Google accused of 'promoting piracy' in Getty images EU complaint

The tech giant's dominance over the search engine industry has allegedly whittled away Getty's paid-for image business.

Google is the subject of an antitrust complaint filed by Getty Images with the European Commission, as the US photo agency believes Google is both "promoting piracy" and inherently damaging image businesses.

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According to a report from the Financial Times, US paid-for photo agency Getty plans to file a formal complaint with the commission in Brussels on Wednesday.

Getty says that the Mountain View, Calif.-based firm is damaging photojournalism by freeriding the work of others through image harvesting to improve its own search capabilities -- without doing any of the legwork itself.

Specifically, Getty believes traffic is being diverted away from the US firm's web domain, which impacts revenue.

Google's image search scrapes images from across the web, displaying them in a thumbnail-based webpage which depends on the search terms input by users. Images can then be clicked on, revealing the original website link hosting the content.

Getty's major complaint is how image display has changed post-2013, as copyrighted photos are now shown in a high-resolution format and large size rather than a small, low-quality copy.

According to Yoko Miyashita, Getty's general counsel, the changes have "promoted piracy" by turning users into "accidental pirates" for viewing and saving such images, rather than going to the Getty platform -- where such content has to be paid for.

It is now up to the EU to decide whether this practice breaks antitrust rules and whether Getty has a valid complaint on image scraping. One problem, however, is that Getty does have the choice to opt-out of being displayed on search -- but without Google's support, exposure on the web will reduce.

While previous attempts to take Google to task for scraping content have failed, the publication says that several lawyers fighting the tech giant believe there are "signals" that the commission is becoming more receptive to such complaints.

This is not the only case the EU is investigating regarding Google. While there are complaints in both the US and EU, Google has most recently been accused of abusing market dominance in the Android app market by imposing restrictions on manufacturers and mobile network operators.

A Google spokesman declined to comment.

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