Belgian Appeals Court Says Google Must Pay Up For Linking To Newspaper Websites

from the linking-is-infringing dept

The insanity continues. You may recall that, five years ago, a bunch of French- and German-language newspapers in Belgium, represented by the organization Copiepresse, claimed that Google was infringing on their copyrights by linking to newspaper stories. The fact that they could have blocked Google if they wanted to didn’t seem to matter. They just thought Google should pay up for sending them traffic, and amazingly, a court agreed. The case has gone on for years, with Copiepresse demanding a ton of cash. The latest is that — astoundingly — a Belgian appeals court has agreed with Copiepresse, and said that merely linking to these newspaper websites is infringement.

I guess this means we can no longer link to any website in Belgium.

In the meantime, Google has been ordered to remove any and all links to articles and photos from all Belgian newspapers (in German or French — as the article notes, the Flemish papers have no apparent problem with Google News). Google execs seem understandably bewildered by the decision. First of all, they’re sending these newspapers traffic, which you would think is a good thing. Second, for the most part (with a few notable exceptions) courts have found that merely linking is not infringement. And, most importantly, if these newspapers don’t want Google linking to them, all they have to do is set up a robots.txt file telling Google to go elsewhere.

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Comments on “Belgian Appeals Court Says Google Must Pay Up For Linking To Newspaper Websites”

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ChimpBush McHitlerBurton says:

Re: newsPAPER

I think it’s important to realize that the Belgian papers don’t want Google to stop linking to them. They just want Google to keep doing it AND pay them a bunch of money.

If linking to a Belgian Newspaper is infringement, then isn’t any linking to any website in Belgium just as infringing?

Perhaps the entire country should go Googledark…



Fushta says:

Re: After the Fact...

After the news[paper]s find out that no one can find them anymore (since they are de-listed from Google), will they beg Google to put that back on? Will they give back the money they’ll win (if any)? Doubt it. I give them two weeks to figure out they made a monumental error in judgement.

Lisa Westveld (profile) says:

I happen to be Dutch and we from the Netherlands always tend to make jokes about how dumb those Belgian people are. Unfortunately, this case just provides us more evidence about the lack of intelligence in certain Belgian areas…

A Belgian judge once cancelled his trip to the UK. When asked why, he said he considered it too dangerous to drive in a country where they drive on the left side of the road. When they told him that it’s not as bad as he thinks, he replied: “Well, I’ve tried to drive on the left side in Brussels but I didn’t like it…”

Oh, well… I guess there will be some more jokes about Belgians from now on. And possibly other nationalities will start to make fun of them because of this decision…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There’s that one about a judge who said that Google is guilty of copyright infringement for linking to some newspaper sites, despite the fact that those sites could use robots.txt to block Google from linking to them.

It’s hilarious*.


What? Why aren’t you laughing? I guess you had to be there.

* It’s funny because it’s true and, as we all know, true implies funny. Like those videos of people that fall off stairs.

el_segfaulto (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I believe one of the core universal truths that all nations share, is that each one has the dumbest people in the world. Reading the various court decisions in the U.S. makes me sad as well. Perhaps we can lease some land from our Canadian friends in the Yukon and ship all of our idiots there, think Hitchhiker’s Guide.

tebee (profile) says:

Well if I was Google, which sadly I’m not, I would just add something to the search results so that every time people searched for something that would have resulted in a link to these sites said ” we have found additional links that would probably be of interest to you, but due to the court action of Copiepresse are unable to display them”. A bit like they do now for DMCA takedowns.

I’m sure eventually Copiepresse will get fed up replying to people asking why they are so stupid, who knows, maybe they will even see the errors of their ways.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

You’re still thinking in terms of U.S. laws, where exercises of free speech are legal.

I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be allowed to explain this to their customers, I think that it makes sense that they should, I’m just saying that you’re assuming that they have a legal system that makes sense. As the OP demonstrates, they clearly do not.

Call me Al says:

I just don’t get it. Why wouldn’t they want Google linking to their pages and driving traffic to them?

I can only think of two possibilities:

1) They have rubbish paywalls and people can bypass them through a Google search.

2) They think that by doing this people will be forced to travel to the newspaper website directly in order to get their Belgian news.

Neither of which is a particularly appealing option.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

>>robots.txt ?

Robots.txt is a relatively simple text file that the site owner can use to tell Google or other text crawlers not to index the website. It can also be used to tell web crawlers how to optimally crawl the site. It is a well known technique among site administrators. It has been around since the earliest days of the web.

When newspapers complain about Google indexing their website it is usually entertaining to look at their robots.text file because it is almost always set up to tell Google explicitly how to index their site.

Generally you can look at the file by just appending /robots.txt to the end of the URL.

That Anonymous Coward says:

but but but Google needs to do all of the hard work for us!

One wonders if Belgium is all for ACTA, or if they recently had some laws proposed and paid for by the US Government.

It is amazing the lengths every type on industry seems willing to go through to try to stave off any possibility of technology forcing them to adapt.

But when you can just try to extract money from someone with deep pockets and the courts let you… why not?

Mike C. (profile) says:

Boy are they going to be sorry...

Consider this… how many users do you know that can’t seem to comprehend the “address bar” in a browser. In other words, how many users do you know that will use a Google search to get to a known address?

Tech: Okay, go to
User: *opens Google, searches for Facebook*
Tech: What are you doing?
User: Going to Facebook like you told me.
Tech: Why not just type in the address?
User: This is how I always do it…..
Tech: *headslap*

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Boy are they going to be sorry...

It’s not uncommon that it’s faster to type part of an URL into google and click on the result than to type in the full. Even facebook, your user typed ‘facebook’ + enter + 1 click, vs ‘’ + enter. Saved four keypresses at the cost of one mouseclick. For a slow typist, that might be worth it.

I still type ‘aicn’ into google, rather than typing ‘’ into the addressbar, for instance. It’s just faster, and I hate going into the bookmarks menu.

Jan Bilek says:

Is any commenter from Belgium here? I would like to know how other Belgian publishers/website owners react to this. If I had a business in Belgium I would be outraged by the decision that practically makes linking (without permission) illegal… creating SEO nightmare for every Belgian company – who is going to bother and ask for permission to give you some SEO love and link to your content?

Duke (profile) says:

Reading the judgment....

While I haven’t read the judgment myself (it’s in French, but available through here), it seems that the Court wasn’t objecting to linking but to caching. The case isn’t quite as ridiculous as it may seem, as Google’s cache was apparently making paid-for articles available for free, through the cache.

While Belgium probably has a copyright exception for reporting current events (I think it’s in EU law), keeping a cache of paid-for news articles for a month was found to go too far.

Anonymous Coward says:


This is *awesome* news! Just think about how easy it will be to get rich now!

1. Go to Belgium. (Not strictly necessary, but makes life simpler in the long run.)
2. Start up web site/blog.
3. Write stories criticizing Belgian courts and businesses.
4. When these places link to you, sue them for copyright infringement.

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