Google Settles With Some Belgian Publishers Over Belgium News Inclusion

Via Techmeme, news that Google has settled with two Belgian publishing groups involved in a lawsuit against it over content included in Google News Belgium. This comes a day after Google's legal case was reheard in an appeal. The settlement, following what seems a similar settlement with AP earlier this year, seems to open the door that Google is going to continue making such appeasements rather than fight cases in court.

Bloomberg reports that Google struck an agreement with Sofam -- which represents Belgian photographers -- and Scam, which represents Belgian journalists. The agreement allows for Google to use content from these groups (or from their members). Whether they are being paid for this, what content or how it will be used is not explained:

"We reached an agreement with Sofam and Scam that will help us make extensive use of their content," Jessica Powell, a spokeswoman for Google, said in a phone interview yesterday. She declined to give details of the agreement or say whether it involved paying the groups for the content, and declined to say whether Google, based in Mountain View, Calif., was considering similar accords with the newspapers.

In September, Google lost a copyright case filed against it by another Belgian publishing group, Copiepresse. Google later had to post the ruling against it on Google Belgium. However, Google was granted an appeal for the case to be reheard, as it hadn't been represented in court the first time. The stories below provide more background on all of this:

At some point, Sofam and Scam joined in the case. I see one reference to this back in October. Two other groups also apparently joined, since the Bloomberg report speaks to the settlement being with two of five total parties to the suit.

Those parties, led by Copiepresse, continue on in their action against Google. That action, as I've covered in my Google's Belgium Fight: Show Me The Money, Not The Opt-Out, Say Publishers article, is far more about trying to pressure Google into a financial arrangement to use Belgian news content than keeping that content out of Google itself. If it was just to keep content out of Google, the publishers could have easily done this through methods such as using robots.txt files.

Copiepresse seems confident of a legal victory:

Speaking on the phone from Brussels after the hearing, Margaret Boribon, the Copiepresse secretary-general, said she felt very happy with how things proceeded today. "I can't see how the judge could change his opinion,'' she said, certain that the court will uphold the September ruling.

Perhaps that legal victory will come, when the ruling is issued in late December or January, when expected. If so, it may not help Copiepresse in the real aim of a financial deal. Google may have enough content to make Google Belgium viable without the participation of the papers Copiepresse represents. They'd then be left in a situation of asking Google for reinclusion or going without the substantial traffic Google News can send web sites.

On the other hand, Google's settlement with the groups following on an agreement earlier this year with the Associated Press seems likely to fuel further publishing groups pushing for such arrangements, especially in smaller markets where key content is put out by a small set of publishers. Banding together and sticking with exclusion, they can severely hamper a news search service.

Norway Upset With Google News Over Copyright Laws covers how Google is being challenged in Norway. That hasn't developed into a legal case yet, but it's hard to see how Google's going to be able to say no to some type of agreement there. Pandia also covers how in Denmark, publisher opposition apparently created the unprecedented case of Google asking for permission to index news sites, rather than the normal case of spidering and requesting an opt-out.

Search Engines, Permissions & Moving Forward In Copyright Battles from me covers how in particular, Google's use of images for its news area is complicates issues and is making it harder for search engines in general to defend opt-out spidering, which I support. That article calls on Google to stop the inclusion of news images, as well as a pullback on showing cached pages and scanning of in copyright works without permission.

However, asking for permission to spider textual content for news search is likely to be as slippery a slope as cutting deals with publishers. It weakens the core legal position Google has argued over gather textual content from the web, most recently against suggested copyright changes in Australia that it said might make search engines unworkable.

As a reminder, Microsoft was also challenged in Belgium. Microsoft Removes Belgian Content Without Court Order covers this more and how Microsoft's reaction was to drop those publications. So far, it hasn't apparently cut a deal for reincluding them and perhaps may not feel a market need to do so.

Judge Gives AFP Case Against Google More Time covers how a copyright case against Google but Agence France Press over news inclusion is still ongoing.

I plan to follow up with Google Monday and see what further details I can gather on the case. I don't expect terms to be disclosed, but it would be good to know if a financial arrangement of some type was reached. That happened in the AP case, though Google was adamant the agreement there was not to allow it to solve a legal problem with spidering.

Many saw this as spin. There are other things the agreement would give Google aside from the right to spider, as my Google-AP Deal Not Pay-Per-Click & Some Further Details covers in more detail. However, it also conveniently solved the spidering issues for Google.

Postscript: See Q&A On Google's Belgium News Agreements for more on this story since it was written.

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Danny Sullivan was the founder and editor of Search Engine Watch from June 1997 until November 2006.

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