A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that Google did not infringe on the copyrights of an adult publishing company by displaying thumbnail images of its nude photographs, handing Internet search companies a victory by allowing the display of such miniature pictures in search results.
Perfect 10, a publisher of sexually explicit magazines and Web sites, sued Google in 2004 for allegedly violating its copyrights, and the case quickly attracted wide attention not just for its adult subject matter but also for its possible impact on Internet copyright law. The issue of copyrighted material on the Web has assumed greater priority as videos, music and other proprietary material has flooded onto the Internet.
Three months ago, Google lost a copyright lawsuit brought by Belgian newspapers to remove their headlines and links from the Google News service. Google also decided to eliminate any mention of the newspapers from its search results but restored them this month with the publications’ consent.
In the closely watched Perfect 10 case, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco reversed the decision of a lower-court judge, who had blocked Google from showing the small images. The appeals court ruled that the thumbnails fell within a “fair use” exception in copyright law because they play a role in the search process and thus have a function different from that of the original photos.