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Getty Images sues Microsoft over new Bing tool for embedding photos

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Thousands of people running small blogs and websites over the years have received threatening letters from Getty Images for using its professional photos without a license, but now the photo service is going after something a little bigger: Microsoft. Getty Images filed a lawsuit this week against Microsoft, claiming that its new Bing "Image Widget" tool constitutes "massive infringement" of copyrighted images. The company has asked a US District Court judge to shut down the widget and award unspecified damages, according to Reuters.

Bing "Image Widget" launched just a couple of weeks ago in beta form. It lets users embed an active slideshow or grid of image search results on their sites just as easily as adding an embedded YouTube video or tweet to a blog post. Image Widget doesn't show just a single image, but naturally one of Getty's roughly 80 million images is bound to show up in an image search.

Ironically, Getty itself offers a free tool for embedding photos from its collection on personal blogs and other non-commercial sites. The move was a sort of concession by the company that it's impossible to police every corner of the internet for copyright infringement. With the free embeds, Getty at least gets proper image credits for its photographers and it is considering selling ads against the embeds in the future.

In a statement provided to Reuters, Microsoft said that it would look into Getty's claims. "As a copyright owner ourselves we think the laws in this area are important ... We'll take a close look at Getty's concerns," said a spokesperson. In the meantime, Microsoft has disabled Bing "Image Widget" while it considers the matter: the tool is offline, and all help pages referring to the service have been removed. In a statement provided to the Financial Times, a representative says that "we have temporarily removed the Bing Image Widget beta so we can take time to talk with Getty Images and better understand its concerns."

Update, September 7th, 2014 1:34PM ET: Added a statement from Microsoft confirming that it shut down the tool while it investigates Getty Images' complaint.