Belgian newspapers ask Google for $77.5 million in damages

Belgian newspaper publishers won previous rulings against Google News for violating copyright law by publishing their articles and caching their Web pages

A group of Belgian newspaper publishers wants Google to pay up to €49.2 million ($77.5 million) in damages for violating copyright law by publishing their articles on Google News and caching their Web pages.

It made the claim in a court summons served last week, and made public on Wednesday. The Belgian publishers' group Copiepresse first filed suit over the Google News service in April 2006.

"We entered in negotiations with Google to reach an agreement, but they have now failed," said Margaret Boribon, secretary general at Copiepresse.

Now Copiepresse is asking for between €32.8 million and €49.2 million in damages, and wants Google to appear in court on Sept. 18 at a hearing to decide whether the newspapers' copyright was infringed and to rule on the claim for damages, according to the summons.

If Google contests the claims, Copiepresse wants the court to review Google's server logs going as far back as 2001, to see how many readers have consulted its members' news articles.

Since 2006 the case has been moving forward, slowly. The Court of First Instance in Brussels sided with Copiepresse in September that year, ordering Google to remove the Belgian Web sites from Google News and its main search engines, which it did. The court reaffirmed its decision in February 2007, but Google appealed.

Last May, Google added links to Belgian newspaper sites in its main search results, one of the conditions from Copiepresse to start the now failed negotiations, according to Boribon.

The Belgian publishers are still open to a settlement, said Boribon.

"All we want is to reach a fair agreement with Goggle, but if that fails we will go on with every possible procedure," she said.

Google, however, still insists that Google News and Google Web search are legal, and that it hasn't violated Copiepresse's copyright.

"This is why we are appealing the February 2007 ruling. We consider that this new claim for past damages is groundless and we intend to vigorously challenge it," said a spokeswoman.

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