Belgian Court Blocks Google News

Google is facing another setback against its News service after a court in Belgium ruled the search giant is violating copyright law by indexing and linking to stories in Belgian newspapers. The decision is the latest in a series of challenges against the site.

The Belgian Association of Newspaper Editors filed the complaint against Google, claiming that newspapers are losing money because the company is linking directly to stories rather than a publication's homepage. Google does not reproduce content itself, but does make it searchable.

The association hopes to convince Google to pay fees for access to Belgian content, an idea that has so far largely failed to catch on. Google did agree to pay the Associated Press licenses fees for its stories and photographs, but that deal is expected to be for a special section where Google will directly republish the content.

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Like a handful of other news outlets, the AP was not pleased with the way Google News aggregated its content, providing snippets of articles and thumbnails of AP images. The company, which is owned by a consortium of U.S. news organizations, approached Google about licensing.

Agence France Presse, meanwhile, took a more litigious approach, suing Google last year and demanding $17.5 million in damages. AFP asserts that Google never got permission from the wire service to link or display its stories or pictures.

Google has always maintained that linking and displaying thumbnails of images fall under fair use of copyrighted material. The Belgian Court of First Instance disagreed with that assessment and ordered Google to cease linking to the content or face a daily fine of 1 million euros.

"Our objective is not to stop Google from delivering their service - they're very good," remarked Margaret Boribon, secretary-general of the Belgian Association of Newspaper Editors. "We just want it clear that they can't use content the way they are." Boribon hopes other European newspaper organizations will follow Belgium's lead.

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