Google Loses Copyright Case in Belgium

Ordered to Pay Fine for Publishing Newspaper Content Without Permission

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Google has lost a copyright lawsuit in Belgium brought on by a group of newspapers. The case was decided in favor of copyright protection group Copiepresse, composed of 17 mostly French-language newspapers.
While the ruling occurred overseas, copyright laws are fairly similar throughout the world, said Doug Wood, partner at Manhattan law firm Reed Smith. He said the big question is whether the linking Google was doing can be considered fair use.
While the ruling occurred overseas, copyright laws are fairly similar throughout the world, said Doug Wood, partner at Manhattan law firm Reed Smith. He said the big question is whether the linking Google was doing can be considered fair use.

The newspapers complained that Google breached copyrights by publishing headlines and links to news stories without permission. They also claimed Google's cached links allowed searchers to find and read past articles that were no longer available for free online. Google has been ordered to pay a retroactive fine for the days it used the content; the company said it will appeal the decision.

Fair-use linking?
While the ruling occurred overseas, copyright laws are fairly similar throughout the world, said Doug Wood, partner at Manhattan law firm Reed Smith. He said the big question is whether the linking Google was doing can be considered fair use.

"There are a number of principles to consider," Mr. Wood said, "including how much of the work you took, the nature of the work. But most importantly, [the question is] what is the economic impact on the copyrighted work, the original work from which you took it." Google's linking deep into articles and including summaries, pictures and headlines may mean fewer eyeballs for the newspapers' sites. Those lower readership numbers would reduce the impressions the publishers can sell against, Mr. Wood said.

Those types of copyright concerns don't appear to be as big of a deal in the U.S., said Mr. Wood. John Battelle, the founder and chairman of Federated Media Publishing, wrote on his blog that the Google ruling could "tip the scales" toward potential plaintiffs domestically. He also said the court decision highlights the need to renegotiate "the relationship between traditional media companies, their distribution networks, and the role of search in the new media landscape."

Tough to keep pace
Indeed, this ruling is just another example of how difficult it is for the law to keep pace with technology.

"This is an example of a law that was enacted before the internet, when it cost lots of money to print things and it was easier to control," said Mr. Wood. "It doesn't fit so well in a world when copying and aggregating is so easy and economical."
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