Google Settles Copyright Dispute with Belgian Newspaper

On Thursday December 13, 2012, Google and a group of Belgian newspaper publishers reached an agreement on a 6-year long copyright dispute.

In an official statement that was released by Google, the company stated: “We have reached an agreement that ends all litigation. From now on Google and Belgian French-language publishers will partner on a broad range of business initiatives.”

Thierry Geerts, Managing Director of Google Belgium, also wrote on the Google Europe blog: “We have reached an agreement that ends all litigation and represents great news for both us and the newspapers. We continue to believe that our services respect newspaper copyrights and it is important to note that we are not paying the Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in our services.”

This case started back in 2006, when the newspaper publishers took Google to court, stating that the popular search engine was infringing on their copyright. They had been trying to get Google to compensate them for using their online content, claiming that as more and more readers turned to the Internet to get their news, less and less readers were utilizing their printed versions.


Under the new agreement, Google will team up with the Rossel Group, a major media group in Brussels that owns some of the top newspapers such as Le Soir and L’Echo; and the IPM Group which puts out publications L’Avenir and La Libre Belgique.

Google will work with the publishers and ensure that readers will pay for their news using subscriptions and paywalls. Google itself will not have to pay the publishers for the news content. The content can then be distributed using tablets and smartphones. In addition, the new publishers will be the ones to decide which articles they want to charge for, and will be entitled to pull articles out of the Web search engine and News search when they want to.

Google has also been involved with similar disputes with other countries which they commented on in the blog post. Geerts writes, “Instead of continuing to argue over legal interpretations, we have agreed on the need to set aside past grievances in favour of collaboration. This is the same message we would like to send to other publishers around the world – its much more beneficial for us to work together than to fight.”  So far, Germany has proposed the allowing publishers to let search engines display newspaper articles in exchange for a fee. Italy and France are currently looking for similar measures.

The agreement between Google and the Belgian-French publishers will be beneficial for both parties. The Google Europe blog says that the agreement will:

Promote both the publishers’ and Google’s services – Google will advertise its services on the publishers’ media, while the publishers will optimise their use of Google’s advertising solutions, in particular AdWords to attract new readers.

Increase publishers’ revenue – by collaborating on making money with content, both via premium models (paywalls, subscriptions), and via advertising solutions such as the AdSense platform and the AdExchange marketplace;

Increase reader engagement – by implementing Google+ social tools, including video Hangouts, on news sites, and launching official YouTube channels;

Increase the accessibility of the publishers’ content – by collaborating on the distribution of the publishers original content on mobile platforms, in particular smartphones and tablets.

It indeed does seem like this this agreement will greatly benefit both Google and the publications involved. Google gets the permission to continue distributing the information through their search engines, and the publishers get the benefit for added traffic and greater exposure. As an added benefit both sides can stop paying attorneys fees to fight a protracted copyright battle.


Google also acknowledges that this new agreements comes at an opportune time – in the middle of a big debate regarding how print newspapers can best adapt to the increasing digital age. Many countries including Australia, the UK, Canada, Ireland and the Netherlands are considering, or have already gone with, Internet-friendly copyright reforms.

The Economist reported in an article back in September that:

Canada passed a law in June that sets a new standard of permissiveness. It caps statutory damages if copyright is breached for non-commercial purposes. It expands the definition of “fair dealing” and creates exemptions for educational purposes and for parody. Firms must pass warnings about infringement to the person who posted the material rather than immediately take the content down themselves.

The article goes on say that,

Britain too plans to introduce internet-friendly legislation this autumn after a review led by Ian Hargreaves, professor of digital economy at Cardiff University. As with Canada’s law, the recommended new code entails exemptions for non-commercial uses and user-generated content.

It seems that the time to strike deals may be at hand as countries and companies like Google wade into what could be the uneasy waters of Internet-friendly copyright reforms. While many reforms seem currently centered on non-commercial uses, diving into issues of commercial activities cannot be far behind. Having a deal in place ahead of future reforms, particularly one that should have a positive effect for both Google and the Belgian newspaper publishers, makes perfect sense. If carried out effectively, both parties stand to gain from this partnership and it could become a model for future collaborations.


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