Belgian papers kick themselves out of Google

Articles and pictures from Belgian French- and German-language newspapers will be treated as though they did not exist in Google’s news and general search engines, following the confirmation of a ruling by a Brussels court.

The Brussels Court of First Instance ruled on 13 February 2007 that Google’s practice of syndicating newspaper headlines along with short snippets of text to link to articles constituted an infringement of Belgian copyright law. 

The court largely confirmed a 15 September 2006 ruling (see EURACTIV, 19/09/06) ordering the search-engine giant to stop reproducing even small amounts of text from newspapers represented by the copiepresse association. This concerns all French- and German-language papers in Belgium. The most important change to the first ruling was the reduction of the daily fine that Google must pay in case of non-compliance from €1million to €25,000. 

Copiepresse Secretary-General Margaret Boribon described the ruling as “a victory for content producers”, adding: “We showed that Google cannot make profit for free from the credibility of our newspaper brands, hard work of our journalists and skill of our photographers.” 

Google annouced its intention to appeal against the ruling once more. Spokeswoman Jessica Powell said: “This is an isolated case, and it would be inaccurate to portray Google News as standing in conflict with the publishing industry.” 

Copyright experts, however, think that the Belgian ruling might have spin-off effects in other countries, particularly in France, the legal system of which is quite similar to Belgium’s. The Agence France Press news agency has filed a lawsuit along the same lines as copiepress’s in France and in the United States. Copiepresse itself has sent a warning to Google rivals Yahoo! and MSN Search. 

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