Google News uses headlines and text snippets from thousands of news sources worldwide, including newspapers, broadcasters and online publishers. A group of Belgian newspaper publishers, Copiepresse, took Google to court in Belgium and won a preliminary ruling.
The Court of First Instance in Brussels has backed that original decision, saying that Google's republishing of material in Google News and in its search engine cache without the permission of the authors breaks the law.
"We confirm that the activities of Google News, the reproduction and publication of headlines as well as short extracts, and the use of Google's cache, the publicly available data storage of articles and documents, violate the law on authors' rights," the ruling said, according to a translation from news agency AP.
The ruling, though, appears to back Google's existing procedure, by which the onus is on copyright holders to get in touch with Google and notify the company of infringement. Google would have to remove material within 24 hours or pay a €1,000 a day fine, the ruling said.
That compromise is close to the current situation, where Google will remove material on request. But Copiepresse objected to the use of material without explicit prior permission, so took the case to establish that Google should ask everyone before using their material on its sites. It seems to have lost that argument.
Google said that it believes that it acted within the law and will appeal the ruling. "Google is disappointed with today's judgment, which we will appeal," said a Google spokeswoman. "We believe that Google News is entirely legal. We only ever show the headlines and a few snippets of text and small thumbnail images. If people want to read the entire story they have to click through to the newspaper's website."
Google News does not earn advertising money and links readers through to newspapers' own websites, but Copiepresse argued that by bypassing site front pages the service caused newspaper sites to lose ad revenue.
Copiepresse also objected to the inclusion of members' material on Google search pages, which do carry advertising. It said that the availability of Google-stored old pages in its cache meant that newspapers lost the revenue they earned from charging for access to their archives.
While Google was initially threatened with a €1 million fine per day of infringement, that has been dropped to €25,000 a day.
The ruling will strengthen the hands of newspaper publishers in their dealings with Google, and many are likely to ask for payment for use of their material.
Google, though, says that its service benefits newspaper sites, and drives traffic to them.
"Search tools such as Google Web Search and Google News are of real benefit to publishers because they drive valuable traffic to their websites and connect them to a wider global audience," said the Google spokeswoman.