- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BRUSSELS (AP) — Google Inc. lost a copyright lawsuit yesterday to Belgian newspapers that had demanded it remove headlines and links to articles posted on its news site without their permission.

The ruling, if it stands on appeal, could set a precedent for how Web search engines link to copyrighted material in the tumultuous arena of online news, according to the Belgian copyright group that filed the case.

Google said it would appeal, asserting that its Google News service was “entirely legal” and the Belgian ruling did not set precedent.

The Brussels Court of First Instance ruled that the Mountain View, Calif., company could not rely 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.”

The court decided in favor of Copiepresse, a copyright protection group representing 17 mostly French-language newspapers that complained the search engine’s “cached” links offered free access to archived articles that the papers usually sell.

Copiepresse said the ruling was based on European Union law and could trigger similar cases against Google in other nations, saying it had been in touch with copyright groups in Norway, Austria and Italy.

But Google said the judgment would not necessarily carry influence in other areas.

“This ruling does not mean that everywhere else or every other judge in any other country would rule in the same, even in Belgium,” said Yoram Elkaim, legal counsel for Google News. “There are conflicting rulings on those issues, which are fairly new and complicated.”

U.S. technology lawyer Jonathan Band said the ruling did not bear much weight because legal precedent is not as important in continental European law.

“I’m sure other newspaper publishers are probably going to read the decision carefully, but the most important factor is that it’s not the ultimate ruling,” he said.

Google said the court had not settled the debate on what the ruling covered, saying it only applied to Google News Belgium and google.be.

“In our view, we have complied with the ruling fully since September,” Mr. Elkaim said.

If the court agrees, Google would not have to pay retroactive daily fines of more than $32,000 for each day Google did not comply — far lower than an earlier judgment that threatened $1.3 million a day.

Copiepresse is negotiating similar copyright issues with Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN.

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