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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Google's News Problems Get More Complex

According to an article in The New York Times, Google has lost a court case in Belgium which prevents the search giant from linking to French and German newspapers circulated within the country. Google had published summaries of articles with links to the entire text.

The issue in the fight between Google and print media is what constitutes "fair use". Often sites will link to articles as reference to expand on a point or bolster a factual statement. However, big search companies have begun linking to hundreds of thousands of articles using their search systems to lump them by subject. Agence France-Presse, the French news agency has a similar suit pending against Google.

It is not clear whether the progress that "old media" is making against Google in Europe will spread to North America or Asia. If it does, it could cost Google tens of million of dollars to pay for content that it now creates for very little money. The news organizations obviously do not think that the traffic that Google sends them through links is adequate or comparable to the benefit that Google derives from visitors to Google News.

If the court cases on the matter continue to rise, Google could face a fairly large set of legal bills and could also damage its relationship with the print media community.

Google would be well served by extending the relationship that it has with the Associated Press where there is some revenue sharing on content. Otherwise, the issue could be a long and painful chapter, a headache Google does not need.

Douglas A. McIntyre can be reached at He does not own securities in companies that he writes about.

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