La Libre Belgique resists Google (and newspaper sculpture)

Zut alors! C'est L'IT Blogwatch de Vendredi: in which Belgian newspapers rise up against the mighty Google. Not to mention Nick Georgiou's "Lynchian" creatures made from thousands of discarded newspapers...

James Niccolai and Paul Meller report:

Google Inc. violated the copyright of Belgian newspaper publishers when it posted extracts from their stories on its Google News Web site, a Belgian court ruled on Tuesday. The judgment upholds an earlier decision from the Court of First Instance in Brussels that required Google to remove the content from Belgium's French- and German-language newspapers from its site ... The Belgian newspapers ... argued that Google profited unfairly by posting short extracts of their stories on its Web sites.


Google said it was disappointed with the decision and that it planned to file a further appeal ... It reiterated its argument that it posts only a short snippet of newspaper stories on its Web site and that users must click through to a newspaper's Web site to read the full story.

Ken Fisher has more:

While most news sites jump at the chance to be included in Google News, these publications were aghast. A major reason for their unhappiness was the fact that Google News conflicted with their business model: the papers were in the habit of charging for content after it had been up for a set period of time, but Google News would show you cached copies. That wasn't the central issue, however.

The newspapers also vigorously argued that Google should not reproduce their content in any way without their explicit consent. They actually resented the fact that Google News might direct readers to their content, because they feared that a search engine might do what it is designed to do: get people what they want the first time. Copiepresse's member companies would prefer that you hit their home pages and wander around aimlessly instead. No, I'm not joking.


In most other regions of the world, publications are happy to be included in Google News ... When copyright holders back out of search indexes, the only people that lose are the general public and the copyright holders themselves ... Maybe if [Copiepresse is] lucky, no one will link to them ever again, and they can live in the obscurity that they apparently believe they should be paid to leave.

Carlo Longino follows the money (or lack of it):

The newspapers have said again that what they really want is payment -- but with Google not running ads on the News site, it's hard to see how there's really much revenue for it to share ... it doesn't seem like the Belgian newspapers will ever realize that being indexed in Google News is something beneficial, even if they're not getting directly paid for it.

Google-Euro-PR-flack, Rachel Whetstone sobs:

This judgment is clearly disappointing, and we intend to appeal it because we believe that and Google News are entirely legal ... we are very pleased that the judge agreed Google should be given notice of articles and other material that content owners want removed. As we have in the past, we will honor all requests to remove such materials ... If publishers do not want their websites to appear in search results, technical standards like robots.txt and metatags enable them automatically to prevent the indexation of their content. These Internet standards are nearly universally accepted and are honored by all reputable search engines. In addition, Google has a clear policy of respecting the wishes of content owners. If a newspaper does not want to be part of Google News, we remove their content from our index—all the newspaper has to do is ask. There is no need for legal action and all the associated costs.


We believe search engines are of real benefit to publishers because they drive valuable traffic to their websites ... hundreds of news publishers in Belgium and around the world are delighted to be included in Google News because it helps more people find their websites and read their articles. That's why Google receives far more requests for inclusion than requests for removal.

The Grauniad's Bobbie Johnson waxes:

Personally, I think the Belgian newspapers are foolish and short-sighted for pursuing this - and I can't understand why they've gone through the courts (surely a robots.txt file would suffice, if they want Google to stop indexing their paywalled content).

I hate paywalls, and I hate news executives who don't realise the internet has changed their game. It's as if they'd been banning their papers from being sold on certain newsstands because people can read the headlines from the street. In cases like this, the only long-term victims are likely to be the newspapers themselves.

Erick Schonfeld quips:

As a result, traffic to their Websites will go down, and so will their online revenues. That's what happens when you let the lawyers run your business.

John Battelle strokes his chin:

It's bad [for Google], but not that bad. This is a fight it knew would come, and one can't win every fight. Even Google. If it clarifies the law around this, that is good. Even if the clarification is initially bad, it will allow for rational business deals to get cut ... the enemy of innovation is uncertainty. Google (and all of us) has been uncertain about whether it could commercialize its News service. So far, the answer is sure, if you pay us enough. And so far, Google has not wanted to do that ... this is all about renegotiating the relationship between traditional media companies, their distribution networks, and the role of search in the new media landscape.

But Joe Duck swims furiously upstream:

As usual, silicon insiders are 1) waxing argumentatively in favor of the virtuous wonder of Google and 2) forgetting the big picture ... the news flash that Silicon Valley is always so reluctant to read is that Google’s spectacular success has not been primarily a function of Google’s own efforts, rather it has been their brilliance monetizing other people’s content


How should content cash be divided between those who produce it, those who monetize it, and those who expose it to the world? Google can reasonable suggest that they are now doing much of the monetizing and the exposure and therefore deserve most of the cash. That fits well with the fact they are getting most of the cash. Google might also note that they are providing publishers with adsense program and then sharing about 70% of that revenue with the content producers themselves.

On the other hand, Belgian papers or other content providers can reasonably argue that when Google pulls up snips of their stuff and shows them in Google search results page, and the a user winds up clicking an advertisement at the side, the content folks don’t see a dime of that even though they were a key contributor to the Google profit equation.

Who is right? I say let the market decide.

timpatco agrees:

The fact is, Google ONLY works its advertising revenue model by using copyright material without permission. What it, and any other commercial enterprise in the market needs to do, is seek permission and pay a negotiated compensation. When their arrogance prevails over fair play as had happened, the rule of law will determine their legality which thankfully the Belgian courts have done. That's right folks, even American icons are not beyond the law ...eventually.

Buffer overflow:

Around the Net Around Computerworld Previously in IT Blogwatch

And finally... Nick Georgiou's Newspaper Sculptures. Bonus link: To Sir, with luv.

Richi Jennings is an independent technology and marketing consultant, specializing in email, blogging, Linux, and computer security. A 20 year, cross-functional IT veteran, he is also an analyst at Ferris Research. Contact Richi at

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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