belgiumGoogle may be wanting to use “Belgium” in a Douglas Adamsian sense about now. On May 5th, the Court of Appeals in Brussels upheld a 2007 decision stating that Google could not use headlines and excerpts from Belgian newspaper articles in its Google News service, siding with the papers who insisted that their content was valuable enough that Google should be paying them to carry it. Google, on the other hand, holds that it is providing a valuable service to the newspapers, getting more people to read their stories (and see their advertising).

This is essentially the same dichotomy that long dogged broadcast stations on cable television: the stations think that the cable networks should pay them for carrying the content because it is beneficial to the cable network to have more content; the cable networks think that local stations should pay them because it is beneficial to the local stations to have a bigger audience.

I’m still not sure why the newspapers don’t just add the little bit of code to their sites that will cause Google to pass them by. Too much work? Or maybe they’d rather keep the extra exposure but force Google to pay them too?

As one Belgian lawyer notes, the case could set a precedent meaning Google (and other news aggregators) would either have to pay papers or not carry their material. With that in mind, Google really doesn’t have any other choice than to appeal the decision. (I’ll bet Rupert Murdoch wishes he had a court-issued decision like that over here.)

Google has issued a statement saying that it still believes Google News “to be fully compliant with copyright law.” It still has the right to appeal to Belgium’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation.

While the outcome of the case probably won’t directly hurt Google outside of Belgium, I would not be surprised if newspapers in other areas started getting the same idea.


  1. There’s an easy way to figure out who should get paid and who benefits: Google should just take down the newspapers who don’t wish to have that exposure. Google has long held that they wouldn’t crawl and cache websites that didn’t want it. Don’t know why they would change their position. History has shown that when you remove yourself from Google, it’s never beneficial. This is precisely why the WSJ and NYT allow search queries to get around their paywalls.

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