Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Google loses copyright case

It has been festering for a while, but finally a Belgian court has ruled that Google may not reproduce extracts from a variety of Belgian newspapers.

Google now has to remove articles, photos and graphics "from all its sites'', including Google News and cached copies visible in search results.

The implications are serious. Already legal commentators are suggesting this will lead to further actions. And of course it's not just Google who will be affected. It's a big target, but there are plenty of others.

Globally, newspapers are likely to applaud this result and use it as a leverage point in their own markets, certainly WAN has been banging on about it for a while. But to my mind it's an unfortunate symptom of senior newspaper executives' misunderstanding of how the web works and what Google does.

And another thing ...

Google, Yahoo! and MSN news search are one thing, but what about social bookmarking? Do you sue Digg for all the news stories that Diggers do? Do you oppose social media in general?

Not only does this campaign by newspapers dump on the distribution opportunities and confuse the way the web works, but on the evidence of their own sites the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing in a lot of these news organisations.

It all starts to get bizarre when you remember that just about every news site is RSS enabled. So effectively they are actually asking for their content to be distributed into RSS readers and other sites.

Jak Boumans, though, has a different view. As he points out, the heart of the issue for publishers is Google's caching whereby Google not only links to an article, but keeps a copy on its own system.

The media reporting, in business and technology pages, has not been absolutely clear about this issue. It has concentrated on the Google News effect and compounded the confusion by referring to the separate court order that Yahoo! remove certain links to news articles from its French site.

If caching is the main problem then Google is on its own. RSS can be controlled at the source to deliver full text or headline only so a publisher can decide for themselves. But similarly, a piece of code attached to a page can prevent it being cached. The Australian does this. So none of its pages are cached by Google.

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