Google, Iowa firm clash over blog photo

DES MOINES — A photo posted to a blog that mocks corporate headshots has pitted a Des Moines company against Google in a copyright lawsuit.

ARAG North America, which provides legal insurance, sued the Internet giant last month in a case legal experts say exhibits an increasingly common clash over bloggers who post images online without permission.

The lawsuit concerns a head-and-shoulders photo of Ann Dieleman, a senior vice president and chief marketing officer with ARAG. The photo was published in 2009 on, a forum where users post photos of executives with satirical comments.

Google owns Blogger, the company that hosts the website.

While no new photos have been posted to the site since 2011, the photo of Dieleman remained as of Tuesday.

The page with her photo was the top result when searching Google for her name.

Dieleman, a Drake University graduate who works from ARAG’s Kansas City office, said in a statement that the website invited unfavorable comments by posting the photo.

“We’ve followed the appropriate procedures to remove the content. However, after continued back and forth it was time to assert my legal rights,” she said.

“Given I’ve spent the majority of my career educating and empowering people to protect their rights, I didn’t feel it would be right to ignore protection of my own when this situation arose,” Dieleman said.

Brett Trout, an attorney for ARAG and Dieleman, filed the lawsuit Dec. 31 in federal court in Des Moines.

The legal battle started in September 2012, when Trout sent Google a letter accusing the company of copyright infringement. Google declined to remove the photo without proof that ARAG held the copyright.

Trout responded by saying ARAG owned the copyright of the photo and requesting Google to remove it.

In an email, Google again declined.

“As always, we encourage you to resolve any disputes directly with the blogger in question,” the email said.

The case illustrates the growing pushback against bloggers who post copyrighted material, said Shontavia Johnson, an associate professor who teaches about intellectual property at the Drake University Law School.

Companies like Google and Facebook receive thousands of requests each day to remove content.

Last month, Google received nearly 25 million take-down requests for copyright violations, according to the company’s self-published transparency report.

Many bloggers don’t realize what they post online may infringe on copyrights, Johnson said. There are many exceptions to the law, but in general you cannot post someone else’s photo online without their permission, even if you attribute it.

“Bloggers think they can take a picture on the Internet and give credit to whoever and that will save them from liability, but that is really not true,” she said.

Jeff Hermes, director of Harvard University’s Digital Media Law Project, said the lawsuit shows Google is willing to look at copyright infringement accusations on a case-by-case basis.

“Google is apparently not rubber-stamping all of these as they come through,” he said.

A request for comment from Google’s media office was not returned.

Hermes said the company has little financial incentive to fight for one photo on one blog. But the company, he said, might see a competitive advantage in protecting their users’ right to post images online.

“What is interesting is Google is putting up resistance to being used as a lever in this case,” Hermes said.

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