BRUSSELS, Belgium – A Belgian court has ordered Internet search company Google Inc. (GOOG) to stop publishing content from Belgian newspapers without permission or payment of fees, a Belgian press association said Monday.
The Belgian Association of Newspaper Editors, which handles copyright matters for the French- and German-speaking press in the country, lodged the complaint over Google News, a search service in which headlines, excerpts of stories and small versions of photographs are reproduced to refer visitors to full articles on newspaper sites.
The association said the Belgian Court of First Instance has threatened daily fines of $1.27 million in its ruling earlier this month.
Margaret Boribon, secretary general of the association, said individual newspapers will have to decide on fees for their articles separately, so it isn't clear how much Google would owe Belgian newspapers for a day's content.
Google currently is defending a separate lawsuit filed in the United States by Agence France-Presse, arguing the service is protected under "fair use" provisions of copyright law.
In the Belgian case, Google spokeswoman Rachel Whetstone said the news service is "entirely consistent" with copyright law and benefits news organizations by referring traffic to their sites.
She added that the Belgian newspapers did not need to take the case to court because Google lets any news organization decline to participate upon request.
Google has removed the Belgian newspapers from its Belgium index and is in the process of removing them from its global index, she said.
The Google News service, which debuted in 2002, scans thousands of news outlets and highlights the top stories under common categories such as world and sports.
Many stories carry a small image, or thumbnail, along with the headline and the first sentence or two. Visitors can click on the headline to read the full story at the source Web site.
Legal scholars say Google could argue that the service adds value by significantly improving the news-consuming experience.
But the French news agency AFP sued Google for at least $17.5 million in damages in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., arguing that the Google service adds little value because its news site looks much like those of AFP subscribers, albeit one where software and not human editors determine the placement of stories on a page.
Separately, Google has agreed to pay The Associated Press for stories and photographs. Neither Mountain View-based Google nor New York-based AP have disclosed financial terms or other details because of a nondisclosure agreement.
Google has indicated AP's content will serve as the foundation for a new product that will be introduced in the coming months as a complement to its popular Google News service.