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Google loses first round of image copyright fight

Tash Shifrin

A US court has ruled that Google’s Image search service breaches copyright by displaying thumbnail photographs, in a case brought by an adult content magazine.

Judge Howard Matz ruled that,“Google’s creation and public display of ‘thumbnails’ likely do directly infringe P10’s copyrights”, after a preliminary injunction hearing of the case brought by Perfect 10, which produces a magazine and website featuring nude models.

Google’s display of thumbnails in image search results pages would not be likely to fall within a “fair use” exception to copyright law, he said.

In his ruling, the judge added: “The court reaches this conclusion despite the enormous public benefit that search engines such as Google provide.

“Although the court is reluctant to issue a ruling that might impede the advance of internet technology, and although it is appropriate for courts to consider the immense value to the public of such technologies, existing judicial precedents do not allow such considerations to trump a reasoned analysis of the four fair-use factors.”

But Google could not be held liable for links to third party sites that had used copyrighted images without permission, Judge Matz found.

The ruling is likely to have a knock-on effect on other search engines producing thumbnail images. The search companies are already under fire from the World Association of Newspapers, which is seeking to “challenge the exploitation of content” because of the way they aggregate news content without paying for it.

Agence France Presse has filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming the search company offers its photos and stories without permission.


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