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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