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Getty Images, a company which provides stock images for business purposes, has filed a complaint against Google with the European Union’s antitrust commission. Getty claims that Google’s image search harms its business and encourages piracy. The biggest issue, from Getty’s perspective, is that users have no reason to visit their site if they can see the same image in Google’s search engine.

Before 2013, Google only showed thumbnails in its image search, requiring users to visit the original source if they wanted to see the full-sized image. Starting in 2013, Google began showing full-sized images in its search results, which is the cause of the current dispute. Getty has been in negotiations with Google for three years, without coming to any resolution. Google gave Getty the options of either accepting Google’s presentation of the images in its search engine, or opting out.  Getty found these options to be unacceptable.

Getty general counsel Yoko Miyashita stated, “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.” Miyashita has also called upon photographers around the world to join the fight against Google and write to their own regulators. “I don’t think we’re alone,” Miyashita stated, “It affects the entire image industry.”

This might seem, if anything, to be a copyright dispute, and not a matter for the antitrust commission. However, the antitrust angle comes into play due to Google’s market dominance as a search engine. Getty VP Jonathan Lockwood stated, “Google’s market dominance is a factor. If we’re not getting the traffic or the opportunity to engage, then we’re not raising royalties to pay to our contributors.” He went on to say, “It’s all about free markets, and not allowing a dominant player to coerce and unilaterally impose their policies. They have none of their own content.”

Lockwood also argues that opting out of Google’s image search is not a viable solution. “We could use robots.txt to opt out, and shield our images – and that is exactly what Google said to us when we complained,” Lockwood stated, “But it’s no kind of feasible choice. Those images would still surface, and traffic would go to the infringer’s site. We need the traffic.”

Google is a no stranger to antitrust investigations in the EU. Recently the European Commission began investigations into Google’s business practices relating the to the Android operating system. This complaint by Getty may cause further headaches for Google in the EU.

Is Google abusing its market dominance in this situation? Leave your comments below.

Max Michael

Senior Writer

I’m a technology reporter located near the Innovation District of Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario.