Microsoft's Bing playing fast and loose with fair use?

Summary:Microsoft's new Bing Search engine displays full length thumbnail videos -- with sound, stripped of ads. This appears to be the broadest "universal video search" yet, and may exceed the recognized bounds of fair use.

Beet.TV's Andy Plesser asks: is Microsoft's Bing search playing fast and loose with fair use? Specifically, Andy points out that Bing displays "live," or perhaps more accurately "dynamic," thumbnails in its video search results, and users can "watch the entire video an extended excerpt [see below] as a thumbnail, with sound." Andy notes Bing "appears to pull a media RSS feed which is stripped of advertising overlays," but "does provide a link to the original source." "This is the broadest implementation of 'universal video search' by a major company we have seen," he says.

Since 2002 it has been pretty well accepted in the U.S. that search engines can properly display thumbnails of images in search results under the fair use doctrine. Crucial to that result though is the fact search result thumbnails do not "supplant the need for the original" or harm the market or value of the images as used on the original site. (See the Ninth Circuit's Kelly v. Arriba Soft decision.) In fact, thumbnail images in search results were found to help the market or value of the images by

guid[ing] users to [the site] rather than away from it. Even if users were more interested in the image itself rather than the information on the page, they would still have to go to [the] site to see the full-sized image. (Kelly)

Bing presents an interesting twist on this, and the question is: is displaying a thumbnail rather than full-sized video enough to trigger fair use? Here, I think the argument is stronger than in Kelly that the need for the original is supplanted. Full length Lengthy [see below] thumbnail videos with sound strike me as more likely to serve as a complete substitute for the original than a thumbnail image, and if I'm right, fewer users would be guided to the original site by the search engine (in fact, they'd be discouraged from clicking through). The thumbnails also impair the value of the original by removing the originally included ads.

On the other hand, Bing's video search could be fair use if the videos are embedded and/or inline linked rather than copied. (That doesn't sound like what's going on, particularly given the ad removal, but I need more info.)

I'd be curious to hear more from others, including Fred von Lohmann at EFF, about Bing's video search and fair use.

[Update, 2:30 p.m.] As TechCrunch pointed out yesterday, Bing puts users two clicks away from a whole lot of video porn, again with the thumbnail/full video/full sound scenario (though I didn't do an extensive survey, the couple of thumbnails I clicked through required you to click further to "play the [full size — no tittering now] video at the original site" rather than staying on Bing). Adult entertainment producers can be among the most strident objectors to search engines hurdling their paywalls and providing access to their otherwise for-pay content, as we learned a few years back in the Perfect 10 v. Google litigation. Perfect 10 involved still images only, and Google won, as Jason Schultz describes here. Bing's porn thumbnails are significantly more....enhanced. 'Scuse me while I reinstate safe search before my kid wanders in.

[Update, 3:36 p.m.] As noted in the comments here and in an update to Andy Plesser's original post, it's not yet clear exactly how much of each video gets played in the thumbnails, and whether this varies from video to video or source to source. From what I've seen of the thumbnails they play enough of the original to prompt obvious fair use concerns.

Topics: Legal, Microsoft

About

Denise Howell is an appellate, intellectual property and technology lawyer who enjoys broad industry recognition for her expertise on the intersection of emerging technologies and law. For further details please see her professional background and speaking schedule. Denise's career is characterized by her passionate engagement in intell... Full Bio

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