Another Gates Company Eyed By Feds

000904_Attkisson_Gates CBS

Monopoly. Not long ago, if you said that word, most Americans would think of the popular board game, and picture that cartoon tycoon in a top hat.

These days, thanks to the federal courts, they're more likely to think of Microsoft and its un-cartoonish chairman, Bill Gates.

Now, as CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports, government trustbusters are focused on another Gates company.

Everyone knows "image" sells. And images that sell the most — from Will Smith to Mel Gibson — are for sale for the asking from so-called stock photo companies. And who buys them?

Magazines and TV networks; authors and advertisers. It's a $5 billion a year industry.

But the business has taken what some consider to be a nasty and competitive turn in recent years, with dozens of companies being gobbled up by two conglomerates, which have a stranglehold on the market.

CBS News has learned Justice Department officials are asking serious questions about how it's affecting competition.

Ironically, that brings them face-to-face with a very familiar name—none other than Bill Gates. A Gates company called "Corbis" bought one of the photo conglomerates last year, when he was already entrenched in the antitrust battle over Microsoft.

Having an alleged monopolist enter the picture set off a near-panic.

"Anybody who believes that a photographer has a fair right to negotiate with Corbis or a Gates-owned company is insane. Nobody with any I.Q. really believes that," says attorney Ed Greenberg.

Greenberg represents photographer Michael Grecco in a longstanding dispute over a stock photo firm selling his pictures without his permission: A practice that continued, he says, even after Gates bought the company.

And how does Grecco feel? "You know, sort of caught between a rock and a hard place, where in my personal case I'm litigating against Bill Gates and Corbis."

Corbis insists there's nothing to fear from Bill Gates.

"He in no way runs the day-to-day operations," says Corbis president Steve Davis of his boss, Gates. "In fact most photographers we work with around the world are very excited about the opportunities we're giving them, and the digital world is giving them."

Chances are, the Justice Department will still be watching closely. If Gates' tenacity in the Microsoft case is any indication, he's not likely to back down from this fight, no matter how the picture develops.

  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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