An adult Web site publisher is suing Google, saying the search engine company made it easier for users to see the site’s copyrighted nude photographs without paying or gaining access through the proper channels.
Perfect 10 sued Google for copyright infringement in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, saying that thousands of photos to which it owns the copyright could be accessed at third party sites through the Google search engine.
Perfect 10 claims it sent 27 formal requests to Google to remove the offending sites from its index and stop displaying thumbnail versions of the photographs in its image search results.
The Los Angeles-based company claims it lost money because would-be paid subscribers were able to view its catalog of images for free by using links that the Google search turned up.
No one from Perfect 10 could be reached for comment. The company’s attorney, Los Angeles-based Russell Frackman, previously represented several major record companies when they unsuccessfully sued file-sharing networks for copyright infringement.
Follow the Money
Google is no stranger to copyright issues, having had its keyword advertising program accused of delivering results based on keywords that are trademarks or copyrighted words or phrases.
Google spokesman Steve Langdon said the company was reviewing the suit and that the search company continuously reviews complaints about pirated or copyrighted material that turn up on its results pages.
John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School, said the suit actually involves a range of charges, from copyright infringement to unfair competition.
Palfrey said the fact that Google displayed only thumbnails of the full images might offer it some protection, as earlier related cases found that such a compilation did not serve as copyright infringement.
“Courts have generally seen search engines as serving a public interest and have tended to afford them certain leeway as a result, at least whenever a balancing test is involved, as it is in the fair use analysis on most of the relevant copyright claims,” Palfrey said.
Start of a Trend?
But what might set the claims apart is the involvement of Google’s adwords revenue and the suggestion in the suit that Google gets income by using the pages that hold the thumbnail images to display keyword ads.
“I suspect that Perfect 10 will not be the last to go after Google’s riches with such a series of claims,” Palfrey said.
The argument might not hold up, however, as it’s logical to assume that Perfect 10 might have gotten some paying customers from the Google thumbnail pages, he added. “Lawyers will be lining up to represent Google if they choose to fight back.”
In fact, other analysts said the fact that Google is being targeted by Perfect 10 might reflect the company’s deep pockets as much as its role as a locator of information on the Web.
“The images have been pirated, but not by Google,” Forrester Research analyst Charlene Li said. “Google has just found them out there on the Web. It’s much easier and more effective to go after the middle man in this situation than to try and take down all the various pirates of the images themselves.”