A coalition of photographers and picture agencies has made a formal complaint to Europe's competition watchdog about Google's use of third-party images.
CEPIC, the Center of the Picture Industry, submitted the formal antitrust complaint to the European Commission, alleging the search giant uses images without the rights holders' consent and is fueling online piracy.
"Since the redesign of Google Images in January 2013, the situation got worse," said CEPIC in a statement on Wednesday. Google now presents images in full size and high resolution on its website. This enables users to download images without having to visit the website hosting the image, according to the group. Also, Google does not inform users properly about copyright protection, the group said.
CEPIC says Google's exploitation of third-party images is an abuse of a dominant market position under European Union laws and that it is exploiting piracy for its own profit.
At the same time, the group said, Google will not allow technological measures that could allow image providers to control how their images appear online to prevent illegal downloading.
According to CEPIC members, 85 percent of pictures found online by visual search systems are unlawful copies and 80 percent of those illegal images have been spread through search engines such as Google Images.
Google is already under investigation by the Commission for prioritizing its services in search results as well as for alleged anticompetitive practices with regard to advertiser contracts.
The Internet giant made fresh proposals last month to resolve these issues and the Commission has asked for feedback from rivals on the efficacy of these measures. However, CEPIC says that none of the remedies addresses image providers' concerns.
Google spokesman Al Verney said in response to the formal complaint that "photographers and site owners have full control over their images. They can decide whether or not they want to be included in Image Search or Web Search."
The Commission will consider the complaint before making any decision about whether to launch a new investigation.