Not unlike schoolboys in a playground scuffle, Getty Images and Bing have gone from facing off to teaming up. The two internet giants have abandoned a lawsuit and say they’ll work together from now on.
The lawsuit was launched in September over what Getty referred to as “massive infringement” of copyright. Getty demanded compensation, but dropped the case this month.
Getty Images is more than a stock photo provider—it’s one of the biggest players in the field. Its collection includes 80 million unique images, including all of iStock (which it owns). It also boasts over 50,000 hours of stock video, fueled in part by a partnership with the BBC, and has now branched into stock music and audio as well. Basically, if you’ve ever needed any stock media there’s a good chance you got it from Getty or a subsidiary.
Bing, on the other hand, is the search arm of one of the biggest corporations in the world: Microsoft. Having survived the Microsoft antitrust lawsuit and then learned from Google’s rise to supremacy, Microsoft is comfortable toeing the line of what an internet company can and cannot do. Bing, like all major search engines, has been accused of infringing on media companies by showing their images and snippets of their content in search results.
But the Bing Images widget went a step further.
Launched in August 2014, the Images widget was ostensibly designed to make life easier for bloggers and other online publishers. Using the widget, a blogger could easily insert any image from a Bing Image search into their post, article or web page. The problem? That basically meant Microsoft was supplying other people’s images for use without regard to their copyright.
The widget was out for less than a month, in beta, before Getty launched its lawsuit. Showing an image in a search result, and linking to the source, is one thing; but to Getty, handing the image over directly for publication without the image owner’s consent was quite another.
Clearly, with two such well established companies and such a sensitive issue at stake, the stage was set for a titanic court battle. But it never came to pass. Microsoft pulled the widget right away, and apparently the two sides have been in negotiations ever since. On April 8 they issued a stunning announcement: they’re now working together on “next-generation image rich experiences.”
No details have been offered on how exactly the two companies will do this, but the lawsuit has been dropped. Their announcement says that their joint endeavor will use Getty’s image library and “Microsoft products like Bing and Cortana” without infringement. Most likely Microsoft will pay a lump sum licensing fee to Getty so the Images widget can make a comeback—perhaps as a paid service. That would make the widget basically a third party Getty app.
All’s well that ends well, I suppose, but I for one would have loved to see the court battle play out. How to handle copyright in the digital era is a question of worldwide importance, and a precedent in US law would go a long way toward curbing future abuses. Instead, we get a gentleman’s agreement. At least until the next “innovative” app grabs images without consent.