A Belgian court has ruled that Google violatedthe country’s copyright laws when its news site linked toarticles published by French-language newspapers. Thedecision, handed down by the equivalent of Belgium’s federalcourt, Palais de Justice, came in response to acomplaint filed by Copiepresse, a trade group thatrepresents French and German-language newspapers.
It is unclear why the complaint covered onlyFrench-language publications. As part of its ruling,the court has threatened Google with fines of1 million euros (US$1.3 million) per day if it refuses to stop publishing thecontent.
Google has removed the relevant links, according toD-J Collins, a Google spokesperson based in London.”We are treating this as an official request by thepublishers to be removed from our index,” he toldTechNewsWorld. “It is very easy for a publisher to beremoved from the index that Google uses for its searchresults — all it has to do is ask. We would have beendelighted to do so in this case without theinvolvement of the legal system in Brussels.
Google is in the process of filing an appeal.Google was not notified of the lawsuit or provided with anopportunity to defend itself before the court, whichcan be in accordance with Belgian law.
Copiepresse’s concerns appear to center on twoareas: one, Google never asked for permission to indexits articles; and two, the links go directly to thearticles and not the newspaper’s Web sites.Collins maintains that there has not been aninfringement of copyright. “National and internationallegislation is clear in this regard. Publishing’snippets’ of newspaper articles is allowed,” he said.
Some publishers over the years have taken issue withGoogle’s links to their content. Google has dealt withcomplaints from Agency France Presse and AP either bycoming to an agreement or by removing content.
Whetherthe Belgian court’s ruling will prompt other European news agenciesto take similar actions remains to be seen. A Copiepressespokesperson told reporters the trade group is informing its counterparts throughout the Continent of the ruling and hopes to see them takesimilar action.
This issuecan be of real concern to publishers, and it is one that is not easilyresolved, agrees Darren S. Enenstein, a partner at Moldo, Davidson,Fraioli, Seror & Sestanovich. “For them, it is a balancing act — whetherthey want the revenues or the exposure,” he toldTechNewsWorld.
For the most part, publishers appear togravitate toward exposure, given Google’s hugeaudience.
“It will be interesting to see if thisdecision has a domino effect among other newsagencies,” remarked Enenstein.