Ian Walton / Getty Images

Getty Images, one of the largest photo agencies in the world, has filed a complaint with the European Union’s Competition Commission because Google won’t budge on making high resolution photographs freely available from its Images search engine. Getty says that as users can see images in high resolution via the results window in Google Images there is no incentive for searchers to click through to the owner's website. Getty maintains that the practice of showing searched images at high resolution deprives websites of traffic, while also making it easier for Google users to download and use images without paying a license fee to the copyright owner.

In an open letter posted on the Getty Image's website, the companys General Counsel, Yoko Miyashita, says '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.’

The changes Miyashita mentions, that were made in January 2013, are those which saw Google shift from serving searchers a thumbnail sized image to allowing users to see and download full-sized images. The service even allows users to specify the size of image they want to see. Getty argues '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.'

Getty says it has been in talks with Google for three years, but that Google's attitude has been that image creators should either accept the search engine's terms or opt-out of image search. Getty says it is fighting to protect its interests and those of its contributors, but also to protect the entire image-making industry.

Getty's complaint is part of a wider investigation of Google by the European Competition Commission in which the search giant faces questions about restrictive practices in the way it serves search results as well as the compulsory apps that come with devices using the Android operating system.

For more information, and to read Yoko Miyashita's open letter, see the Advocacy page on the Getty Images website


Press release:

Getty Images to file competition law complaint against Google

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.