Despite a pledge to the contrary made 16 months ago, Google Inc. is still returning links to Agence France Presse (AFP) articles in its Google News Web site.
The French news agency sued Google in March 2005, alleging copyright infringement over the inclusion of AFP content in Google News, a news search service which aggregates links to online articles and accompanying photos from about 4,500 news outlets.
Days later, Google announced it would scrub Google News clean of AFP content, including text, thumbnails of photos, and headlines linked to articles in external Web sites. However, a Google News search for "Agence France Presse" done mid-afternoon (U.S. Eastern Time) Monday shows that AFP articles are still being indexed by Google News.
In the first two pages of results, the English-language version of Google News returned links to several recent AFP-bylined articles, including one that appeared this weekend on The New York Times' online edition headlined "Uganda Says Rebels’ Words Threaten Talks." Meanwhile, AFP-bylined stories also came up after doing the same search in Google News' French-language version.
A lawyer for Google declined to comment, while a Google spokesman couldn't immediately explain why AFP links and content are still appearing on Google News. An AFP official in its North America headquarters in Washington, DC referred questions to its lawyer, who didn't immediately reply to a comment request.
Google isn't under any legal obligation at this point to refrain from including AFP content on Google News. However, Google made a decision to comply with AFP's demands, possibly to bolster its defense in the case.
Last year, a Google spokesman said Google's policy is to comply with opt-out requests from news outlets that don't want their content appearing on Google News. Still, Google's ability to fully comply with such requests is, at the very least, questionable, considering it is still serving up AFP content and links almost 18 months after pledging to rid Google News of them.
AFP generates revenue by charging fees to news outlets that subscribe to its wire service. In its complaint, AFP charges Google with copyright violation, alleging that, as a non-subscriber to AFP, Google has no right to include AFP content in Google News.
The news agency is seeking to recover damages of at least US$17.5 million from Google and wants the court to forbid Google from including its content in Google News.
Google and AFP are due in court again on Tuesday for a status conference with Judge Gladys Kessler in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia about the ongoing litigation. This type of conference is usually held to update the judge on the parties' process of discovery, or sharing of information, prior to the start of the trial.
According to a pre-conference status report filed by Google's lawyers with the court last week, the case's discovery process apparently hasn't gone smoothly. In January, Google and AFP agreed to select certain dates for which Google would provide reconstructions of Google News home pages, so that AFP could identify instances of alleged copyright violations. Google delivered the reconstructions but, as of July 14, the date of Google's filing, the AFP hadn't identified any allegedly infringing instances of headlines and text, according to Google's filing.
To deliver thumbnails, which Google doesn't save, Google needs additional information from AFP which AFP hadn't yet delivered, according to the filing.
Because AFP hasn't even identified instances of alleged copyright infringement, Google argues in its filing that its previously submitted motion to dismiss the lawsuit remains valid "and ripe for decision" by the judge.
Meanwhile, AFP lawyers said in their own court filing Monday that they will need more time to examine the reconstructed Web pages because the process has proven much more complicated and time-consuming than previously thought.