No ‘Fair Use’ for Thumbnails, U.S. Judge Rules

Rhett Pardon
LOS ANGELES — A federal court ruling Tuesday could broaden rules for the use of copyrighted thumbnails on the web.

In a case brought on by adult company Perfect 10, a U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles said that Google’s display of thumbnail images from its site likely amounts to copyright infringement.

U.S. Judge A. Howard Matz said he plans to issue a preliminary injunction against Google image search service on March 8. Matz gave the two companies until then to work out terms of the order.

If upheld, the judge's ruling could affect other Internet companies — mainstream and adult — whose image searches display thumbnails of copyrighted pictures.

The decision narrowed in on Google’s practice of creating and storing thumbnails of Perfect 10’s. Matz granted in part and denied in part a motion for preliminary injunction against Google.

Owner Norman Zada of Beverly Hills, Calif., claims his company has spent $36 million over the past nine years building its Perfect 10 brand, including $12 million spent capturing 800 models in photos.

Zada has sued both Google and, which happens to license the technology in question from Google.

Matz rejected Google’s argument that display of the images for the purpose of search falls under the fair-use doctrine, which allows the use of a small portion of a copyright work, provided the use is properly attributed and doesn’t diminish the value of the work.

“Google’s creation and public display of thumbnails likely do directly infringe Perfect 10’s copyrights,” Matz said.

But Matz rejected Perfect 10’s claim that Google’s practice linking to full-size images is another form of infringement. The federal judge, in the opinion, noted that Google sends searchers to the original sites to load the photos.

The case is Perfect 10 vs. Google Inc., No. CV 04-9484