Photographers Launch Class Action Lawsuit Against Google

Google Books, an ambitious project to make millions of physical books searchable online, found itself in yet another legal battle today after photographers followed in the footsteps of authors by launching their own class action lawsuit for copyright infringement.

In 2005, the Authors Guild of America sued Google for copyright infringement due to the fact that Google was scanning massive amounts of copyright material and storing them in its private database. Though Google entered into a settlement agreement in 2008, the judge presiding over the case would not allow other photographers’ groups to be involved in the case.

For this reason, American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) filed its own separate class action lawsuit against Google today, and is joined by a number of other organizations including the North American Nature Photography Association, the Picture Archive Council of America, and Professional Photographers of America.

Like the Authors Guild, the ASMP’s lawsuit deals with the fact that Google is scanning, indexing, and storing copyright work without permission of the copyright holders. The difference is that this new lawsuit focuses on photographs and visual works rather than written text. In a press release posted on its website, the ASMP states,

The suit […] relates to Google’s illegal scanning of millions of books and other publications containing copyrighted images and displaying them to the public without regard to the rights of the visual creators […]

We strongly believe that our members and those of other organizations, whose livelihoods are significantly and negatively impacted, deserve to have representation in this landmark issue […]

We are seeking justice and fair compensation for visual artists whose work appears in the twelve million books and other publications Google has illegally scanned to date. In doing so, we are giving voice to thousands of disenfranchised creators of visual artworks whose rights we hope to enforce through this class action.

Furthermore, the ASMP states that the lawsuit is not limited to Google’s Library Project, but includes “Google’s other systematic and pervasive infringements of the rights of photographers, illustrators and other visual artists.”

While this is a pretty vague statement, we reported last month that Google had begun including copyrighted photographs from websites such as Flickr in its Maps application.

What are your thoughts on Google’s projects and how they impact copyright holders? Have photographers’ lives been “significantly and negatively impacted” by Google’s activities?

Image credit: In Google We Trust by sonicbloom

  • David Cross

    i think anyone who has artistic (or any kind of) work used without permission deserves to be reimbursed. However, in saying that, those photographers who wish to be paid for their work to be used, need to make the images they post on the internet “unusable” by placing clear watermarks on them etc. otherwise, they really can't complain about their work being stolen. similar to people who leave their car door open and then complain when its stolen.
    If you're not going to protect your work, unfortunately, you need to expect others to take advantage

  • miklos

    this is dumb.

  • ScottBourne

    So should you walk into a bank wearing a bullet proof vest because it might be robbed? David I guess you feel like someone who gets shot in that situation deserves it because they didn't wear a vest? Folks with your attitude have enabled the thieves. Too bad. I am glad the suit got filed. I am offering to testify and as both a NAMPA and PPA member glad to see my dues going to stop the theft of my work. It's time that people wised up. It's not the photographer's fault that people are stealing his/her work. It's the thief's fault. Google needs to be stopped in its tracks here. While I believe that Google offers some good products and services, their actions regarding Copyrighted work have always been on the wrong side of good and evil.

  • Lissa Hope

    Even as someone who is a hobby photographer, it aggravates me when someone uses my images with no permission and no acknowledgement. I can only imagine how much more upsetting it is for those of you who make your living, making art. I agree with ScottBourne – blaming the photogs for not watermarking is enabling thievery. Give those who are going to take without permission and without acknowledgement an “out” : “Well, I noticed the (c) and the numerous 'do not use without permission' entries, BUT the image wasn't watermarked. I figured it was public domain.” Ridiculous. I'm glad the suit was brought.

  • Louisa Salazar

    I don't know much about the issue, but here are my two cents… Sure, it's the thief's fault.. but where does Google draw the line? Stop offering Google Books altogether? Censor out all photographs? Seems that most of their offerings are a few scanned pages, directing the user to purchase the book. How is this different from Amazon's book preview feature? And for the free (public domain) books they do offer, wouldn't the pages in the book appropriately acknowledge the photographer? Maybe I'm missing the issue..?

  • Eric

    A watermark is not the accepted practice in the industry. Copyright information is embedded in the photograph with metadata, and all scrupulous people know this (even if you don't). Their work is copyrighted. Period. They negotiated a terms based on one thing, and now google wants to steal their work for inclusion in another publication. This is clearly illegal. But we'll see how it goes. . .

  • Tanya Kime Wallace

    Being both a writer and photographer I have to say that it is outrageous Google would even consider doing this. If the work is copyrighted and Google did not even ask for permission then they deserve to be sued by every photographer and writer who did not consent to this because by all standards it is copyright infringement.If it was anyone else it would be illegal so what makes google so special that they can just take obtain someone elses work without consent,without due credit.If they gave credit to the photographer and there is a commons licence on it then Google is not really doing anything illegal but if there is no credit to the photographer and backlink as well as license they should be sued as stated above.

  • Des

    1 – Scott Bourne's only goal is to make money from his so called expertise in photography.

    2 – The Google books project is analogous to library collections. It's mostly an archive for out of print and out of copyright books. Copyrighted information is not displayed if the creator doesn't want it to be. If you look at a book in Google Books, you'll see that there will be images replaced by a blank “Copy Righted image” notification.

  • susansee

    While this may not be the comment the author is looking for, anyone notice the typo in the 2nd paragraph? At least I'm assuming it should read “…Google WAS scanning massive amounts of copyright material….” instead of how it currently reads, “..Google wasn’t scanning massive amounts of copyright material…”

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for catching that typo. We've fixed it =)

  • Ann-Marie Stillion

    I just experienced out and out theft on a web site I built for an artist. A big online blog used his image which was watermarked, embedded with metadata stating the terms of the license and the license was printed on every page of the web site in plain sigh. Also, the images are registered in the library of congress. The thieves didn't even bother to change the name of the file, the size of the file and dump the metadata–they just swiped it and put it on their publication.

    We are going after them but rest assured all protections were in place and someone still just used a bit of photoshop magic and eliminated the watermark.

    I always have to wrangle people out of swiping photos and also force them to use credit where it is due. Just had a little dustup with a local photo institution to remind them again that all photos need to be credited. It is really tiresome.

    Support the ASMP and whatever artist group you belong to as this issue is not going away.

  • people

    They smell big money in settlement and going after google ….
    As simple as this…