Google image search can infringe

March 2006

Internet, publishing

 In spite of its win in Field v Google the search engine Google has lost a Californian copyright case at the preliminary injunction stage. At issue were the thumbnail images that Google provides as part of its “image search” service. The thumbnails in question were images from Perfect 10, a pornographic magazine. US District Court Judge Howard Matz held that displaying these images could be classed as infringement. However, the Judge held that Perfect 10’s claim that Google was also liable for secondary infringement if users clicked on the thumbnail images, which took users to the full-sized image as hosted on the copyright owner’s website did not have a sufficient likelihood of success at trial to serve as the basis of a preliminary injunction. Judge Matz said that based on evidence submitted at a preliminary injunction hearing, Google could not be held responsible when viewers click on the images and are directed to third-party sites that contain full-size images stolen from Perfect 10’s Web site. Matz ordered both sides to craft a narrow preliminary injunction that would respect Perfect 10’s copyrights but not curtail Google’s broader right to catalogue and display online images. The case will go to trial at an unspecified time in the future.

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