Belgian news publishers settle copyright dispute with Google

Google will pay all legal fees and start promoting the publishers' content in AdWords campaigns

Belgian French-language news publishers settled a copyright dispute with Google, agreeing to promote each others services while Google will pay all legal fees.

The publishers sued Google in April 2006 for allegedly violating their copyrights by displaying news snippets in Google News and linking to cached copies of pages in Google search. By republishing part of the articles without paying, Google profited unfairly, the publishers said.

Several Belgian courts ruled in favor of the publishers, and last year, the search giant was ordered to remove all content created by the papers from its websites. Recently, the case was submitted to the Belgian Supreme Court, and now the parties have reached an agreement.

"Google, the publishers and the authors, even if they retain different legal positions, agree upon the opportunity to end the legal proceedings and to leave those disagreements behind," the publishers and Google said in a joint news release on Thursday.

Google will pay all legal fees and the parties agreed to promote each others services. Google will for example drive traffic to news websites via AdWords campaigns and in return, publishers will place ads for Google in their media. "In addition to this partnership, publishers can, on a voluntary basis, re-enter Google News," the parties said.

When the dispute started, the Belgian French-language media had no contact at Google in Belgium, and had no clear view on the company's intentions, media company IPM Group said in a statement. Since the arrival of new Google management things changed, opening the door to a better relationship, it added.

Philippe Nothomb, vice president of Copiepresse, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Frans Wauters, general director of SAJ, the organization that represents journalists of the Belgian written, audiovisual and digital press, and François le Hodey, CEO of the IPM Group, were also unavailable for comment.

Google continues to face similar problems in France and Germany. In Germany, the Parliament is discussing a controversial copyright bill that will allow news publishers to charge search engines such as Google for reproducing news snippets. The bill was backed by the German cabinet in August.

According to the German publishers, Google is pirating their content by republishing snippets without sharing revenue, and without asking for consent. Last month, Google started an online campaign against the bill, calling on German citizens to back Google because the bill can "massively disturb" the way people find information on the Internet.

The campaign was criticized by German politicians who said the company is trying to use its users for lobbying interests under the pretext of a "so-called project for the freedom of the Internet", they said at the time.

Meanwhile, French publishers want to be able to charge Google to compensate them for ad revenue losses, an issue that has been discussed at the highest political level in the country.

In October, French President Francois Hollande warned Google that France may introduce a law to make Google pay for republishing news snippets if it doesn't strike a deal with French news publishers before the end of the year.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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