Tech News

Google wins appeal over Perfect 10 pornographic images

By Stevie Smith May 17, 2007, 19:04 GMT

In an ongoing bout of unusual legal wrangling that sees Google Inc. actually fighting for its right to post pictures of a distinctly adult nature via its returned search results, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has this week thrown out a preliminary injunction placed against the search engine giant that had prevented it from showing thumbnail imagery related to sexually explicit Web sites.

This latest appeals ruling, which finds in favour of Google, and once again shines the spotlight of conjecture on the positioning of free speech and information flow when weighed against infringing on copyrighted content, follows on from a prior court decision that found Google’s thumbnails violated the copyright of Perfect 10 Inc., an online and Web-based publisher of adult material.

According to a related Reuters report, subscription-based Perfect 10’s initial complaint, which was first lodged with Google Inc. back in 2001, outlined that the search giant was linking to Web sites that republished photos of its models without prior permission. Perfect 10 duly launched its copyright infringement lawsuit against Google in 2004, before also filing a similar claim against online retailer and (Amazon-owned), accusing them both of also delivering users with link-through access to Google’s search results.

The prelim injunction was formed in 2006, with Google facing a potential barring of its thumbnail image results, but it was subsequently stayed allowing for due legal review. However, after lodging its appeal with the San Francisco-based Court of Appeals, Google has now managed to successfully overturn that initial injunction.

“We conclude that Perfect 10 is unlikely to be able to overcome Google's fair use defense and, accordingly, we vacate the preliminary injunction regarding Google's use of thumbnail images,” wrote judge Sandra Ikuta on behalf of an attending three-judge panel. “We conclude that the significantly transformative nature of Google's search engine, particularly in light of its public benefit, outweighs Google's superseding and commercial uses of the thumbnails in this case.”

This week’s results are not all ‘best case scenario’ for the search giant, however, with the panel of judges also suggesting that possible Perfect 10 copyright infringement claims could still land squarely in its lap in terms of Google knowingly providing thumbnail image links to Web sites using the publisher’s explicit imagery without authorisation.

“There is no dispute that Google substantially assists web sites to distribute their infringing copies to a worldwide market and assists a worldwide audience of users to access infringing materials,” outlined the court’s ruling before warning that “Google could be held contributorily liable if it had knowledge that infringing Perfect 10 images were available using its search engine, could take simple measures to prevent further damage to Perfect 10's copyrighted works, and failed to take such steps.”

It remains to be seen whether Perfect 10 duly acts to follow this particular legal route following the quashing of the court’s original ruling in the matter some six years after the opening complaint.

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