Is Belgium's Bark Worse Than Google's Bite?

If anything should be a maxim for operating a successful website, it's this: Stay on the good side of the search engines. Search engines drive web traffic, and if you set them off, they can drive that traffic right past your site without a second thought. This moves us to wonder: What the heck is going on with the Belgian press, and who told them it was a good idea to agitate Google?

The Belgian press, or rather Copiepresse, the organization representing French and German-speaking Belgian news outlets, is dragging Google through the European courts, alleging Google's news aggregation service constitutes copyright infringement in Belgium — a claim upheld by a Belgian trial court and currently on appeal. Now Copiepresse is seeing green, and has ordered Google back into court to pay up for the still-awaiting-review decision. The group is seeking €49 million ($77 million US) for Google's use of their headlines and short excerpts, including an immediate €4 million "provisional" fine and €1 million per day if Google don't post an uncommented copy of the lower court's ruling on its Belgian websites for twenty days. Google, for their part, is remaining mum, saying they haven't received Copiepresse's latest filing and are unable to comment.

What we want to know, however, is who forgot to tell Copiepresse who they're dealing with? Sure, if they win, which won't be decided until all the appeals are heard, they'll walk out with €50 million or so — certainly nothing to be sneezed at. However, in the process, they've forced Google to stop using, and therefore, driving traffic to, their stories, as well as forcing the search giant to stop caching — and quite possibly indexing — their content. Google holds 50% of the worldwide search market; why would anyone want to exclude their content from 50% of the world? Even worse, other large search engines and news aggregators — Yahoo, for example — may proactively dispense with Copiepresse, further shrinking their search traffic. Then, of course, there's Page Rank, which determines everything from search placement to ad revenues — somehow, we suspect it's rather difficult to calculate PR for content you're not indexing.

All in all, we're left thinking that Copiepress is winning the paper victory, and perhaps even a bit of cash, but it's Google that will get the last laugh.

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