By Robert Henson, courtesy of Tall Firs Media, LLC

Microsoft, the world’s largest software maker and itself a massive consumer of image content for its products and services, has taken the bold step of promoting the theft of images online. Through its newly revamped Office product, Microsoft is replacing an image search functionality – one that routed the user to vetted sources for searching, transacting and integrating content into their online projects – with a general Bing search. While Microsoft is certainly free to remove one piece of Office functionality and push users onto the Bing platform, the methods of how it is doing so underscores a blatant disregard of intellectual property.

On Microsoft’s Office web page Images, it guides an Office user on the acquisition of images for use. Under “Use Bing to get images”, it outlines a three step process:

  1. Open (and search for an image)
  2. Hover over your selected item…and Right click
  3. Click Save picture as…in the menu. Save image.

The message is clear: use Bing to download images for whatever intended use you might have. Microsoft does not attempt to educate the user on copyright, use rights or even how unauthorized use of images pulled from the web might expose the user to risks. It would seem that driving Bing traffic at the expense of content owners and generating volumes of orphaned works is far more important to Microsoft than architecting a solution where both parties might benefit from online search and use.

The unauthorized use of images has increased year over year, where it is now assumed that well over 85% of all images used online are done so illegally. Sites like Pinterest routinely expunge image metadata when users pin images, and despite attempts by Getty to monetize their collection by coupling Getty orphaned works with their rightful information, it’s a drop in the bucket considering the hundreds of millions – or billions – of images Pinterest hosts. Google is still the leader in generating orphaned works, and they’ve recently made greater strides in obfuscating information on the rightful owner of an image, while giving easier direct access of any online image from their search to users.

Microsoft, desperate to try and play catch up in the online search market, is brazenly throwing the content industry under the bus in the name of Bing. How it is educating the market on image use and consumption might very well be categorized as reckless, but more so ironic given that Microsoft is a corporation that vehemently defends its own intellectual property with extreme prejudice.

It’s not the lack of viable alternatives that accelerates unauthorized use, but lack of market education and general disinterest on behalf of search engines and social media platforms. What market education there is comes through the wellspring of Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and other entities that advocate for free and unfettered access to content, and are intent on rewriting the rules around content ownership and accessibility. Microsoft has joined in the chorus, with a clear full-throated voice.


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