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Google’s War in Europe Just Opened Another Front

April 27, 2016, 11:28 AM UTC
European competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager gives a press conference at European Commission headquarters in Brussels on November 20, 2014. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Emmanuel Dunand — AFP/Getty Images

Google’s European war has opened on another front.

The American photo agency Getty Images plans to file a formal EU complaint Wednesday, accusing Google (GOOGL) of effectively “promoting piracy” by repurposing and displaying its photographs without paying for their creation, the Financial Times reported.

The complaint attacks the practice known as “scraping,” that is, harvesting images and other content from third-party websites—here, Getty’s—for free, and then using them to promote Google services.

In its complaint against Google, Getty says that the problem started in January 2013, when Google began to display large, high-resolution versions of Getty images in its search engine. Before then, it had only shown low-resolution thumbnails. According to Getty, the ability to see high quality images on Google siphoned traffic away from Getty’s website, where customers pay for them.

Yoko Miyashita, Getty’s general counsel, told the FT that by doing this, Google “promoted piracy, resulting in widespread copyright infringement, turning users into accidental pirates.” Miyashita said that by making it less likely that people would pay for Getty’s photos, the company was threatening innovation and “jeopardizing artists’ ability to fund the creation of important future works.”

According to Getty, it tried to discuss the issue with Google after the search engine began displaying the high-resolution images in 2013, but Google said that to stop those images from appearing the photo agency would have to opt out of Google image search, something Miyashita told the FT would be not be a “viable choice” considering Google’s huge market share in web search.


As evidence that Google’s actions caused damage, Getty says traffic to its website plunged immediately in the areas where Google began displaying high-resolution images, but not in others—like France and Germany—where it didn’t.

Getty is not the first media company to complain about content scraping at Google. Such complaints haven’t made headway in the past, but there appears to be a change in tone under Margrethe Vestager, who became EU competition commissioner in 2014. News Corp (NWS), the media company that owns the Wall Street Journal, filed an EU complaint against Google last week.