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This week in Google

A federal judge rules that portions of Google's popular image search feature likely violate U.S. copyright law.

A federal judge ruled that portions of Google's popular image search feature, which displays small thumbnail versions of images found on other Web sites, likely violate U.S. copyright law.

The judge ruled that Perfect 10, an adult-oriented Web site featuring "beautiful natural women" in the nude, has shown that Google image search probably infringes copyright law "by creating and displaying thumbnail copies of its photographs."

Google said it plans to appeal the injunction, and predicted it will have no effect on the "vast majority" of its image searches. Perfect 10 sued Google for copyright infringement in November 2004, and then in August 2005, asked for an injunction to halt Google from allegedly copying, displaying and distributing more than 3,000 Perfect 10 photos.

However, the search giant may have more luck with its court fight with the feds. Some believe the U.S. Department of Justice's attempt to compel Google to divulge millions of search records could backfire on police and prosecutors.

If Google convinces California courts that a federal privacy law protects Internet users' search terms from a subpoena, it would become more difficult for law enforcement to seek such records in future criminal investigations, legal experts are saying.

That's "absolutely" a concern, said Paul Ohm, a former Justice Department prosecutor who now teaches at the University of Colorado at Boulder. "There's a lot of precedent for that kind of thing."

Google is also looking for a favorable ruling from the city of San Francisco. The search giant is teaming with EarthLink on a bid to offer free wireless Internet access throughout the city. Under the plan, Google would manage the free Wi-Fi service, which will run at 300 kilobits per second, while EarthLink would offer a 1-megabit-per-second service with customer support for $20 a month or less.

The Google-EarthLink bid was among six presented to the city. The other proposals were submitted by Communication Bridge Global, MetroFi, NextWLAN, Razortooth Communications (dba RedTAP) and SF Metro Connect (a joint venture of community-computing nonprofit SeaKay and Cisco Systems and IBM).