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Belgians win suit over Google News

Copiepresse, the copyright protection group representing 17 mostly French-language newspapers, last week won its lawsuit against Google Inc.

The Belgian newspapers had demanded Google remove headlines and links to news stories posted without their permission. The ruling, if confirmed, could set a precedent for how search engines link to copyrighted material in the arena of online news.

"We confirm that the activities of Google News, the reproduction and publication of headlines as well as short extracts, and the use of Google's cache, the publicly available data storage of articles and documents, violate the law on authors' rights," the ruling said.

Google immediately said it would appeal, claiming its Google News service was "entirely legal" and the Belgian decision was a one-time result that would not be repeated elsewhere.

The Brussels Court of First Instance ruled that Google could not call on exemptions, such as claiming "fair use" because it says it reviews press articles when it displays headlines, a few lines of text, photos and links to the original page.

"Google is reproducing and publishing works protected by copyright," it said. "Google cannot call on any exceptions set out by law relating to copyright or similar rights."

Copiepresse said the ruling was based on EU law and could trigger similar cases against Google in other nations, mentioning talks with copyright groups in Norway, Austria and Italy.

But Google said the judgment -- which confirms an initial ruling in September -- would not necessarily carry influence in other areas. The search giant said the court still had not settled the debate on what the ruling the covered, claiming it only applied to Google News Belgium and google.be.

If the court agrees, Google would not have to pay retroactive daily fines of euro 25,000 for each day Google did not comply - far lower than an earlier judgment that threatened 1m euros.

But Copiepresse lawyer Bernard Magrez claimed Google was still not complying fully with the ruling - saying it covered google.com and other versions - meaning fines could run up to around euro 3m.

Copiepresse is still negotiating similar copyright issues with Yahoo and MSN.

The court said that in the future it would be up to copyright owners to get in touch with Google to complain if the site was posting content that belonged to them. Google would then have 24 hours to withdraw the content or face a daily fine of euro 1,000.

A court ruling in September ordered Google to remove newspaper content from its news index under threat of daily fines. That decision came as a shock to Google, which had failed to appear at an earlier court hearing. The court later agreed to hear the case again to allow Google to put its side forward.

Source: Business Week

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