness of our business by siphoning off traffic and promoting piracy – to the detriment of the 200,000 contributors who rely on us to earn a living. On a broader scale, this has impacted the interests of content creators around the world, allowing Google not only to profit from their work, but also to reinforce its role as the internet’s dominant search engine and thus maintain its monopoly power.

Photographers spend years acquiring the necessary skills to become commercially successful.  Many invest in local economies by funding photography shoots that involve location and equipment rental, hiring of local talent and all of the attendant services such as styling and post-production work.

Others risk their lives to cover breaking news – both on a local and global scale – that brings critical coverage to media worldwide and serves the important function of educating and informing us all of what’s going on around the globe.  Their craft is their livelihood and they rely on a fair marketplace to fund the creation of new content.

Effective online search is a necessary tool for the discovery of images online, and Google Images dominates this market. In January of 2013, Google drastically changed its presentation of imagery by displaying high res, large-format content through Google Images, where previously low res thumbnails were displayed. Once an image is displayed in high-resolution, large format, it is immediately consumed – there’s very little reason to go see it somewhere else.

This format change immediately diverted traffic away from Getty Images, and from the websites of Getty Images’ customers and those of other image creators, deterring users from leaving Google’s platform to engage with content through legitimate sources. This, in turn, negatively impacts content creators’ ability to monetize users’ interest through licensing and advertising, and reduces the level of reinvestment available for the creation of new content.

By creating its own captive, image-rich environment and cutting off user traffic to competing websites – and reserving that traffic exclusively for its own benefit – Google is able to maintain and reinforce its dominance in search. It does this without contributing to the costs of creating the content that Google displays and relies upon to attract and maintain users.

When Getty Images first raised concerns with Google three years ago, Google’s proposed solution was no solution at all: accept its presentation of our images, or opt-out of image search.  This would mean allowing the harm to continue or becoming invisible on the Internet. Plainly, neither is a viable choice.

This is clearly a cause that impacts many. If you feel motivated to take action, here are some avenues that are open to you:

  • To regulators: Europe’s anti-trust regulators have recognized the harm to competition caused by Google’s practices, and we ask for the same level of scrutiny to be paid to this issue in other geographies. Like the European Commission, our hope is that policymakers and antitrust authorities around the world take action.
  • To creatives: A fair market for your works is the lifeblood of your business – no one is more greatly impacted by Google’s practices than you, the content creator. To ensure that a fair marketplace for content creators can flourish, we invite you to engage local regulators to help put a stop to the anti-competitive scraping of your content. Getty Images will supply additional resources to support you to do so in the coming weeks.
  • To consumers of imagery: We believe in the power of imagery to move the world and want to encourage the easy, legal sharing of our content free of charge for non-commercial purposes. In fact, we introduced our embed feature for this very reason, to power a more image-rich, digital world and provide a legal alternative to the “right click”. We ask that you feed your love of imagery by visiting or licensing images through lawful content websites, helping to ensure a fair marketplace for all.

Innovation and creativity are essential elements in content creation, and Google’s practices are threatening this. How can one continue to create and innovate if there isn’t a fair online marketplace for images?  Without a fair marketplace, we fear for a future devoid of breaking news, powerful imagery, and visual inspiration.

Getty’s statement on September 22, 2016…

As you may know, in April of this year, Getty Images filed a competition law complaint against Google in the European Union in a bid to help stop its anti-competitive scraping of imagery created by contributors like yourself.

Since replacing thumbnails with high res image files in 2013, Google Images has gone from being the world’s largest image search engine to the world’s largest publisher and distributor of free imagery. However, the content Google is giving away is yours – and it’s not free.

The changes that Google made to image search in 2013 means that Google keeps significant traffic that would otherwise go to the source sites, as well as all of the user data that it can then use to target advertising. Data related to image viewing is clearly valuable, as evidenced by Google’s launch of shopping ads directly within its image search service in May. Meanwhile Google pays nothing for the high-quality content that it appropriates for its own benefit.

But there is more: Google does not itself host the large-format images, it instead uses the bandwidth of the source sites to host and serve those images. Google presents the image in a “frame” so that the user remains unaware it has viewed content on the content-owner’s website. Google also allows users to right-click, copy and save images, and does not include prominent copyright notices or photographer attribution, thus facilitating copyright infringement and turning users into “accidental pirates.”

In response to complaints, Google has suggested that photographers can simply opt-out of image search using the robots.txt protocol. Given Google’s dominant market share and the fact that Google is the main gateway to the internet, its proposed solution is no solution at all: photographers can either surrender to Google’s edict and accept Google’s presentation of images, or become invisible online.

We are working closely with policy makers and industry groups to not only prevent Google from profiting further from your work, but to give you back control over your work, opportunity to access revenue that is rightfully yours, and ultimately, to make sure that you’re competing with Google on a level playing field.

As promised, we now have a way you can support the complaint by putting your name to letters which seek the help of the U.S. Senate Antitrust Sub-Committee that has oversight of competition law in the U.S., and the head of the European Commission’s Competition Authority, asking them to help put a stop to the anti-competitive scraping of your content.

Background information on Getty’s advocacy case as of April 2016…

 Getty Images, a world leader in visual communications, will today file a competition law complaint against Google Inc. with the European Commission. The complaint follows on from Getty Images’ submission in June 2015, when it joined as an interested third party in support of the European Commission’s existing investigation into Google’s anti-competitive business practices.

The Commission’s current proceedings against Google are wide-reaching, with Google accused of distorting search results in favour of its own services. This affects a myriad of industries, from media companies like Getty Images, to comparison shopping and travel websites. Just last week, a further set of proceedings were issued against the search engine, to address Google’s business practices around its Android mobile operating system.

Getty Images’ complaint focuses specifically on changes made in 2013 to Google Images, the image search functionality of Google, which has not only impacted Getty Images’ image licensing business, but content creators around the world, by creating captivating galleries of high-resolution, copyrighted content. Because image consumption is immediate, 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.

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.”

Miyashita continues: “Getty Images believes that images have the power to move the world by spurring action and driving change. It is key that these issues with Google are addressed and that the dominant search engine in Europe leads users to legitimate sources for imagery, rather than creating an environment that benefits Google alone. A fair marketplace will allow photographers to continue to capture the ground-breaking imagery that informs and impacts the world every day.”

Getty Images firmly supports a more image-rich, digital world, but one that recognizes and remunerates the content creators who create this imagery. In 2014, Getty Images launched its embed tool, which revolutionized the visual content industry by making imagery available for easy, legal sharing at no cost for non-commercial use.

This embed functionality provides consumers with an easy, legal alternative to the “right click,” an alternative that ensures the content creator is appropriately credited for their work and that the image is clearly traceable to Getty Images in the event that a user wishes to license the image for a commercial purpose.

Visit Where We Stand  to learn more about how Getty Images is working with policy makers and industry groups to defend intellectual property and ensure a fair marketplace for content creators.

The 2013 statement from Getty on the issue…

In January of 2013, Google changed its presentation of imagery by displaying high res large-format content through Google Images, where previously low res thumbnails that clicked-through to source sites were displayed. This format has diverted users away from source sites and siphoned traffic from Getty Images, other media organizations and image creators.

Google Images’ current format also promotes “right click” piracy by making hi res imagery easily available, with no requirement for the user to go to the source site to find out how they might legally license or seek permission to use the image in question. Google’s practices involve presenting content in such a way that it deters users from engaging with content creators; this impacts artists’ ability to monetize users’ interest and thereby reduces the level of reinvestment available for the creation of new content.

By creating its own captive, image-rich environment and cutting off user traffic to competing websites, Google is able to maintain and reinforce its dominance in search. It does this without making any contribution to the costs of creating the very images upon which it relies to attract and maintain users.

When Getty Images first raised concerns with Google three years ago, Google’s proposed solution was no solution at all: accept its presentation of images in high-res format, or opt-out of image search. This would mean allowing the harm to continue, or becoming invisible on the Internet, making it even more difficult for users to legitimately source and license images.

Getty Images’ submission builds upon earlier submissions made as an interested third party and also on an earlier complaint to the EU Commission made by CEPIC.