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Google Stung by Judge’s Ruling on Explicit Photos
By: Thomas J. Stanton (Courtesy of
Posted: 2/22/2006

LOS ANGELES – According to a U.S. judge, Internet giant Google Inc. infringed copyright rules by posting explicit, thumbnail-size photos from other websites on its search results pages, according to a published report.

A recent Agence France-Presse (AFP) report said that U.S. District Judge Howard Matz’s ruling, handed down in Los Angeles, stems from a lawsuit filed in 2004 by the adult company Perfect 10 Inc., which accused Google of breaching on its copyrights.

The type of search with which Perfect 10 took issue is Google’s "Image Search" function, which returns a page with tiny images — known as thumbnails — that fit the searcher’s query.

The report added that the image search function also allows searchers to view the image as it appears on the page.  

The judge ruled that because Google receives advertising money from offering search functions, it is not entitled to the same level of free use of the images as other entities would be.  

Much of Google’s revenues, says the report, come from so-called keyword searches that link advertisers to users by their search criteria.

The story claims that the judge determined that Google’s use of pictures was different from that Arriba Soft Corp. — which a U.S. Court of Appeals in California ruled earlier was operating within "fair use" principles by creating and using thumbnail images on its site.

Matz’s ruling also notes that because Perfect 10 sells similar-size versions of its images to cell phone users through a separate company, Fonestarz Media, Perfect 10 stands to lose revenue if its request for a court order blocking Google’s use of the thumbnails is not granted.

"Google’s use of thumbnails likely does harm the potential market for the downloading of P10’sreduced-size images onto cell phones," Matz’s 47-page ruling stated.

The ruling, which was signed Friday, asks both sides in the case to come up with the terms of a preliminary injunction that would bar Google from using the thumbnail-size images, according to the AFP report.

The judge found, however, that Google did not violate Perfect 10’s copyrights by linking to pages that Perfect 10 claims are using its images without permission, said the report.

He noted that "given the exponentially increasing amounts of data on the Web, search engines have become essential sources of vital information for individuals, governments, nonprofits and businesses who seek to locate information."  

The story concludes by reporting that Google lawyer Michael Kwun said in a statement that while the company is "disappointed with portions of the ruling, we are pleased with Judge Matz’s favorable ruling on linking and other aspects of Google 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.

Agence France-Presse, in March of last year, also sued Google Inc. for copyright infringement, claiming the search engine was displaying its news and photos without permission.



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