If a picture is worth a thousand words, then billions of pictures are worth at least one lawsuit.
Less than four days after it was sued by Getty Images Inc. over a photo-embedding widget, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) has yanked the tool from its website.
The “Bing Image Widget” allowed Web publishers to embed galleries and slideshows of images curated from Microsoft’s Bing search engine. It had been in beta testing for less than two weeks when Getty Images, one of the world’s largest stock-photo companies, responded with a federal lawsuit claiming the tool facilitated “massive infringement.”
In a legal complaint filed last week in New York, the notoriously litigious company claimed the widget crawled the Internet for billions of images without regard to licensing or copyrights. The suit further alleged that Microsoft made copies and indexes of every image without permission.
“Defendant has 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,” the lawsuit said, “all without seeking permission from the owners of the copyrights in those images.”
As of Monday morning, the image widget was gone from the Bing website, replaced with the message “We have temporarily removed the beta.”
It’s unclear if the tool will be re-launched. In a statement to International Business Times, a Microsoft spokesperson said, “We have temporarily removed the Bing Image Widget beta so we can take time to talk with Getty Images and better understand its concerns.”
In March, Getty Images launched its own embed tool, making its vast stock-image library available for free embedding for the first time in its history. With that tool, Getty has the opportunity to collect user data -- the prevailing currency of the free Web -- and perhaps monetize those who use it. In the case of the Bing widget, Microsoft would presumably benefit from the data.
It’s possible that the two companies -- both based in the Seattle area -- could work out some kind of deal by which they can both benefit. Embed tools are a common function of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
Getty has never been shy about using the court system to solve a disagreement. Earlier this year, it went on a litigation spree with a series of boilerplate copyright lawsuits aimed at online publishers it said was using its images without permission. In an ironic twist last month, Getty Images itself was sued over its aggressive copyright-enforcement efforts by an intellectual-property law firm, which accused Getty of “unfair and deceptive business practices.”
In its suit against Microsoft, Getty is seeking statutory damages in the “maximum amount provided by law.”
The full legal complaint is embedded (naturally) below.