Bad news for Google in Belgium
It defies court ruling in copyright case
LONDON: A copyright dispute between Google and a group of publishers in Belgium escalated Friday as the Internet search engine defied a court order to publish an earlier decision in the case on its Belgian Web sites.
A judge rejected Google's argument that the original decision had been so widely reported that posting it on google.be and the associated Google News site was unnecessary and "disproportionate." The earlier decision required Google to stop displaying extracts of French- and German-language articles from Belgian newspapers.
Google faces a fine of €500,000, or$640,000, for every day it fails to comply with the order to publish the decision; it said it planned to fight the order issued Friday as part of a broader argument, set for November, in which it will seek to overturn the initial ruling.
"We will now further appeal this measure, because we believe it is disproportionate and unnecessary, given the extensive publicity the case has received already, especially while its substance has yet to be debated in court," Google said in a statement.
The case has attracted widespread interest among news organizations across Europe and beyond because of the potential implications for publishers struggling to make money on the Internet. While many online publishers rely on Google and other search engines to drive traffic to their sites, they complain that they end up seeing little revenue as a result.
While some publishers say the decision in Belgium could set an important precedent across the European Union, lawyers say the implications remain unclear. Matthew Harris, a partner at the law firm Norton Rose in London, said copyright law was less harmonized across the 25-nation bloc than are other aspects of intellectual property law.
While Google faces another legal challenge from a newsgathering organization, filed in France and the United States by Agence France-Presse, some publishers say they would like to reach an agreement with the search engine that benefits both sides.
Copiepresse, the organization that brought the claim in Belgium, said it would drop its case if Google agreed to adopt a technical solution being developed by several publishers' groups, said Margaret Boribon, general secretary of Copiepresse.
The software-based system would allow publishers to manage digital copyrights by attaching conditions of publication to articles or other materials online. The system, set to be introduced next month at the Frankfurt Book Fair, would inform the "Web crawlers" used by search engines of those conditions.
In the meantime, Boribon argued that the lawsuit had been necessary. "The problem is that when you first contact them, they just ignore you," she said of Google. "Suddenly, when there are millions at stake, they answer."
The Belgian court, Boribon said, on Friday rejected Google's argument that it had had insufficient time to prepare for an August hearing at which the initial decision in the case was issued.
While Google, in response to that ruling, has stopped indexing the Belgian newspapers' content on Google News and has removed it from google.be, Boribon argued that the company had not fully complied with the order by keeping links active from other Google sites, which are also accessible from Belgium.
D.J. Collins, a Google spokesman, noted that publishers could already request that their content be removed from Google News or searches. Many publishers' efforts are aimed in the other direction - at pushing their content higher in Google searches.
Still, Collins said the company would "look carefully" at the proposal cited by Boribon. "We welcome any initiative that enables search engines and publishers to work together more closely."
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