Google loses appeal over internet links to Belgian newspapers

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May 9, 2011 3:53 PM EST

Google Inc. (GOOG) failed to overturn a ruling by a Belgian court that that blocked the world's number one search engine from publishing links to local newspapers on Google's online news service.

Copiepresse, which represents a number of newspapers in Belgium, sued Google in August 2006, accusing Google's search engine and news site of breaching these publications' copyright.  In September 2006, the Belgian court ruled in favor of Copiepresse, ordering Google to remove these publishers' content from both Google.be and Google News.

In February 2007, the Belgian court reaffirmed its original decision, concluding that "the activities of Google News (i.e. the reproduction and communication to the public of the titles of articles and the short extracts from articles) and the use of the Google "cache" (i.e. the registration accessible to the public of the so-called "cache" memory of articles and documents) breach copyright law.  It affirmed a fine against Google for any delay in implementing the judgment.  It reduced the fine though from EUR1,000,000 per day to EUR25,000 per day.

Following the ruling, Mountain View, California-based Google was forced to remove links and snippets of articles from French- and German-language Belgian newspapers from Google.com and Google.be.  Google has said it has complied with the decision since the August 2006 ruling.

The Court of Appeal in Brussels on May 5 this year affirmed the 2007 lower court ruling.

Google News, which uses headlines and text snippets from thousands of news sources worldwide, including newspapers, broadcasters and online publishers, is on its ninth year.  The online service was rolled out on Sept. 22, 2002, to all English-language readers, with a dedicated News tab on Google.com.

Copiepresse has a second suit pending in which its seeks as much as EUR49.1 million for the period in which their content was visible on Google News.

Google News does not earn advertising money and links readers through to newspapers' own Web sites.  Google has said it believes search engines are of real benefit to publishers because they drive valuable traffic to their Web sites.  Copiepresse, a commercial copyright watchdog for the Walloon region of Belgium, however, said bypassing site front pages of the publishers caused the newspaper sites to lose ad revenue.

Google has noted that if publishers do not want their websites to appear in search results, technical standards like robots.txt and metatags enable them automatically to prevent the indexation of their content.

"We believe Google News to be fully compliant with copyright law and we'll review the decision to decide our next course of action," Google said in a statement following the latest ruling.  

Copiepresse said in a statement that it is pleased with the ruling.  It said it hopes that Google "will have the intelligence to find a fair solution to end this situation."

Google is expected to appeal the latest ruling before Belgium's highest court as the case sets a precedent.  "This case will have serious consequences to the way information is searched and managed" on the Web, Erik Valgaeren, a lawyer for Google, told the Court of Appeal at a Feb. 23 hearing.

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