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Microsoft Blinks in Dispute with Getty, Takes Down Image Portal

Last week in federal court, the stock-photo licensing company Getty Images filed a massive copyright infringement suit against Microsoft that could potentially shed light on the issues being litigated in our historic copyright case, Authors Guild v. Google. But unlike Google, which has never so much as interrupted the practices we dispute, Microsoft responded by at least temporarily removing the software at the heart of Getty’s complaint.

On Thursday, Getty accused Microsoft of infringement and asked the court to compel the tech company to stop offering its Bing Image Widget, which allows web publishers to display and arrange unlicensed images from Bing Image Search on their websites. Microsoft responded on Friday afternoon by removing the beta version of the offending image portal.

Getty’s entire business consists of the licensing of stock photos, both offline and on. If Microsoft is allowed to freely provide copyrighted images to web publishers, Getty contends, its Internet revenue streams will dry up, and the injury will be “incalculable.” “In effect,” Getty’s court filing states, Microsoft “has turned the entirety of the world’s online images into little more than a vast, unlicensed ‘clip art’ collection . . . all without seeking permission from the owners of copyrights in those images.”

The facts are highly reminiscent of Authors Guild v. Google: Rightsholders sue digital Goliath for unauthorized use of their work. But though the Getty case is still in its infancy, one difference is striking: Whereas Google has never ceased to use authors’ copyrighted material without compensation in a variety of ways, Microsoft has taken the beta version of its image widget offline. A Microsoft spokesperson told reporters last week that the corporation has “temporarily removed the Bing Image Widget beta so we can take time to talk with Getty Images and better understand its concerns.” At the very least, it’s an indication that Microsoft is taking the lawsuit seriously.

If Microsoft decides to mount a legal defense, it may argue fair use, as Google has in our case. As the case progresses, we’ll bring you more details—especially those that help illustrate what’s at stake in Authors Guild v. Google.