Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Google News in problems with European sites (1)

Yesterday Google lost again in the case of Google News vs Copiepresse, an association of 19 Belgian newspapers, in a Belgian court. The judge confirmed for the second time the judgement of last September, when Google was ordered to stop producing headlines and a number of first lines from mainly French and German language articles (in Belgium there are officially three languages used: Flemish, French and German).

The sentence will stir up a debate all around Europe, except for the parts which are covered by Angel-Saxon jurisdiction. In practice the newspaper organisations in other European countries can go to court and try to stop Google news. They might have a good chance.

In September the court sentenced Google News in Belgium. The sentence cantered on three aspects: consent, deeplinking and caching. Google News set up the service in Belgium without asking the Belgian publishers. Google said that it did not have to do this as it used the searching machine and set up a link. Google News deeplinked to the relevant article, without passing the front page. But the caching problem was really at the core of the court case. Google News did not just linked to the relevant article, but also kept it in cache.

All together it was all about revenues for the publishers. And rightly so Copiepresse protested with a court case. Of course the fact that Google News starts the service without consent to use the intellectual property in order to make money. But also the caching is a problem as Google keeps an article in cache in a database which might be archived by the publishers and put up for paid retrieval.

The sentence will have consequences in part in other European countries. In other countries there have been court cases concerning deeplinking. And there are sentences which contradict the Belgian sentence on this part. In The Netherlands PCM fought a case against deeplinking with, but lost. So a case in another European country will only take along the aspect of deeplinking, if there has been a sentence favourable for publishers. But the aspects of consent and cache will be the target of other court cases.

With the Belgian sentence in their pocket newspaper publishing associations will start other court cases. Of course they could ask Google News to take off the titles of their associated members voluntarily as the Flemish publishers, united in Rerocopy, did. But many associations want to make clear to Google that copyright and database rules are different at the other side of the pond.

The Dutch newspaper publishers’ alliance, after having taken a laid back attitude, says that it seriously will consider a court case. Also the associations in Norway and Danmark have indicated to do so. Also the international newspaper association WAN studies the possibilities of a court case.

Also in France Google News is in trouble. It first got into trouble with AFP, the French wireservice. AFP objected to the institution of Google News as it was directly hurting AFP in its revenue stream; AFP distributes press releases against payment. AFP won the case. But this case is not comparable to the Belgian. In the meantime a number of French newspaper publishers have objected against their publications being grazed; they will present their case in court on June 6th, 2007.

Looking at this court case I think that the publishers are right to defend their intellectual copyrights and their stream of revenues. On the other hand they reacted by a court case, while they also could have reacted pro-actively with their own aggregation service. By setting up a service by themselves they would have picked up more revenues than they get now in a settlement and made it more difficult for Google, Yahoo and others. And this does not only regard news articles but also advertisement revenues. Presently Google, but also other services like Yahoo, tap advertisement revenues from the conventional newspaper sources.

Blog Posting Number: 664

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