The Belgian press is fighting for its rights (really?)

A lot of blogs, Belgian or not, are talking about the fact that the Belgian French-speaking press (lead by CopiePress, a Belgian rights management company) successfully sued Google in Belgium over indexing, author rights, content copying, etc. The full order is available on the Belgian Google homepage (in French).

I am not a lawyer. So I read the order:

  • CopiePress wanted the Belgian court to look at the lawfullness of Google News and Googgle Cache services, according to the Belgian law
  • CopiePress wanted Google to remove all links to any data from CopiePress clients
  • CopiePress wanted Google to publish the order in its first page on their Belgian website

So, CopiePress won the first case (the case will be heard again in appeal). I assume that the Belgian justice department is doing its job. So, let us consider that Google broke the Belgian law with their services. If you want to know more about the legal stuff, P. Van den Bulck, E. Wery and M. de Bellefroid wrote an article about which Belgian laws Google seems to have broken (in French).

I am not a lawyer but I grew up with the internet. In my opinion, the internet was technically not designed for the kind of use CopiePress wants. The internet was designed to share information in a decentralised way. All TCP/IP requests are equal (no intrinsic difference in paid/unpaid subscribed/unsubscribed access, i.e.). Search engines were “invented” later, when it became difficult to find a piece of information on the internet. Later on, people invented technical solutions to avoid being indexed by robots (robots.txt convention) or to avoid anyone having access to “protected” (unpaid) content. For instance, Le Soir robots file is useless (it dissallows nothing), La Libre Belgique robots file is only there to protect access statistics and advertisement images. And successfully protected its report on interns: no direct access, no Google cache.

As many other people (even on these journals blogs or even from journalists working for these journals), I think these newspapers will lose readers (hits), they will lose their credibility in the young generation of readers who, rightly or wrongly, loves all these free web services (Google, Flickr, YouTube, Skyblog, etc.). At least they lost mine because I am sure there are other ways to avoid Google on their pages and because I am asking myself some questions tending to show that they just want some free advertisement or even hide something else (see below).

Why aren’t they suing other search engines? Yahoo! indexes pages and articles from these newspapers, it even has a cached copy of these. MSN Newsbot also indexes pages and articles from these newspapers, with direct links to the articles (no roundabout way to the first page/ad). Etc. I suppose Google is the internet big player, the first search engine for the moment and they want to catch the public attention.

An very good article by D. Sullivan suggests that they are doing that for money only. Here is their new business plan: if we don’t succeed in selling our products, we’ll sue an internet big player for money!

Why Flemish-written newspapers didn’t launch such lawsuit against Google? Either they like what Google is doing, either they don’t care (or they are preparing such lawsuit).

Finally, these French-writing newspapers launched this lawsuit at the very same moment a French-speaking professional journalist association is launching a press campain against these newspapers practises with freelance journalists: minimum salary, undefined conditions, etc.. That’s strange because Google Cache exists since at least 2 years ; they didn’t noticed it before?

In summary, I am sure there are other ways to make search engines “friendly” with your news website. This lawsuit is giving a bad impression on Belgium and its French-written press in the electronic world. I am wondering how long it will take until they will again complain that their number of readers is down. I am not defending Google. I’m just criticising the French-written newspapers lawsuit.