Cautionary fables from time immemorial have bequeathed to us the lesson, “Be careful what you wish for.” A number of Belgian newspapers didn’t listen, and were thus doomed to provide a new cautionary example when they sued Google over including their content in Google News. They won a court order stating that Google must
withdraw from all its sites (Google News and “cached” Google, or under any name whatsoever), all the articles, photographs and graphic representations from the Belgian publishers of the daily French- and German-speaking press, represented by the plaintiff, within 10 days of the present notification, under penalty of a daily fine of 1,000,000.00 EUROS per day of delay;
And so Google did. It removed the newspapers not only from Google News, but also from Google’s main web search—and even blocked Google Translate from working on their pages. In short, it removed the papers from any services it provided “under any name whatsoever,” in perfect compliance with the court order.
Of course, this turn of events did not exactly please the newspapers, who complained of Google’s “brutal retaliation” in an article.
It is necessary to distinguish the Google search engine from the Google news service," the article said. "The news editors do not oppose having their content referenced by the Google search engine, they refuse on the other hand for their informational content to be included in Google News," the article said.
But Google spokesman William Echikson pointed out that the court order’s language was very plain, and Google faced hefty fines if it indexed that content—though Google would be happy to include the papers if they waved the potential penalties. (The papers subsequently did so.)
But some people continue to miss the point. In a column on AllThingsD, Liz Gannes complains:
Still, the whole situation seems a bit ominous, in that Google was willing to use the cutthroat tactic of removing the publications before they came to an agreement.
I doubt Google was exactly displeased about the removal, but that court order really didn’t give it any choice in the matter.
It’s worth pointing out that any paper that does not want to be included in Google News or search, or wants in one but not the other, can use the robots.txt standard to exclude themselves without having to go to court. Google provides very detailed instructions on its support pages. If the Belgian newspapers had used that from the start, rather than resorting to the courts, they could have avoided the whole situation.