Belgian newspapers win copyright court case against Google
BRUSSELS – A Belgian court dealt a blow to Google by ruling against the US Internet giant in a copyright case lodged by French-language Belgian newspapers and closely watched by other media.
Upholding an earlier ruling, a Brussels court found after a year-long legal battle that the California-based company had “violated copyright” rules and ordered it to remove the papers’ content from its sites.
The court ruled that “by reproducing on its Google News site articles and short extracts from articles, Google reproduces and communicates to the public works protected by copyright.”
Google said in Paris that it would appeal against the decision.
“Google regrets today’s decision and will appeal,” said Google News legal counsel for Europe Yoram Elkaim in Paris.
“We continue to believe that the Google News service conforms with copyright law and benefits publishers as much as Internet users,” he said.
The president of the Copiepresse grouping of Belgium’s French-language newspapers, Margaret Boribon, said the group did not intend to keep up the legal battle “for the fun of it” and preferred to “negotiate” a settlement.
A year ago Copiepresse lodged a Belgian lawsuit against Google News to require the Internet group to request permission from Copiepresse and to pay it to show its articles on the Google News site.
On September 5, a Belgian court ordered Google News to stop reproducing content from French-language and German-language newspapers in Belgium on its Belgian website and imposed fines as long as it did not respect the decision.
In that ruling, the court told the company to pay Copiepresse a million euros (1.3 million euros) per each day that the forbidden articles, pictures and graphics appeared on its site.
In Tuesday’s decision, the judge backed Google’s claim that the fines were “disproportionate” and reduced them to a more “reasonable” 25,000 euros per day.
Copiepresse lawyer Bernard Magrez said that meant Google would no longer have to pay a total of 130 million euros but three million euros.
In a hearing in November, Google’s lawyers argued that the papers were seeking to profit from its immense financial success in recent years
Google’s main defence was that it is a search engine that helps users find information on other websites and not a so-called portal that hosts its own information.
The case in Belgium is being closely watched by other news providers, including Agence France-Presse, which has been in dispute with Google in France as well as in the United States.
A spokesman for the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers welcomed the court’s ruling and said that Google and other Internet companies would now have to be more careful about treading on papers’ copyrights.
“It shows that content providers and publishers have to be part of the discussion with search engines, otherwise it’s going to end up in court,” said WAN spokesman Larry Kilman. AFP chief executive Pierre Louette also welcomed the decision.
“It’s important that a court recognizes that permission must be given before using content,” he said in Paris.
After opening news websites for about thirty countries in four years, Google launched a Belgian version in January 2006, much to the concern of the country’s French-speaking newspapers.
The newspapers had also asked Microsoft to stop the unauthorised publishing of articles on its “www.msn.be” site, which the company later did. They are also seeking redress from Yahoo.