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US court rules on thumbnail images

Displaying a "thumbnail" version of a photograph on a web site is not an infringement of copyright, according to a decision by the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.07 Feb 2002

The court distinguished using a thumbnail from use of a full size image, which would constitute a copyright infringement.

A photographer sued Arriba Soft, the company behind a search engine now known as He claimed that the company infringed his copyright in reproducing his photographs in search results without obtaining his permission.

The court took the opposite view and considered that the use of the thumbnail images made the internet easier to use, and had no impact on the photographer’s ability to sell the original full size photographs.

Under UK law, such use would amount to an infringement of copyright.