Google, Belgian Newspapers Settle Copyright Link Dispute

Google Inc. (GOOG) reached a deal with Belgian newspaper publishers, resolving a six-year copyright battle that had blocked the owner of the world’s most-used search engine from publishing links to local newspapers.

“We turn the page, we end the litigation and we’re starting afresh with a business partnership,” Thierry Geerts, managing director of Google Belgium, told reporters on a conference call today. “That’s the way we would like to work with publishers all over the world, that we can sit together and think together about how we can embrace the digital future.”

The agreement was announced in a Google blog post yesterday. Under the accord, Google will pay the publishers’ legal fees, said Geerts, who declined to give an amount. Google will not pay to include any of the Belgian content.

Google last year lost an appeal against a 2007 Belgian court ruling that forced the Mountain View, California-based company to remove links and snippets of articles from French- and German-language Belgian newspapers from Google.com and Google.be. Google faced a daily fine of 25,000 euros ($32,700) for any delay in implementing the judgment.

Copiepresse, a Belgian group defending newspapers’ copyrights in the litigation, argued that the snippets generated revenue for the search engine and that publishers should be paid for the content. Copiepresse had a second suit pending that sought as much as 49.1 million euros for the period in which the newspapers’ content was visible on Google News.

Google Dialogue

Margaret Boribon, the secretary-general of Copiepresse, said the group was satisfied “to have been able to come to an accord that will put an end to all the proceedings.”

Among the French-language newspapers affected by the lawsuits were La Libre Belgique and Le Soir.

“We could never have come to this result if we had not sued and been successful in our cases,” Philippe Nothomb, head of legal affairs of Rossel et Cie., which owns Le Soir, said in an interview.

Six years ago, when the litigation started, “the kind of dialogue we have now with Google was not yet possible,” said Nothomb. Google and the publishers said they each maintain their views on how to interpret copyright law and decided to “agree to disagree” to move forward.

Google said “it is important to note” that it is not paying Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in its services. The company said it will work with Belgian French- language newspapers “on a broad range of business initiatives,” including the promotion of both Google’s and the publishers’ services and increasing accessibility to the newspapers’ content.

“This agreement comes at an important moment, in the midst of a debate how best the newspaper industry should adapt to the new digital age,” Google’s Geerts said in the blog post. “Instead of continuing to argue over legal interpretations, we have agreed on the need to set aside past grievances in favor of collaboration.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Stephanie Bodoni in Luxembourg at sbodoni@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net

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