The ubiquitous Google News may be in for a setback as a group of Belgian newspaper publishers wants the software major to pay up to €49.2 million ($77.5 million / Rs331 crore) in damages for violating copyright law by publishing their articles and caching their web pages.
Belgian copyright defence group Copiepresse has filed a court document last week asking for the damages, it disclosed yesterday. "We entered in negotiations with Google to reach an agreement, but they have now failed," said Margaret Boribon, secretary general of Copiepresse.
Now Copiepresse is asking for between €32.8 million and €49.2 million in damages, and wants Google to appear in court on 18 September at a hearing to decide whether the newspapers' copyright was infringed and to rule on the claim for damages, according to the summons. It also requested €4 million as "provisional" payment.
If Google contests the claims, Copiepresse wants the court to review Google's server logs going as far back as 2001, to see how many readers have consulted its members' news articles.
Copiepresse had first filed suit over the Google News service in April 2006. Since then the case has been slowly moving forward. The Court of First Instance in Brussels sided with Copiepresse in September that year, ordering Google to remove the Belgian websites from Google News and its main search engines, which it did. The court reaffirmed its decision in February 2007, but Google appealed.
Copiepresse and Google had apparently been in talks after the February 2007 ruling about how to reach a mutually agreeable solution. Last May, Google reportedly began reinstating links to Belgian newspaper sites in its main search results as a result of some of those negotiations.
The Belgian publishers are still open to a settlement, said Boribon. "All we want is to reach a fair agreement with Goggle, but if that fails we will go on with every possible procedure," she said.
Google, which has challenged that ruling, said Tuesday that it had not received the new Copiepresse legal summons yet and still awaits the outcome of its appeal.
"We strongly believe that Google News and Google Web search are legal, and that we have not violated Copiepresse's copyright," said Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker. "This is why we are appealing the February 2007 ruling. We consider that this new claim for damages is groundless, and we intend to vigorously challenge it."