Google not wrong - this time

WEB SEARCH engine Google has been banned from reproducing Belgian newspapers on news.google.be. Google is appealing a case brought by Copiepresse, the collecting society for French-speaking Belgian journalists, apparently with the support of newspaper publishers.

But does this action have anything to do with journalists' rights as authors? When Agence France Presse (AFP) sued Google last year they had a point, since they were objecting to the removal of bylines and photo credits - illegal under French law. And Google was mean simply to remove AFP copy rather than respecting the law.

Newspapers that understand the Web - and journalists contributing to them - should only benefit from listing on Google News. The headlines it quotes, and small extracts from leading stories, are too short to be covered by copyright or authors' rights - and they are direct links that drive readers, and hence advertising revenue, to newspapers' own websites.

But as Olivier Da Lage, of the French Syndicat National des Journalistes and the European Federation of Journalists Authors' Rights Expert Group, says: "It is true that this may a problem for publishers in terms of advertising revenues. They may feel that Google News hijacks their audience. In this regard, they may have a point, but in that case, it should be considered  as parasitism, commercial unfair competition, or whatever, but certainly not an authors' rights infringement."

Newspapers that object to readers bypassing their home page should be designing their websites so that all pages gain advertising revenue. And Google is correct to point out that its indexing robots respect a simple instruction in the code of any web page saying "don't quote me".

Olivier concludes: "Journalists have no skin off their nose in this case. I doubt our unions should go along with the Belgian publishers."

The forthcoming lawsuits by book authors' organisations and their publishers against Google for scanning entire books without seeking licences are an entirely separate matter.

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