Google partly settles Belgium content spat

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BRUSSELS, Belgium-- Google Inc. said Tuesday it has struck a content-sharing deal with two organizations to partly settle a dispute in Belgium over news articles available through the Internet search engine.

But Google still faces a bid by Belgian newspapers -- spearheaded by copyright protection society Copiepresse -- to get the company to pull the news content unless it paid the newspapers or received their permission. A judge for the Brussels-based Court of First Instance said she would deliver her verdict in early January.

France-based multimedia authors' rights group SCAM and Sofam, which represents Belgian photographers and visual artists, withdrew their support for Copiepresse's case before the Belgian judge heard arguments from both sides last week.

Google spokeswoman Jessica Powell said the company was "pleased to see they would not pursue litigation," but insisted the deal was not new and was part of an ongoing dialogue with publishers and authors' rights groups.

"We won't go into the details," she said, refusing to say when the agreement was signed and what exactly it covered apart from allowing the search engine "extensive use of content" and "innovative new ways beyond what copyright allows without the permission of authors."

In September, the Belgian court ruled against Google after it failed to appear at an earlier hearing. That judgment forced the Mountain View, Calif., company to remove newspaper content from its news index, threatening daily fines of $1.3 million until it complied. The court later agreed to give Google another hearing to put its side.

Google's lawyers insist the company had not broken copyright law by showing headlines, a few lines of text and a link to the original story.

But Copiepresse, a copyright protection group representing the country's French-language editors, argued that Google hurt the rights of authors because it effectively gave away for free older articles that they sell on a subscription basis.

Most Belgian newspapers offer fresh articles to readers for free but charge for access to their archives of stories.

This was not the first time Google's automatically generated news aggregation pages have irked content providers. The French news agency AFP is suing Google for at least $17.5 million in federal court in Washington, D.C., arguing that the Google service essentially replicates for free what AFP subscribers pay for.

Separately, Google has agreed to pay The Associated Press for stories and photographs. Neither Google nor New York-based AP have disclosed financial terms or other details.
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