Belgian newspapers out of Google

Google has taken down all links to Belgian newspapers from its news service, following a ruling by the Brussels Court of First Instance.

Copiepresse, the association handling copyright issues for the French- and German-language press in Belgium, had lodged a complaint with the Brussels Court of First Instance. The Court ruled, on 5 September 2006, that the search-engine giant must stop publishing snippets from articles, in order to avoid daily fines of €1 million. 

In its Google News service, the search engine publishes short parts of articles – typically around 150 characters – to give users an impression of how the article will read. A short news article has around 2,500 characters – the news search of Google’s biggest competitor, Yahoo!, works the same way.

Google argues that the use of short excerpts of text constitutes fair use under copyright law almost everywhere in the world. “Google News benefits publishers by making it easier for people to find their content – driving large numbers of users to their websites. It is important to remember that we never show more than the headlines and a few snippets of text. If people want to read the entire story they have to click through to the newspapers’ website.” 

But the Belgian Association of French-language Newspapers said its members were losing money because users coming from Google do not visit their publications’ home pages, where ads generating the highest income are placed. The association said that it does not want its members’ content to be completely removed from Google links, but that it requires remuneration from part of the advertising revenues that Google earns on its search pages. 

The Court also ordered Google, under penalty of a daily fine of €500,000 per day’s delay, to publish without commentary the Court’s judgment on the home pages of google.be and of news.google.be. Google did not comply with this part of the ruling, saying that it was not notified of the lawsuit and was not allowed to defend itself. The company has announced that it will appeal the 5 September decision. 

In 2004, Le Monde concluded  a non-commercial agreement with Google that gives editors a say on which articles are linked. The French paper commented: “The legal proceedings may be legitimate, but other solutions are possible. Rather than getting engaged in a long-running judicial war of trenches with Google, with uncertain costs and results, Associated Press just signed a memorandum of understanding with the company based in Mountain View, which includes remuneration for its news…Tame Google first by forcing it to take the interests of authors – whoever they may be – into consideration, but don’t break its verve, that’s the best solution for protecting the interests of everyone, starting with users of the internet.”

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