For many years Google Inc. has found itself in the crosshairs of copyright advocates who claim the Mountain View based megacorporation plays fast and loose with copyrighted works. This time the giant search engine might have gone a step too far. In a suit filed in the California Northern District Court, advertising photographer Bela Wyn accused Google of direct copyright infringement for the use of his registered photograph “Nyeupe, Study #14” on the home page of Google.
“Clearly they have used my image as a background, and are making money from my intellectual property,” said Mr. Wyn from his studio near Monterey. “This isn’t just fair use; they have taken the whole photo and are callously reproducing it without even a photo credit on billions of pages every day”
Nyeupe, Study #14, ©2011 Bela Wyn
Wyn’s image certainly bears a string resemblance to the background of the Google home page. “The bold use of the color white in the photographer’s composition is a key creative element of his composition, ” says art critic Abjad Branco.
Photographers have been quick to come to Wyn’s defense. “This is just one more example of the blatant theft of our images by online providers, ” said one photographer who asked to remain anonymous, fearing hacking of his Gmail account.
Not all observers agree, however. Lawrence Lessig, noted copyright reform advocate argues that Google’s use of the image is clearly transformative, and is akin to an “image remix” giving whole new meaning to the appropriated work, and thereby building up our common cultural heritage.
As for Google, they are not likely to take this lying down. Apparently they are preparing a vigorous defense on the grounds that Wyn’s work is not sufficiently creative, and even it were, they are not using that much of it, and even if they are, they are not making much money from it, and even if they are making money, doesn’t the court know who they are?