Getty accuses Google of photo piracy
Google has been accused of promoting photo piracyGetty

US photo agency Getty Images has accused Google of undermining its business and encouraging photo piracy. Google Images is being accused of displaying its photos in such a way as to siphon away traffic from Getty's website.

Getty has complained that the internet giant uses content from rivals to promote its own services. Some travel websites have held Google guilty of culling hotel and restaurant reviews and using them for its own travel services.

Getty, in its complaint to the European Union's antitrust commission, said Google abused its dominance of image searches by displaying Getty photos in high resolution and large fonts since January 2013. Before that period Google had been displaying them as low-resolution thumbnails in image searches.

Getty claims to have witnessed a drop in traffic in 2013 after Google implemented the changes. But the traffic was fine on French and German Google websites where the company did not implement the changes.

Getty had raised these concerns three years ago but Google is reported to have replied that Getty should either accept the new display or opt out from image search. Yoko Miyashita, general counsel of Getty Images, said the option was not a "viable choice." Getty said Google has even threatened 200,000 contributors who rely on the company.

Miyashita said the new display diverted customers away from their website, where they would have to pay for the photos. This act, "promoted piracy, resulting in widespread copyright infringement, turning users into accidental pirates", Miyashita was quoted as saying in a Financial Times report. "By standing in the way of a fair market place for images, Google is threatening innovation and jeopardising artists' ability to fund the creation of important future works," she added.

In a statement issued to Time, Getty argues that since image consumption is immediate, "there is little impetus to view the image on the original source site" once it's seen in high resolution on Google.

The European Commission is already considering charges against Google over its proprietary Android mobile operating system. Margrethe Vestager, the European commissioner for competition, has expressed concerns over Google imposing restrictions on mobile vendors from reprogramming the software of Android apps such as Gmail or Maps it bundles onto the Android OS.