Injunction Could Shut Down Popular Service

Los Angeles - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a brief Wednesday in support of Google Image Search, arguing that a federal district court should reject a request for a preliminary injunction that could shut the service down.

In its lawsuit, adult entertainment website Perfect 10 claims that Google violates its copyrights by making and delivering thumbnail images of its photos as Internet search results. In its friend-of-the-court brief, EFF shows that these copies are a well-established fair use of digital images and they help people find and use the works for informational and educational endeavors.

"Google Image Search helps millions of people locate and learn about information on the web every day," said Jason Schultz, EFF staff attorney. "We're concerned that the public will lose out if Perfect 10 succeeds in shutting it down."

Perfect 10 argues that a preliminary injunction is justified because Google is violating its right to reproduce, distribute, and display its copyrighted work. But there is a long tradition in fair use that certain kinds of copies are socially useful, even without permission of the author. Courts have held that copies are a legal intermediate step to making non-infringing uses of the copyrighted work—for example in teaching, education, and news reporting.

Thumbnails created by Google Image Search allow users to identify information they are looking for online and then access that information—much like an electronic card catalog. As certain information about images can only be conveyed visually, there is no other feasible way to provide image search on the Internet than capturing images, transforming them into thumbnails, and then displaying them on a search results page for users.

While the images provided by Perfect 10 may have limited academic application, the ramifications of its lawsuit could have a huge impact on educational research.

"Without the right to make legal copies, Google Image Search wouldn't be able to help you find a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lincoln Memorial, for example," said Schultz.

A hearing in this case is set for November 7, 2005.

For the full text of the brief, see:


Jason Schultz
Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues