Brussels: A Brussels court said Google Inc. violated copyright laws by publishing links to Belgian newspapers without permission and ordered the company to remove them, setting a precedent for future cases in Europe.
Google, the owner of the world’s most-used search engine, must pay 25,000 euros (Rs14,34,000) a day until it removes all Belgian news content, the Brussels Court of First Instance ruled on 13 February 2007. There’s ‘no exception’ for Google in copyright law, the court said. The Mountain View, California-based company said it has already removed the content and will appeal the ruling.
The case may restrict how Internet sites in Europe link to newspaper content. Copiepresse, a group representing French- and German-language newspapers including La Libre Belgique and Le Soir, had sued Google for copyright infringement. The journals lose advertising revenue when Google uses snippets of articles and links directly to stories, bypassing ads on their Web sites, said Bruno Vandermeulen, a Brussels-based lawyer at Bird & Bird.
“It could definitely lead to more lawsuits,” Vandermeulen, an intellectual property specialist, said in an interview. “I can perfectly imagine that other lawsuits will be filed against other content providers, such as YouTube, Google’s video service.”
The court ordered Google to remove articles, photos and graphics ‘from all its sites,’ including Google News and cached copies visible in search results.
“Google will have to reach a deal to make it worthwhile for newspapers to cooperate,” David Hooper, a newspaper lawyer and partner at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain in London, said by telephone. “There is a tendency for Google to use things for free and reach a deal later.”
Bernard Magrez, a lawyer for Copiepresse who works for Eurothemis, said the daily fine imposed against Google today is retroactive for 139 days, to when the search engine was first asked to remove the content.
Google will have to pay an additional 1,000 euros a day to other copyright groups, including SAJ, which represents journalists, if it fails to remove their content from its sites, the court ruled.
Yoram Elkaim, a lawyer for Google, said in Brussels that the company was waiting for further clarification from the court about the fines.
Google shares rose 81 cents to $459.10 at 4 p.m. New York time in Nasdaq Stock Market trading. They have declined less than 1 percent in 2007.
Open to Talks
Google last year postponed plans for a Danish news site after newspapers complained. In 2005 French news agency Agence France-Presse sued Google for linking to its content for free. Copiepresse has also threatened legal action against Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo! Inc. if they continue to use their stories.
Google’s YouTube, a video-sharing site, earlier this month agreed to remove more than 100,000 clips produced by New York-based Viacom Inc. after they were posted without permission.
Google and Copiepresse both said today that they were open for negotiations.
Tuesday’s decision may embolden other newspapers to start similar group litigation or use it as a negotiating tactic, said Greg Sterling, an analyst at Sterling Market Intelligence.
“Google doesn’t want to get into paying for content or negotiations with individuals or trade organizations if it can avoid it. But it may not have the option,” Sterling, whose market-analysis firm is based in Oakland, California, said in an interview today. While the case may trigger litigation across the EU, it won’t likely affect the U.S., he said.