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Google (partially) settles Belgian copyright case

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Google has settled with two media agencies in a Belgian copyright case which could change the face of its Google News service. It has not yet settled with the group that started the law suit, Copiepresse.

Google has come to an undisclosed arrangement with SORAM and SCAM, two societies representing photographers and journalists respectively. The groups had joined Copiepresse's copyright infringement action against Google over its Google News service.

Copiepresse represents some Belgian newspapers and it took Google to court earlier this year alleging that its Google News service, which publishes snippets of and links to newspaper stories, broke copyright law by copying snippets of stories without the permission of the newspapers.

It won a judgment in a Belgian court in September in which Google was told to remove its members' stories from Google News or pay a €1 million a day fine. Google asked for a re-hearing of that case. That hearing took place last Friday.

SOFAM and SCAM had joined Copiepresse's legal action but have now cut a deal. "Google is delighted that SOFAM and SCAM have decided not to pursue this litigation," a Google spokeswoman told OUT-LAW. "The agreement we have reached with both these authors' societies will enable us to make extensive use of their content in innovative new ways beyond what copyright law allows without the permission of authors."

"Google respects copyright law, which we believe lies at the heart of the creative process," she said. "As today's agreement demonstrates our approach is to work in partnership with content creators and owners"

Google did not say whether it had paid the groups or agreed to future payments, nor did it say whether or not it was negotiating with newspaper groups to either pay or cut an ad revenue share deal.

Though Google News does not carry advertising, Google's search results pages do. Copiepresse's case objects not just to the Google News service but also to the copying and local storing of web pages by the search engine, accessible to users by the 'Cached' link in Google's search results.

Google has argued that it does not think that it has broken the law because it uses just small parts of each article in Google News, which it says copyright law allows. "It is important to remember that Google News never shows more than the headlines, a few snippets of text and small thumbnail images. If people want to read the entire story they have to click through to the newspaper's website," the spokeswoman said.

Margaret Boribon, the general secretary of Copiepresse, previously told OUT-LAW that it would seek to take action against other news aggregators. "The law is the law. We are producing protected works and the law in Europe says clearly that to re-use that content you have to ask for permission," said Boribon. "We want every search engine, aggregator or re-user of our content to respect it and to ask for agreement and to pay a fair price."

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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