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Google Loses Cache-Copyright Lawsuit in Belgium 340

Posted by Zonk
from the no-convenience-for-you dept.
acroyear writes "A court in Belgium has found that Google's website caching policies are a violation of that nation's copyright laws. The finding is that Google's cache offers effectively free access to articles that, while free initially, are archived and charged for via subscriptions. Google claims that they only store short extracts, but the court determined that's still a violation. From the court's ruling: 'It would be up to copyright owners to get in touch with Google by e-mail to complain if the site was posting content that belonged to them. Google would then have 24 hours to withdraw the content or face a daily fine of 1,000 euros ($1,295 U.S.).'"
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Google Loses Cache-Copyright Lawsuit in Belgium

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  • Har Har (Score:5, Informative)

    by N8F8 (4562) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:53AM (#17996922)
    The ruling basically reiterates the current Google policy.
  • Waffles (Score:5, Funny)

    by bostons1337 (1025584) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:53AM (#17996926)
    Don't they have anything better to do....like make us Americans some waffles.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:54AM (#17996938)
    I thought the whole EU had some sort of "fair dealing" exemptions. If they do, I can't believe that Google's lawyers lost this.
  • That's unfortunate (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aussie_a (778472) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:54AM (#17996952) Journal
    That is unfortunate, but I'm amazed caching is even legal in some (most?) countries. Its always seemed like it was just rampant copyright infringement to me, except of course the law in certain countries makes an exception for it.
  • by Rude Turnip (49495) <[valuation] [at] [gmail.com]> on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:56AM (#17996978)
    That's $472,675 per year, or, in Google's accounting terms, $0 after rounding to the nearest million.
  • by DrEldarion (114072) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:01AM (#17997036)
    If they don't like it, they can very easily "opt out" by using Robots.txt to disallow Googlebot. I fail to see where the problem is here.
    • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:05AM (#17997090) Homepage
      That argument makes no sense before the law. If publishing companies don't like me photocopying their books and passing them on to people, laden with ads for profit, could I say "No, the companies should have printed them on special anti-photocopying paper"? No. Google broke the law. The law assigns no responsibility to copyright holders to protect their property from those who would copy it, but it does bind the citizenry not to copy.

      FWIW, I hate the entire idea of copyright, I'm just trying to show how Google has to act in court.
      • by DrEldarion (114072) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:15AM (#17997218)
        Here's the rub, though:

        1) The web page is publicly accessible for free to begin with. That complicates things quite a bit.
        2) The ruling from the court doesn't say Google needs to stop caching, it just says that Google has to provide an opt-out. That option already exists.
        • by that this is not und (1026860) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:22AM (#17997332)
          That doesn't matter. Publishers of those free urban tabloids still retain copyright on the articles and graphics given away for free in the tabloids.
        • by inviolet (797804) <slashdotNO@SPAMideasmatter.org> on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:42AM (#17997632) Journal

          Good answer.

          This ruling doesn't significantly hurt Google. Alas, it only hurts everyone else -- all billion or so of Google's users. Having quick access to (at least a chunk of) a piece of content, especially when that content has expired or is temporarily unreachable, is convenient and valuable. Many times in my own searches, the piece of data I anxiously sought was available only in the cache.

          Let's hope that Google does not respond to the ruling by across-the-board reducing or removing the cache feature.

          • by tedrlord (95173) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:48PM (#17998702)
            I'd kind of like to see them respond by disabling caching of any site in the .be tld. Suddenly Belgium's news and information sites stop getting any hits and their media industry freaks out. Normally I'm against corporations throwing their weight around but I'm even more against countries tossing around poorly planned regulation.

            *grumbling about all the wonderful daylight savings patches*
          • by Infernal Device (865066) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:49PM (#17998716)
            I suggest it hurts a slightly smaller subset - the ones who use Google who need access to news created in, by, and for Belgium and Belgians.

            Which cuts down the numbers a bit.

            I'm all in favor of just letting Belgium do this completely stupid thing and then letting them rot until they change their minds. Cut these publishers off until they die out.
      • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by gillbates (106458) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:27AM (#17997400) Homepage Journal

        If that is true, then why do I see copyright statements at the beginning of books and DVDs? It would seem the publishers are being hypocritical - they post their content publicly, refuse to use the robots.txt file, and then go on a litigation rampage when someone actually makes use of their web site. They're little different than the kid who takes his ball and goes home when he starts losing the game.

        Furthermore, I would argue that posting to a web page is implied permission because the owners do so expecting their work to be copied to personal computers. In an interesting turn of events, private individuals are allowed to copy and archive web pages, but Google is not.

        • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @03:44PM (#18001594)

          Furthermore, I would argue that posting to a web page is implied permission because the owners do so expecting their work to be copied to personal computers.

          But this isn't just copying to a personal computer, it's copying and redistributing in a modified form while passing on some of the expense to the original host site and concealing information that the original host site would otherwise have received.

          In an interesting turn of events, private individuals are allowed to copy and archive web pages, but Google is not.

          Individuals aren't, in general, allowed to redistribute entire works subject to others' copyright either.

          As an aside, I also don't have a problem with a commercial corporation not automatically having the same rights as a private citizen. The world would be a better place if more legal systems understood that they are not the same.

      • by 91degrees (207121) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:29AM (#17997442) Journal
        It's basically about established practice. We've pretty much established right and wrong when copying a book. As a rule, you don't do it. In many countries, libraries and schools have a licencing agreement that allows photocopying. With TV shows it's considered perfectly acceptable to copy an entire show. Audio mix tapes are usually considered acceptable or explictely legal.

        On the web, caching search engines have been in existence for a lot longer than expiring content has been around. It's established that search engines are a neccesity, and that robots.txt is the way to opt-out. When you do business in a new arena, it makes sense that the existing rules of the arena should apply.
      • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:56AM (#17997866) Homepage Journal
        No. Google broke the law. The law assigns no responsibility to copyright holders to protect their property from those who would copy it

        TFS says:

        It would be up to copyright owners to get in touch with Google by e-mail to complain if the site was posting content that belonged to them. Google would then have 24 hours to withdraw the content
      • by Comboman (895500) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:52PM (#17998778)
        That argument makes no sense before the law. If publishing companies don't like me photocopying their books and passing them on to people, laden with ads for profit, could I say "No, the companies should have printed them on special anti-photocopying paper"?

        Anti-photocopying paper would be the equivalent of some sort of technical means of preventing web spiders from accessing the page. The 'robots.txt' file is simply a machine-readable notification of the page owner's limits on how the content can be used, a lot like the notice printed in many books saying "No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without prior written permission from the publisher".

    • by petabyte (238821) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:08AM (#17997132)
      Or, even better, use the META tag to set NOARCHIVE:

      <meta name="ROBOTS" content="NOARCHIVE" />

      All of my website (quaggaspace.org) shows up in google, but you'll notice there is no "cached" button.
      • Here is the problem (Score:4, Interesting)

        by roman_mir (125474) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:11PM (#17998128) Homepage Journal
        Why should we have to opt out from being cached, why can't we opt in instead? I think the phone calls made by marketers are a perfect example of this. If you need your page to be found on Google or other search engines, add a meta tag, which explicitely lets a search engine to collect this page for indexing/caching. In fact allow these differences to be explicit, let search engines either index or cache or both.
        • by skiingyac (262641) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:35PM (#17998526)

          Why should we have to opt out from being cached, why can't we opt in instead?
          Here's an idea, if you have a Belgium domain, Google should NOT cache or index your website unless you provide a robots.txt saying what can & can't be indexed & cached, just to be safe so Google doesn't do something it doesn't have permission to do. Then Google will probably get sued for unfair business practices or whatever for not indexing websites of people who are too lazy to write robots.txt or find it easier (and cheaper??) to just hire some lawyers than edit a text file.

          The GP is right. The current default, free publicity by indexing/caching your entire public website unless you specify otherwise via robots.txt, makes the most sense and that is why it is used. The courts need to wake up. If a company wants to dictate something other than the default (note that these companies are NOT complaining about Google indexing their content!), they can easily do it so the courts shouldn't be meddling with things.
        • by mrchaotica (681592) * on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @02:32PM (#18000426)

          Why should we have to opt out from being cached, why can't we opt in instead?

          You did "opt in," by broadcasting your shit on the Internet in the first place!

          Don't like it? Don't upload it! Why is that simple concept so fucking hard to understand?!

          I mean, jeez -- don't you realize that what you're saying is equivalent to yelling in my ear and then complaining that I heard you?

    • by suv4x4 (956391) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:21AM (#17997302)
      If they don't like it, they can very easily "opt out" by using Robots.txt to disallow Googlebot. I fail to see where the problem is here.

      Problem is.... newspapers, wanna have their pie and eat it too.
      Solution.... it's Google's fault.
      Result.... news dinosaurs go extinct and news mammals come to rule Earth
      Moral.... don't be greedy beyond survival.
    • by mpcooke3 (306161) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:46AM (#17997694) Homepage
      I can "opt out" of having my stuff stolen by putting locks on my doors and windows.
      But I don't see why, if I forget to lock my door or choose not to bother, it should be legal for someone to take all my stuff.
      • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:17PM (#17998236)
        I appreciate the need for analogy since intellectual property law is so... well, complicated and obtuse. However, analogies involving physical objects will always fail when applied to intellectual property. This is because taking someone's physical property is almost always morally wrong, whereas morality generally does not apply to intellectual property.

        In this case, the court said that it is fine for Google to copy, but the copyright holders have a right to have any offending content taken down within 24 hours of emailing Google. This is a pretty weird ruling, since Google has had several effective opt out options for quite a while, including the robots.txt file and the meta tag that disables caching. I guess this ruling adds an option in case you make a mistake and accidentally allow Google to cache your site... sort of a morning after pill for stupid webmasters.
        • by mpcooke3 (306161) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:36PM (#17998542) Homepage
          I certainly do not understand under British law where exactly it says you can assume permission for copying non-public domain material. I would hazard a guess that what google does is illegal here. However as you say, copyright law is complex perhaps they fall under a *specific* exclusion for caching.

          Under most jurisdictions the law does recognise copying non public-domain material without permission is illegal.
          Whether you think copying material without permission or stealing someone's stuff is "moral" or not, is obviously subjective.
          • by MightyYar (622222) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:58PM (#17998850)
            Google gets permission, at least for the initial copy: when their Googlebot sends an HTTP GET request to the copyright holder's server, they either make a copy and send it to Google or they deny the request.

            You are right that determining what is moral is subjective. However, I will point out that most people would probably not see envision that their moral framework would change with time. That is, someone opposed to human slavery would presumably find the behavior repugnant whether it was done by people in the 18th century or in the present day. Someone opposed to abortion would not find it permissible so long as it was legal somewhere, or at another time. Apply this to copyright, and things fall apart. Is it okay to copy something after 30 years if it was published in the 1800s? But now it's 90 years? Why was it okay to copy something after 30 years before and 90 years now? Am I morally corrupt if I still use the old 30 year rule? Or is it because I broke the law, irrespective of what the law says? My point is that copyright changes constantly over time and varies from country to country. It is impossible to have a consistent moral view if you include copyright - it's basis has nothing to do with morals.
  • 24 hours! (Score:3, Funny)

    by loconet (415875) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:03AM (#17997056) Homepage
    "Google would then have 24 hours to withdraw the content or face a daily fine of 1,000 euros ($1,295 U.S.).'""

    I think it is safe to say they can afford to take their time...
  • by Mr. Underbridge (666784) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:03AM (#17997058)
    If I'm Google, I turn the morons off and see how fast they come screaming back when their ad revenue plummets. Seriously, IT'S FREE FREAKING ADVERTISING. Google should be charging *them*.
    • by oliderid (710055) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:50PM (#17998748) Journal
      Most of these newspapers are at least 60 years old. Somes are more than 100 years old. Nobody is really interested by Belgian news except Belgian themselves. Belgians know these newspapers names and URLs already. I really doubt that Google has any significant impact on their trafic.

      Their market is 4.2 millions of Belgian frenchspeakers, not the whole world.

      They are stupid, I don't share their point of view but I really doubt that it will hurt their business.

  • by jvkjvk (102057) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:14AM (#17997212)
    ...in the foot.

    I don't believe that Google currently is mandated to show users any particular results. The simplest technological solution for Google might be to drop indexing the sites that send these takedown notices entirely. No index, no cache; dump it all and don't look back.

    They are in no way legally bound to do come up with a more advanced solution that would be more $$ and add more complexity to the codebase.

    Now because there very well may be information that is unavailable anywhere else (although it seems relatively unlikely - yes, they might have copyrighted articles that are unavailable otherwise, but I cannot imagine the information contained therein is such, unless you're talking about creative works) Google may try to work something out. Oh, that and they are remarkably not evil compared to the power they currently wield.

    Imagine how many takedown notices they would receive after the first few rounds of companies that complained cannot be found through Google...
  • by Hoi Polloi (522990) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:23AM (#17997342) Journal
    "Well now, the result of last week's competition when we asked you to find a derogatory term for the Belgians. Well, the response was enormous and we took quite a long time sorting out the winners. There were some very clever entries. Mrs Hatred of Leicester said 'Let's not call them anything, let's just ignore them.' and a Mr St John of Huntingdon said he couldn't think of anything more derogatory than Belgians. But in the end we settled on three choices: number three, the Sprouts, sent in by Mrs Vicious of Hastings, very nice; number two, the Phlegms, from Mrs Childmolester of Worthing; but the winner was undoubtedly from Mrs No-Supper-For-You from Norwood in Lancashire, Miserable Fat Belgian Bastards!"
  • by mshurpik (198339) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:23AM (#17997344)
    >Google claims that they only store short extracts, but the court determined that's still a violation.

    Abstracts are generally a) uninformative and b) free. Seems like a huge overreaction on the EU's part.
  • by andreMA (643885) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:23AM (#17997350)
    Google just makes a policy that they don't index any site that even once sends such a request. Problem solved. More seriously, maybe an extension to robots.txt that defines cache lifespan would be reasonable.
  • Extend robots.txt? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:24AM (#17997362) Journal
    Can't google propose an extension of the robots.txt file format to allow the original publishers to set a time limit on when the search engines should expire the cache?
  • by l2718 (514756) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:25AM (#17997380)
    What do this say about proxy services, then? These also store content which may be subject to copyright and serve it to users.
  • by AJWM (19027) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:27AM (#17997402) Homepage
    Am I misremembering, or wasn't it also Belgium that ruled against Lindows in the trademark lawsuit that Microsoft brought? (After a US court said essentially that since "windows" was an English word, MSFT didn't stand much chance of winning the US suit.)

    If so, perhaps there's good reason that in "Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy", belgium is a swear word.
  • by Heddahenrik (902008) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:28AM (#17997434) Homepage
    I'm often getting irritated about that I find stuff with Google and then aren't able to read it. Who wants to find a short text describing what you're searching for, only to find out that I have to pay or go through some procedure to actually read the stuff?

    I hope Google removes these sites totally. Then, as written by others too, we need a law that says that the ones putting stuff on the web has to write correct HTML and robot.txt files if they don't want their content cached. Google can't manually go through every site on the web and it would be even more impossible for Google's smaller competitors.
  • by PHAEDRU5 (213667) <instascreed@gmai l . com> on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:36AM (#17997530) Homepage
    We call it a "Belgian Dip."
  • Just Pull Out (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:37AM (#17997536)
    Google ought to just pull-out from indexing anyone who complains about their methods. You effectively disappear off of the Internet w/o Google, and these whiny complainers deserve exactly that. Maybe after they've lived in a black hole for a while they'll realize the benefit of having their free material easy for web users to find and view.
  • Caching is Copying (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:40AM (#17997586)
    If caching is copying, than every user who isn't watching a streaming feed -- which isn't the way text and single image pages are rendered -- is guilty of copyright infringement every time they view a page. Your browser makes a copy of the page on your own hard drive. Watch out!! Here come the lawyers now.
    • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:16PM (#17998214) Homepage Journal

      If caching is copying, than every user who isn't watching a streaming feed -- which isn't the way text and single image pages are rendered -- is guilty of copyright infringement every time they view a page.

      I have news for you. When you stream your browser makes a local copy of portions of the stream, decodes them, and displays them.

      If sampling is illegal (without permission) then clearly copying a portion of a video stream without permission would be illegal. However, since you can give permission to anyone you like, there's no crime being committed, as making a stream publicly availably is granting permission.

    • by McDutchie (151611) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @03:55PM (#18001818) Homepage

      You are confused. Caching is fine. Searching is fine. Wholesale republication of cached pages without prior permission (i.e. Googles "cached version" link) is not fine.

      Want proof? Try "caching" a prominent website on your own site and see how fast you get sued. What's good for the goose is good for the gander. If Google can republish cached pages and mere mortals cannot, that's class justice.

  • Sounds Good To Me (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Imaria (975253) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @11:41AM (#17997626)
    If Google is not allowed to have any cache of these sites, then wouldn't that mean they would have nothing to index for their searches? If you send Google that email, and suddenly don't show up on any of their searches, congrats. On the plus side, no-one has access to your content anymore. On the downside, NO-ONE has any access to your content anymore, because no-one can find you.
  • Simple really (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RationalRoot (746945) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:14PM (#17998184) Homepage
    If someone does not want their extracts caches, remove them ENTIRELY from google.

    I don't believe that anyone has added "being indexed" to human rights yet.

    D
  • by uqbar (102695) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:32PM (#17998470)
    I wonder what measures are in place to prevent abuse of this by non-owners of the materials. For example say I don't like what you wrote about me - could I tell Google that I own the content, please take it out of your cache. I'm fine with the idea that people should be able to say who does what with their original web content - but there are simple technical ways for them to prevent caching. So really this seems to just open the door to abuse ala the DMCA and Michael Crook [boingboing.net].
  • by TheLink (130905) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:43PM (#17998642) Journal
    I often search for stuff, and then Google lists some very promising searches, with a lot of relevant text in the description, but no cached version available. So I click on the link, and I get a "register/subscribe page" with totally NO SIGN of any of the text that previously appeared. Anyway this happens especially with journals.

    I thought Google had a policy that a site was not allowed to show Google one thing and a normal user something else?

    Or that policy has "Unless Google is paid off by said site" somewhere?

    Anyway, ends up I need to skip all those sites and find a free site/page that deals with a similar topic.

    I'd rather Google list sites that I can access for free above the sites which I can't.

    I suppose I should go use the other search engines more regularly.
  • by oglueck (235089) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @12:46PM (#17998664) Homepage
    HTTP offers several standard headers to be interpreted by caches. The question is, does Google honour the instructions in those headers? On the other hand, content providers that serve content sensitive to cache problems are encouraged to correctly use those headers. Unfortunately (some/most?) content management systems do not provide means to control those.
  • by spasm (79260) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @01:16PM (#17999136) Homepage
    I keep waiting for Google to respond to one of these idiotic 'copyright' cases by simply removing service to IP address space associated with the country as an object lesson.

    I can't imagine the Belgian public putting up for long with completely losing access to Google simply because their copyright laws were written in another century..
  • by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @03:12PM (#18001058) Journal
    Here's how to fix the problem. When such a page would be linked to in the cach, instead put up the following:

    This page is cached, but your government officials will not let you read it. Here are their names and addresses, and the date of the next election, and the challengers to them who have signed a document that they will reverse this ruling if elected:

    Censor: Hercule Poirot
    Free Speech Challenger: Agatha Christie
    Next election for them: 18 Aug 2007

    Censor: Phinneas d'Satay
    Free Speech Challenger: Mannequin Pisse
    Next election for them: 18 Aug 2007

    etc.

    Tailor it per local region if that can be determined from the IP.

    9) Wait a few years

    10) Profit!

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