Google News Loses In Belgian Court

One of Google’s most visible services, Google News, has been dealt a blow by European courts, as a Belgian court ruled (PDF) that Google may not reproduce extracts from a series of Belgian newspapers on its Google News service.

The case was brought by Copiepresse, which manages copyright and distribution for a number of Belgium’s French- and German-language newspapers; previously, Copiepresse has also demanded Yahoo stop displaying stories from its constituent papers. Copiepresse has been waging its case against Google for a while; an initial ruling against Google came in September 2006; today’s rulin upholds that injunction, although it scales back the €1 million/day penalty Google would face if it redistributed material from Copiepresse’s publications. Now, Google would be liable for a mere €25,000 a day.

Google says it intends to appeal the decision. Google faced a similar case in 2005 brought by Agence France Fresse.

The dispute with Copiepresse highlights a fundamental difference between assumptions of content distributions on the Internet, and assumptions about content distribution in print. Google assumes that if a Web page is publicly accessible, it ought to be indexes as a benefit to the greater Internet community (although Google does honor various opt-out mechanisms). Copiepresse—and many other publishers—assume that if one wants to republish or excerpt copyrighted material, one must first obtain permission.

Copiepress would like to see its papers’ material indexed by Google, but it believes Google needs to negotiate an arrangement with Copiepresse for that privilege. Copiepresse also complained that Google made its material available for free after the same content was no longer freely available via the newspapers’ Web sites.

Google maintains that negotiating content agreements with the world’s myriad publishers would make a service like Google News an impossible task; many publishers, for their part, argue that Google’s service amounts to little more than illegal copying their material and earning advertising revenue from its use.

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