Microsoft has removed its Bing Image Widget after Getty Images, a major provider of licensed photos, sued the tech giant recently.
That removal by the Redmond, Wash., tech giant came only a few days after Getty Images sued Microsoft in U.S. District Court. Getty Images complained in its lawsuit that Microsoft used Getty’s licensed images — without permission — to produce the galleries and panels for the widget. The suit claims the widget is also designed to allow users to embed those image galleries on their own websites.
Earlier this year, Getty announced its own image widget. The Getty tool is intended to allow users to embed photos from the Getty Images database on their websites for free. In turn, those who choose to embed the photos agree to let Getty Images place whatever ads the company wishes on the photos.
The difference between the two is that Getty owns the licensing rights to the images used in its widget. By contrast, Getty says Microsoft does not have rights to use Getty’s images.
Getty alleges “incalculable” injury as a result of Microsoft pulling in any images that the Bing search engine could find, regardless of rights. The lawsuit, according to a Re/Code report, contends that Microsoft’s Bing Image Widget is a “massive infringement” of copyright.
Getty might seem to be coming to the defense of independent photographers who’d like to get paid for use of the images they supply to Getty. In that respect, the action is positive.
But there is another side to the story. At times, Getty has allegedly been very aggressive in making infringement claims against bloggers and small businesses. And that’s without proving actual damage amounts.
For example, Rachel Strella, founder and owner of Strella Social Media, tells of a recent instance. A client received a $780 bill for using a Getty image on a website without permission. According to Strella, that small business owner was accused of violating copyright law even though the violation was in her view unintentional. The image had been obtained, not from a Getty site, but in a Google image search where it was labeled for free use, Strella said.
She admits the situation is a good reminder not to assume an image is free just because it is designated as such in a Google search. However, she also writes that Getty would not back off when the situation was explained to the company in detail. Strella said Getty offered to take a few hundred dollars off the fee it demanded. But she said the company refused to compromise beyond that, even when she apologized and removed it from the site.
Small businesses may have dodged a bullet because of the Getty/Microsoft lawsuit. Had small businesses used the Bing widget, thinking it was acceptable because it was provided by Bing, who knows what dollar claims they might have been presented with down the road by the image owners.
The lesson of this story: you can’t rely on a search engine like Google or Bing making images available or suggesting those images can be re-used. Those search engines can’t guarantee your rights to use the images.