Belgian Newspapers Claim Retaliation By Google After Copyright Victory

Perhaps the lesson is: be careful what you sue for. The French and German-language Belgian newspaper consortium that successfully sued Google for copyright infringement got more than it bargained for this week.

The newspapers’ content has been removed not only from Google News (as desired) but the entire Google index. Now the newspapers are crying foul, saying that Google is “retaliating” against them for their legal victory.

On behalf of the newspapers an organization called Copiepresse sued Google in 2006 for copyright infringement. Copiepresse claimed that links to newspaper stories in Google News were hurting publisher traffic and ad revenues. Google lost the at the trial level and on appeal. Mountain View was ordered to pay daily fines of €25,000 for each infringement and day of non-compliance with the ruling.

Google is now required to get permission from publishers to index their content in Google News in Belgium. However Google has entirely removed the websites of the involved publishers from its index, asserting that the court order requires it.

The papers say they only wanted their content removed from Google News — not the Google search index entirely.

The Associated Press quotes a Google spokesperson who says, “the court decision applied to web search as well as Google News . . . We would be happy to re-include Copiepresse if they would indicate their desire to appear in Google Search and waive the potential penalties.”

It’s unclear whose interpretation is correct. But what is clear is that newspapers will suffer further traffic and revenue declines if their content and websites aren’t discoverable in Google search results.

Postscript: AllThingsD reports that Google has now re-indexed newspapers in the Copiepresse group. This is the right move and also a very self-interested one by Google. If it were to “punish” publishers that didn’t want to be included in Google verticals (e.g., News, Places, Shopping) antitrust investigators would use that as evidence against the company.

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Related Topics: Channel: Content | Google: Legal | Google: News | Google: Outside US | Legal: Copyright

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Ed Vim

    I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the Belgian newspapers in this matter. From my own viewpoint, in an admitted self-serving way, I don’t like it when I do a search for something, find a relevant link, and then end up hitting a pay-wall or a ‘…you must first register…’ landing site to read whatever was shown in the search result I clicked on. Google has been getting more and more bloated recently where searches are often populated with lots of junk and I appreciate the fact that they are addressing this issue. These newspapers just want to manipulate Google search results to bait readers to their sites but not allow us access without paying or fiddling with that annoying enter-an-email-address-then-do-the-confirmation process. They want a pervasive online presence with all take but no give.

  • kylies mother

    As long as Google was only a transparent search-engine to the web their dominant position was no big deal (except for competing ad-brokers).

    But it seems that Google now is on a power-trip and is using exclusion as a threat/whip to make websites comply with Googles whishes as to what business-model a website should use and (above all) to support other Google services.

    An example is Googles refusal to support paywall-based sites. This is not that it couldn’t be done nicely but that Google wants everyone to use an ad-based business-model that benefit the Google ad-broker business.

    This is now becoming a problem when Google is becomes even more of a destination than it already is (Google+). They should breakout the search engine to make it independent and transparent or the EU will force them to do it.

    Remember that the Google Android scorched-earth approach to forcing everyone else off the mobil-software/services market probably does not sit well with the EU.

  • http://www.tomhermans.com tomhermans

    Please note it’s not all Belgian newspapers, only french-speaking ones..

    I’m with Google on this one btw. Keep the web open for everyone.

  • TimmyTime

    “Please note it’s not all Belgian newspapers, only french-speaking ones..”

    Look it up: PRECEDENT

    “I’m with Google on this one btw. Keep the web open for everyone.”

    Hmmmmm…unless they make enough to pay their writers, there will be nothing to “keep open.”

  • http://www.e-zen.be Béate Vervaecke

    Next time, Copiepresse should read the verdict of the judge http://bit.ly/qKPibV see section V

  • ari b

    IANASEE (I Am Not A Search Engine Expert)
    What about the NOFOLLOW, NOARCHIVE, and NOINDEX meta tags?
    I would think using them would be an acceptable compromise for the newspapers (unless the newspapers’ web admins have no idea what they’re doing; also, it’s possible that indexing and archiving at Google News without asking for permission in the first place is enough to get Google in trouble. That sounds reasonable to me, unless Google considers the open nature of the web to be sort of an “unspoken agreement” that you’re allowing them to index and archive your material, for search purposes. I don’t know.)
    Also, I’m told that the Search Bot and News Bot are two different agents. So it would be possible for the papers to discriminate between them, even allow other search engines that have signed agreements with them to index and archive them (allowing in their User Agents), and keep Google News Bot out of their sites (but not Google Search Bot).
    Anyway, apparently the court order does say “ALL GOOGLE SITES”, so obviously Google is going to comply (the alternative being “interpreting” Copiepresse’s intentions about Google Search, and being open to being screwed on a technicality. Google whining that the newspapers didn’t want to be excluded from Search wouldn’t help them if the judge says “I SAID ALL GOOGLE WEBSITES” and slaps them with a million euros fine per day.)

  • ari b

    I just looked at the ruling (a bit). It mentions NOARCHIVE, but it says Google didn’t explain how it would prevent the Google News Bot from indexing the title and summary of the news article (maybe NOINDEX would do that). Also, it does consider that explicit prior permission is required to do anything with the articles (“apparent” implicit permission or license does not count; this is reasonable, or at least it’s what the law says today). An interesting point in the ruling is that if authors had to LEGALLY depend on technological measures (such as meta tags) to prevent exploitation of their work then they would have no legal recourse if they didn’t use these technological measures. I think this is fair. Authors and publishers DO use technological measures to prevent piracy, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal to distribute a work without permission if it doesn’t have some sort of DRM protection.

  • ari b

    From the ruling (link posted by commenter Béate Vervaecke):
    “- Orders GOOGLE to withdraw from all its sites (and more
    specifically from Google News and as far as the Google web
    search engine is concerned the visible cached links)…”
    Hmm. I’m not so sure about Google’s position anymore. Sure, it does say “all its sites”, but after that comes the clarification and it seems it treats web search as an exception, only asking for the removal of the “visible cached links”. Maybe the judge could’ve used clearer language, but it doesn’t seem like Google needed to react like it did (IANABLOAKOLFTM – I Am Not A Belgian Lawyer Or Any Kind Of Lawyer For That Matter. Perhaps the wording is somewhat vague for Google’s or the Belgian legal system’s standard. I don’t know.)

  • ari b

    Ah! I’m an idiot. The actual ruling of the appeal is the Enacting terms (Section V) as pointed out by the previous poster. I’m still not sure if Google is overreacting or not. Maybe they don’t know if the words “more specifically” narrow down the ruling to what comes after those words, or not:
    “Orders Google to remove from Google.be and
    Google.com sites, more specifically from the
    “cached” links on “Google Web” and from the
    “Google News” service…”
    I guess we’ll find out.
    One question to other posters (’cause I have no idea): if the judge thinks that the ruling didn’t include web search, that the language was clear, and that this is a retaliation, could Google be found in contempt of court? Or is it within Google’s right to not do business with people who gave them trouble?

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