Getty Images and a group of professional photographers sent a letter this week to the Senate Judiciary’s antitrust subcommittee complaining about Google’s image “scraping.” In a nutshell, Getty alleges that high-resolution images in Google’s image search results end up being the final destination for searchers, not a conduit that carries searchers to the image source (e.g., Getty). As a result, Getty alleges, Google profits from search data while diminishing compensation to the websites that actually own the image rights.
The FTC previously investigated Google for scraping. The FTC staff recommended that the full commission bring antitrust charges against Google for scraping and other practices. (That recommendation was accidentally made public.) The FTC, however, closed its investigation into Google’s search practices, and in 2012 Google issued a letter promising to create an online tool that would allow websites to opt out of having their scraped content displayed in search results on Google. Getty maintains that the opt-out mechanism presents image rights owners with the Hobson’s choice of agreeing to scraping or becoming “invisible” online by opting out of Google’s search results.
The fact that Getty is attempting to leverage government intervention is interesting. Does it not think it has antitrust standing itself to complain? It does not seem to be a competitor or a customer of Google.