User-Friendliness Versus Copyright Protections: The Balancing of Interests Where Private Companies Profit at the Expense of Content Generators
Gone are the days when seemingly non-malicious Internet users could inadvertently pierce copyright protections as they scoured the Internet for high-resolution images by way of Google’s image search function. A small but important change has been made by Google in an attempt to prevent such violations with the removal of the “view image” button that appeared when users clicked on a searched image.
Since the introduction of large secluded high-resolution images to Google Image Search in 2013, the “view image” button had been an extremely useful and convenient tool for users to engage in seemingly benign activity while skirting copyright protections without a second thought.1 While, of course, there are plenty of legitimate and legal uses of copyrighted material published on the internet, photographers, publishers, and stock image sites have long felt slighted by Google’s lack of copyright protections.2 In fact, this challenge to the rights of these internet stakeholders reveals that while we use the internet “freely,” it comes at a great cost to the producers of our content, particularly when private profit is gained for those – like Google – who provide an avenue to content rather than those – like Getty Images and its photographers – who create copyrighted content.
As a result of the disharmony between Google’s user-friendly agenda and content creators’ rights to protect what is theirs, Getty Images filed a legal complaint in April 2016 to the European Commission against Google.3 The complaint accused Google of promoting piracy and of engaging in “anti-competitive practices by promoting its own products and … reducing the need for users to visit the original source website.”4 As a consequence of the complaint, in a settlement agreement reached earlier this year, Google and Getty Images entered into a partnership for a multi-year global licensing agreement where Google may use Getty Images’ photos in its products.5 As part of the settlement, Google agreed to make changes to Image Search to protect photographers’ copyrighted images and to drive user traffic to websites. Those changes included making copyright attributions more noticeable, removal of the “Search by Image” button and, most notably, the removal of the “view image” button.6
Seemingly a step in the right direction by Google to protect copyrighted material and an adequate change for Getty Images to resolve their concerns, the small changes seem like nothing more than a step to frustrate users rather than a step to actually guarantee any copyright protections. The changes have been criticized as being “awful,” “user-unfriendly,” and as having “degraded the product.”7 In addition, although the “View Image” button is no longer on display, the buttons function can be imitated easily. This can be accomplished by all internet users by right clicking on a selected image and opening the image in a new tab, adding a simple extension to an internet browser that imputes the “view image” button back to its original place, or by using a different search engine such as Bing or Startpage which still have the “view image” button in place on their image searches.8 In an age where users have become accustomed to a largely user-friendly internet, and companies have benefitted from such ease of use, legal entities will have to strike a balance between protecting the rights of copyright holders and user friendliness so as to neither disrupt what has made the internet such an invaluable resource nor to overturn the benefits of protecting materials through copyright laws.
Liam Tung, Google Image Search: Here’s Why the View Image Button Just Vanished, ZDNet (Feb. 16, 2018, 12:01 PM GMT), https://www.zdnet.com/article/google-image-search-heres-why-the-view-image-button-just-vanished/ [https://perma.cc/643P-YZPR].↩
Jacob Kastrenakes, Google Removes ‘View Image’ Button from Search Results to Make Pics Harder to Steal, Verge (Feb. 15, 2018, 4:41 PM), https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/15/17017864/google-removes-view-image-button-from-search-results [https://perma.cc/AWE2-TU6X].↩
Indo-Asian News Service, Google Can Now Display Getty Images Content in Search Results, Gadgets 360 (Feb. 12, 2018), https://gadgets.ndtv.com/internet/news/google-can-now-display-getty-images-content-in-search-results-1811757 [https://perma.cc/56D6-GVT9].↩
Tung, supra note 1.↩
IANS, With Google Removing ‘View Image’ Button, Microsoft’s Bing to Make Big Gains, Economic Times (Feb. 19, 2018, 5:12 PM), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/magazines/panache/with-google-removing-view-image-button-microsofts-bing-to-make-big-gains/articleshow/62982295.cms [https://perma.cc/V3VN-MDB5].↩