Google News Loses Copyright Suit

Michael Hayes
BRUSSELS — In a ruling that could have wide-ranging effects for copyright law online, Internet search engine Google has been ordered to remove links to a Belgian newspaper’s stories from its news aggregation service.

The French and German language newspaper, Copiepresse, asked a Belgian court to block Google from linking to its stories, saying that the search engine was using content without permission from the copyright holder.

"We are asking for Google to pay and seek our authorization to use our content,” Copiepresse general secretary Margaret Boribon said. “Google sells advertising and makes money on our content.”

The Belgian court agreed with the newspaper and told Google to remove the content or face a fine of $1.3 million per day.

Google spokeswoman Rachel Whetstone called the ruling “flawed,” adding that the company was “disappointed by the decision.”

“We believe this case was entirely unnecessary," Whetstone said. "There is no need for legal action and all the associated costs."

Boribon said she would inform other European media outlets of her newspaper’s court victory and urge them to enforce their rights against Google, which she said was in violation of European Union law.

Google faces a similar lawsuit in France from Agence-France Presse, which is demanding that its content be removed from the service. The newspaper also is asking for monetary damages from the company.

According to Dutch Internet lawyer Christian Alberdingk Thijm, the Belgian court ruling was both “unusual and unprecedented.”

“If courts start preventing linking, we’re entering a slippery slope,” he said.

Google said it intends to appeal the ruling.

In a similar suit in the U.S., Google will weather allegations of copyright infringement from adult content publisher Norman Zada, who owns Perfect 10 magazine and website. Zada has charged that Google’s Image Search violates U.S. copyright law because it allows the search engine and other companies to profit from the use his content without permission.

That case is currently before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.