Google reaches accord with two Belgian press groups

Google has reached agreement with groups that had objected to content on Google News

Google has reached an agreement with two groups representing authors and photographers in Belgium that had objected to the way the company indexes and displays their content on its Google News Web site.

The agreements with Sofam, which says it represents 3,700 photographers, and Scam, which represents 20,000 writers, mark the first steps by Google in resolving a copyright lawsuit that forced it to remove French- and German-language Belgian newspaper content from its Web site.

On Friday, a judge in Brussels heard arguments in that case, filed by a group of newspaper publishers, Copiepresse. Sofam (Societe Multimedia des Auteurs des Arts Visuels) and Scam (Societe Civile des Auteurs Multimedia) were among several smaller groups that had joined Copiepresse in its legal action.

"We reached an agreement with Sofam and Scam that allows us to make extensive use of their content," Google spokeswoman Jessica Powell said on Monday.

The agreement allows Google to use content from the groups in "new ways" that "go beyond what copyright law allows," she said. She declined to say if Google is paying the groups or to provide further details. Google has signed a deal to use content from the Associated Press newswire that it described in similar language.

Copiepresse has complained that Google violates its members' copyrights by indexing their content and displaying it on Google News without asking permission. Google says the use is legitimate because it shows only a snippet of news stories, and because it directs users to the publications' Web sites to read the full story.

On Friday, the judge in Brussels said she would give her verdict in the case early next year.

Google News has also run into trouble in Scandinavia, where it launched two weeks ago. The company delayed the introduction of the news service in Denmark after publishers there objected to having to "opt out" if they didn't want their content displayed on Google's Web site. And a publishing group in Norway has protested the use of its members' news photographs, which it says is not permitted under Norwegian copyright law.

Google has declined to comment on talks with any particular publishing groups, but says it is open to discussions to resolve disputes.

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