Google Loses Thumbs To Perfect 10

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Google suffered a setback in court last Friday as US District Judge Howard Matz ruled that thumbnail displays retrieved by the company’s image search feature were a likely violation of copyright law. Links to third party sites and the practice of “framing” the image above those sites, however, were not considered to be in violation.

Google Loses Thumbs To Perfect 10
Google Loses Perfect 10 Thumbs

Skin-mag Perfect 10 Inc. brought suit against Google in November of 2004 for copyright infringement brought about by image search. In August of 2005, the magazine filed for an injunction against Google to stop copying, displaying, and distributing over 3,000 Perfect 10 photos.

The devil is in the details in this case, as this was only a partial ruling from Matz, asking both parties to come to an agreement on thumbnail display, and the terms to settle the issue by March 8th. If no agreement is reached, then a trial will be set for the final ruling.

The main issue of concern for Matz was the impact thumbnail display of copyrighted images would have on Perfect 10’s mobile phone image sales through image licensing company Fonestarz. Google Mobile’s image search performs an identical function by allowing images to be saved to mobile devices.

“Google’s thumbnail images are essentially the same size and of the same quality as the reduced-size images that [Perfect 10] licenses to Fonestarz,” wrote Matz.

He added that Google’s distribution of thumbnail images was not the same as the Arriba Soft ruling where thumbnail image indexing and display was ruled as Fair Use, primarily because of revenue generated by Google advertising.

Not all parts of the injunction sought by Perfect 10 were upheld by the judge however. Matz’ preliminary ruling implied that Google could not be held responsible for links to third party pirate sites or for framing the image above those sites where the image was found.

Google attorney Michael Kwun downplayed the effects of the judgment on the overall reach of image search.

“We anticipate that any preliminary injunction will have no effect on the vast majority of image searchers, and will affect only searches related to Perfect 10,” Kwun said in a statement.

While that may be true in the short run, it is unclear if the injunction will persuade or inspire other pornographic or nude photo publications to push the issue. The outcome of the case could have wide-ranging implications across the search industry.

In his ruling, Matz seems reticent to enforce calls to restrict Internet search functions, citing the importance of such services for individuals, nonprofits, and governments for finding vital information.

A second ruling is forthcoming as Amazon.com, which licenses Google search capabilities for its A9 search engine, was also named in the case.

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