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Google re-adds Belgian newspapers after public spat

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In one of the odder stories of the weekend, a misunderstanding between a Belgian newspaper and Google has, once again, turned into a public spat. The AP reports that “La Capitale” claimed on its Website on Friday that Google had begun “boycotting” it and other members of Copiepresse in what it claimed was retaliation over a copyright infringement lawsuit. In 2006, the newspapers sued Google for including their search results in its Google News search and in May of this year, an appeals court upheld their victory, forcing Google to remove their pages from its results. Google did so quite completely, removing them from search as well, since the newspapers had been removed from Google News for several years now.

We spoke with a Google U.K. spokesperson, who told us that the court decision was somewhat vague and could be interpreted to include Web search as well as Google News, which means Google could be fined 25,000 euros (or $35,359) per infringement if it posted the newspaper’s results. Copepresse was already informed that it would be re-added to news if it signed a waiver indicating that it would not sue and Google had the right to index its results and that it modified some metatag data on its site to indicate to Google that each page is okay to index.

“We regret having to do so,” said another Googler, speaking with the AP. “We would be happy to re-include Copiepresse if they would indicate their desire to appear in Google Search and waive the potential penalties.”

Content from La Capitale is still not accessible on Google. However, the Google U.K. representative confirmed with us that they will be reinstating the content: “We are delighted that Copiepresse has given us assurances that we can re-include their sites in our Google search index without court-ordered penalties. We will do this as quickly as possible. We never wanted to take their sites out of our index, but we needed to respect a court order until Copiepresse acted. We remain open to working in collaboration with Copiepresse members in the future.”

We may be with Google on this one. From the search company’s point of view, it’s probably better to be cautious than risk another lawsuit or fines of $35,000 per search result. As a tech news company, we also find it rather odd for a news site to want to be in Google Search, but not Google News, which is simply a more targeted Search directed at current events. Still, to each his own. It’s good to see the newspapers will be searchable again, at least outside of Google News.

Update 7/18/2011: We’ve updated the article after Google got back with us and clarified its side of the story.