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Belgian Court Orders Google to Remove News Links

By Erika Morphy
Sep 19, 2006 8:46 AM PT

A Belgian court has ruled that Google violated the country's copyright laws when its news site linked to articles published by French-language newspapers. The decision, handed down by the equivalent of Belgium's federal court, Palais de Justice, came in response to a complaint filed by Copiepresse, a trade group that represents French and German-language newspapers.

Belgian Court Orders Google to Remove News Links

It is unclear why the complaint covered only French-language publications. As part of its ruling, the court has threatened Google with fines of 1 million euros (US$1.3 million) per day if it refuses to stop publishing the content.

Google has removed the relevant links, according to D-J Collins, a Google spokesperson based in London. "We are treating this as an official request by the publishers to be removed from our index," he told TechNewsWorld. "It is very easy for a publisher to be removed from the index that Google uses for its search results -- all it has to do is ask. We would have been delighted to do so in this case without the involvement 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 an opportunity to defend itself before the court, which can be in accordance with Belgian law.

Two Areas

Copiepresse's concerns appear to center on two areas: one, Google never asked for permission to index its articles; and two, the links go directly to the articles and not the newspaper's Web sites. Collins maintains that there has not been an infringement of copyright. "National and international legislation is clear in this regard. Publishing 'snippets' of newspaper articles is allowed," he said.

Some publishers over the years have taken issue with Google's links to their content. Google has dealt with complaints from Agency France Presse and AP either by coming to an agreement or by removing content.

Whether the Belgian court's ruling will prompt other European news agencies to take similar actions remains to be seen. A Copiepresse spokesperson told reporters the trade group is informing its counterparts throughout the Continent of the ruling and hopes to see them take similar action.

Domino Effect

This issue can be of real concern to publishers, and it is one that is not easily resolved, agrees Darren S. Enenstein, a partner at Moldo, Davidson, Fraioli, Seror & Sestanovich. "For them, it is a balancing act -- whether they want the revenues or the exposure," he told TechNewsWorld.

For the most part, publishers appear to gravitate toward exposure, given Google's huge audience.

"It will be interesting to see if this decision has a domino effect among other news agencies," remarked Enenstein.

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