Google Appeal Fails: Belgian Newspaper Copyright Case Upheld
The five-year saga of Copiepresse v. Google continues. The case has been in litigation in Belgium since roughly 2006. The short version of the backstory is is that regional French- and German-language newspapers (represented by Copiepresse) sued Google for copyright infringement. Not all Belgian newspapers are involved in the suit.
Copiepresse claimed that links to newspaper stories in Google News were unauthorized and hurting their traffic and ad revenues. Google argued that its actions were legal under copyright law and that it was actually delivering traffic to the newspapers and thus benefiting them. The newspapers’ ability to utilize robots.txt to prevent the indexing of their content didn’t immunize Google from liability in the case.
Google lost the case at the “trial” level and was ordered to remove images and links to the newspapers’ stories from Google News and cached search results. There were also fines imposed, which amounted to €25,000 per day (or about $35,800 at today’s exchange rate).
Google appealed the decision; there was also widespread speculation at the time that there would be some sort of agreement between the papers and Google. But that agreement with the newspapers never came.
Google has now lost its appeal in Copiepresse. Apparently Google still has recourse to the Belgian equivalent of the US Supreme Court. It’s in Google’s interest to appeal to the high court and fight the decision because there may be EU-wide copyright implications. But doing so carries risks and could further elevate the profile of the decision if it goes the wrong way for Google.
Most companies want their content indexed by Google — that’s partly what the antitrust complaints in Europe are about: being insufficiently visible on Google. So it’s unlikely that Copiepresse will ultimately harm Google’s ability to operate in Europe.
However it could complicate Google’s dealings with certain types of copyright owners (e.g., magazine publishers) if the high court upheld the decision and it started to bleed beyond the boundaries of the Belgian newspaper industry.