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Originally published Thursday, September 4, 2014 at 6:24 PM

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Seattle Times technology reporter


Getty Images filed a lawsuit Thursday, claiming that Microsoft’s recently launched Bing Image Widget infringes on, and facilitates a “massive infringement” of, copyright.

Bing Image Widget, which Microsoft launched about Aug. 22, allows website owners to embed a panel on their sites that displays images brought up using the Bing search engine.

“Bing Image Widget enhances your website with the power of Bing Image Search and provides your users with beautiful, configurable image collages and slideshows,” Microsoft says on the product’s page.

The problem, according to Getty’s lawsuit, is that the images that come up are typically copyrighted, including images whose copyrights are owned or controlled by Getty.

“Rather than draw from a licensed collection of images, Defendant gathers these images by crawling as much of the Internet as it can, copying and indexing every image it finds, without regard to the copyright status of the images and without permission from copyright owners like Plaintiff,” Getty Images said in the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York.

Microsoft issued a statement Thursday, saying, “As a copyright owner ourselves we think the laws in this area are important. We’ll take a close look at Getty’s concerns.”

Getty says in its complaint that the supply of images for Bing Image Widget numbers in the “billions — essentially, the entire universe of images” Microsoft’s search engine can find on the Internet, including Getty’s “highly valuable copyrighted works.”

Microsoft, the suit continues, has essentially “turned the entirety of the world’s online images into little more than a vast, unlicensed ‘clip art’ collection for the benefit of those website publishers who implement the Bing Image Widget.”

Getty made it clear the lawsuit was not targeting Bing’s image-search function. Rather, it said in the complaint, Microsoft markets the widget as a “website enhancement tool” — one designed to make websites using it to be more visually attractive and, therefore, of greater “economic value.”

Getty contends Microsoft also derives economic value from the fact that clicking an image in the widget display panels takes the user to Microsoft’s Bing image-search website. Microsoft could then benefit by being able to collect more information about users or by being able to charge advertisers more because of increased traffic or increased time that users spend on its site.

“This, more than being a search engine, is really a website tool,” John Lapham, Getty’s general counsel, said in an interview Thursday. “Website owners, unbeknownst to them, are putting up great-looking websites with stolen copyright. ... [The images that come up using the widget] belong to somebody else. And all of it is done without any permission from the photographers or copyright owners.”

Lapham said his company in March launched a photo embedding tool of its own. It enables noncommercial websites and social-media users to freely use any of about 50 million of Getty’s copyrighted images.

“The difference is that we have all the contractual rights and relationships in order to represent the content we’re distributing,” Lapham said. “The difference for Microsoft is they don’t have any of those rights.”

Getty is seeking both a preliminary and permanent injunction against the use and offering of the Bing Image Widget until Microsoft can satisfy the court that it’s not infringing on Getty’s copyrights.

Getty also seeks unspecified monetary damages “as may be proven at trial” for any violations by Microsoft of Getty Images’ copyrights.

Getty Images, which used to be headquartered in Seattle, still has about 500 employees here. It is now based in New York.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or On Twitter @janettu.

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