Noticed any changes while navigating Google the past few days? If not, maybe you’re not a Google Images fanatic. Google made a massive alteration to its image search service. It removed the ‘view image’ button that enabled users to skip having to visit individual websites to get access to a picture. This was part of a compromise made with Getty Images to drop its case against them at the European Commission – the top antitrust enforcer of the EU.
In 2016, Getty filed a complaint to the Commission against Google’s ‘scraping’ practices. Scraping is the practice of collecting, copying and presenting content from competing websites. Every Google search inquiry involves some scraping activity. If you search for gardening tips, Google reads a vast number of websites and presents the most relevant information to you. Google developed its search engine as to enable itself to present the information that you need without leaving the Google Search website. This has a negative effect on websites that lose web visitors and, therefore, advertising revenue.
The complaint made by Getty was concerned with the way in which Google conducted its image searches. Prior to 2013, Google presented its image results in low resolution. For this reason, an end-user who wanted a high-resolution image had to visit the source site of the image to get it. After a change in its service in January 2013, Google started presenting image search results in high resolution. That, in combination with the ‘view image’ button that enabled users to skip host websites and to view downloadable images in a single click, facilitated copyright piracy and negatively impacted the ability of artists and photographers to monetize their endeavours.
To combat the practice, Getty complained to the European Commission, arguing that Google’s practices were anticompetitive. News Corp, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, joined-in the complaint. The Commission took note of the scraping allegations and Competition Commissioner Vestager didn’t rule out the possibility of taking action against it in the future. To appease the concerns of these companies, Google concluded a settlement with Getty. According to the agreement, Google would remove the ‘view image’ button from its image search service. This would require internet users to visit image-hosting websites to download pictures in return for payment or copyright attribution.
While the agreement might appear to be a victory for artists in the digital era, the changes have only made image piracy more difficult, not impossible. Using a different search engine or downloading an image through the code explorer of an internet browser (for the more tech-savvy) is still an option. The only guaranteed assurance against online image piracy still remains the unappealing picture watermark.