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Google Changes Mind, Posts Belgian Ruling

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Google has now posted the text of a Belgian ruling finding it violated copyright on the Google Belgium home page. The ruling has also been posted to the home pages of Google Images Belgium, Google News Belgium but not Google Groups Belgium.

Google Belgium Ruling

Last week, a court ruled Google had violated the copyright of several Belgium newspapers by listing them within Google News. The court ordered the removal of those papers from Google, which the company quickly complied with.

The court also ordered Google to post the ruling on its Belgian web site within 10 days or face a heavy fine. Google appealed that punishment, but it was upheld last Friday.

Despite losing its appeal, Google looked ready to defy the order to post the ruling and take the fines, until a second appeal could be heard in November. Now, the company has reversed course. The ruling went up on Saturday. The company gave no reason for the reversal to Reuters:

A spokesperson for Google declined to elaborate on the reasons that made the company change its mind but said it would seek to cancel the ruling.

"We are pleased that a judge has given Google the opportunity to appeal the substance of this case. This will be heard in November," the spokesperson said.

From Dow Jones newswire:

Google spokeswoman Rachel Whetstone told Dow Jones Newswires the company had agreed to publish the ruling on its Web site after studying the court judgment.

Technically, Google never failed to comply with the court ruling. It has 10 days from receipt of the ruling to act, and it has done so within that time, saving it exposure to fines. As noted, a second appeal on the ruling will happen in November.

Past coverage is below:

Also, I note that Microsoft's Windows Live is now operating illegally under Belgian law. For example, site:www.lesoir.be shows how pages from Le Soir -- one of the publications involved in the lawsuit against Google -- has pages listed in Windows Live, as well as cached pages. In fact, here's an example of an article from Le Soir about the Belgian ruling against Google that I can read at Windows Live through its cached copy. To date, no news that Microsoft is about to be sued.

Finally, over at Threadwatch, an interesting comment points out that Google might have been OK in Belgium if it didn't show cached copies of pages:

The truly critical essence of this Belgian court ruling concerns Google's caching functionality. Here, protected content is being displayed a) in modified form; b) more often than not in its entirety (i.e. not restricted to mere snippets); and c) without copyright holders' permission. In most countries this would be viewed as a flagrant violation of copyright law - and obviously this is the stance the Belgian court has adopted. (And yes, there's been a contrary ruling by a US court, but that specific case seems to be rather more complicated on closer view; also, there's some indication that it was decided on arguably faulty assumptions, but that's another story.)

It is interesting to note that the Belgian ruling specifically acknowledges Google's right to store third party content (no mean concession, that, and far from self-evident) for search purposes only. But displaying it in the cache for everyone to see constitutes an act of re-publication which, like it or not, demands copyright holders' express permission.

This is a very important point. Search engines make copies of pages in order to make content searchable, as my Indexing Versus Caching & How Google Print Doesn't Reprint article explains in more detail. It's very difficult to argue this type of copying harms a site owner, especially when opting out is so easy.

Showing these actual copies through cached pages has long been disturbing for many people. While it's easy to opt-out of such display, it feels a step beyond what a content owner should have to do. With cached pages, content is literally being reprinted rather than made searchable. It seems absurd for the content owners to opt-out in that instance.

Within the US, cached copies has so far been upheld, something I disagree with. But if Google were to eliminate them -- along with picture thumbnails -- it sounds like it might have a better chance of winning in Belgium.


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