Belgium: Ignoring reality since 1830

Despite the headline on this post, I have nothing against Belgium as a country. I am a big fan of their waffles, for example, not to mention their chocolate — and Brueghels is pretty cool as well. Still, they are inescapably intertwined in my mind with one of the stupidest lawsuits I can think of in the “new media” sphere (and that includes Viacom’s lawsuit against YouTube): a Belgian media agency, Copiepresse — which represents some of the country’s French papers — is suing Google for linking to its content, and is asking for $77-million in damages. I am not making this up.

The lawsuit was filed in 2006, and Google lost the case in Belgium — as well as a subsequent appeal — and had to remove links to some Belgian newspaper content from its Google News index. At some point after that, it seemed as though the geniuses at Copiepresse realized how their “victory” was anything but, and talks between Google and the agency aimed at a settlement of some kind took place for awhile. Those talks have apparently fallen through and the group is now pressing forward with its suit, like someone who is determined to saw through the tree branch that they happen to be sitting on.

I know that some people are probably going to start arguing with me in the comments, so before you do, I encourage you to read up about the case — including some of my previous posts on the topic. As far as I can tell, Google’s use of excerpts from news stories meets (or should meet) every test of “fair use” imaginable — except perhaps in Belgium — especially since the company makes no money from advertising on Google News pages. On top of all that, linking enhances the value of newspaper content by exposing it to a broader audience. Belgium’s French newspapers should be thanking Google, not suing it.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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