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Belgian newspapers sue Google

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Bloomberg News / May 28, 2008

LUXEMBOURG - A group of Belgian newspapers is seeking as much as $77 million from Google Inc. in a lawsuit over the right to feature links to the publishers' content on the Internet.

Copiepresse, a copyright group for newspapers in Belgium, is asking a Brussels court to award between $51.5 million and $77 million, Margaret Boribon, the group's secretary-general, said yesterday. A court last year ruled Google violated Belgian copyright laws by publishing links to articles on Google News without permission.

Google, owner of the most popular Internet search engine, and the Belgian newspapers started discussions on a possible agreement shortly after the Feb. 13, 2007, court ruling. Google appealed, saying it was a way to keep its options open in case the negotiations broke down.

"Any attempts to reach an agreement . . . have failed," Boribon said.

The damages are in addition to a daily fine of $39,000 the court last year ordered Google to pay until it removes all Belgian news content. Google removed links to Belgian papers it had on its search engine and on Google News.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google hasn't received anything from Copiepresse, said a Google spokeswoman. The company is waiting for the outcome of its appeal, she said.

In addition to damages, Copiepresse is also seeking to have Google publish "in a visible and clear manner" the court ruling from last year on Google.be and news.Google.be for 20 days, the group said. If Google doesn't publish the ruling, the group said it would seek a $1.5 million daily fine.

The two sides resolved part of their dispute in May 2007 when Google removed "caches" - data that is saved on the search engine's own sites to allow quicker access - from its links to the newspapers' websites. The agreement allowed Internet users to access Belgian newspapers again on Google's website in that country.

No such solution was found concerning the direct links to the newspapers' articles on Google News, which remains without Belgian newspaper stories.

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