Google has suffered a setback in its plans to be the dominant global news aggregating service following a court ruling that bars it from using content from Belgian news sites.
The action was brought without Google being present in court, and appears to have taken the search company by surprise.
"Google only found out about this lawsuit and the court's decision on Friday, almost two weeks after the actual hearing, and as a result we were not able to make our case directly to the judge," said D J Collins, Google's head of corporate communications for UK, Ireland and Benelux.
The Belgian court ruled that headlines and web links to stories on Belgian press websites were copyrighted and that Google would have to pay a €1m daily fine until the content was removed.
Google confirmed that it was complying with the order to remove the Belgian newspapers represented at the trial from all of its news sites.
The case was brought by copyright organisation Copiepress on behalf of the Belgian press, and represented titles such as Le Soir, La Derniére Heure and La Libre Belgique.
Collins has insisted that the court case was unnecessary and that Google would have removed the publications voluntarily if it had been asked to do so.
"Google has a clear policy of respecting the wishes of content owners," he explained.
"If a newspaper does not want to be part of Google News we remove its content from our index. All they have to do is ask. There is no need for legal action and all the associated costs."
Collins pointed out that Google is able to reproduce headlines under national and international copyright law, and that all the company does is send traffic to publishers' websites.
"We have far more publishers talking to us about being included in the index than about being removed, and one national newspaper within Europe gets up to a quarter of its website traffic from Google News," he said.
The court ruling took place on 5 September but the details have only just come to light.
A previous case brought by Agence France-Presse prompted Google to remove all of that company's content from its sites.
Google has also recently run into trouble over its book publishing service, which offers free downloads.
Google to appeal Belgian news ruling
By Matt Chapman on Sep 21, 2006 9:58AM