Photographers in Germany go to court over new Google image search

Google recently changed the way its “image search” works. Previously, the search results would display only a small thumbnail of the original image. In order to see the full size image, the user had to click on the thumbnail which would take them to the website containing the original photograph. This is no longer the case. The new image search displays the image in its full size within the context of the Google search pages. The result is that users no longer visit the photographer’s website but spend more time within the Google context, thereby maximising their exposure to and Google’s profit from its own advertising.

Freelens, the professional body of German photographers and photo journalists, argues that this practice is in violation of basic authorship and copyright laws. Images cannot be used (i.e. displayed) in their full size without the author’s (photographer’s) permission. It is also in direct violation of a ruling by Germany’s highest court which expressly stated that search engines may only display copyrighted images in their search results as size-reduced thumbnails but not as full size images. Freelens therefore sent Google a request to desist from such practices. The request went unanswered and now court action has been initiated. Freelens stated that it was “alarming how little respect Google showed towards elementary rights of authorship and copyright”. “It cannot be that photographers are degraded to mere content providers for Google.” Yahoo, another mayor search provider, has already responded and provided a “cease-and-desist declaration” reverting their image search to the original thumbnail-only version. It will be interesting to see how this case develops…

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