Google pays up in news snippet dispute


Google is paying around $6.5 million Belgian newspapers who complained that Google News violated its copyright. But the company is very keen to stress that this is not a payment for using the content itself.

As in several countries, the case centered on Google’s use of “snippets”, short extracts of newspaper articles that appear on Google News along with a link to the original pages. Google argues that this is covered by fair use exemptions and notes that the practice helps bring traffic to the sites. Newspaper groups don’t always see it that way and Belgium’s French language publishers had begun legal action.

Google has today announced a settlement and called it an example of a “win-win” agreement. While reports have said Google is paying the legal fees, and Google itself says “it is important to note that we are not paying the Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in our services,” the publishers will be getting some money from the deal.

A French newspaper quotes one of the publishers involved in the case as saying the payment is around two to three percent of the sales revenues of the newspaper groups, equivalent to $6.5 million. It’s not clear if the sides simply agreed to this cash amount or if they explicitly agreed the percentage and worked out the figures from there.

Google saying it isn’t paying to use the content appears to be something of a technicality: the money will actually come in the form of Google buying advertising in the relevant newspapers. While this is purely speculation, there’s some suspicion this is a carefully-crafted deal designed to avoid Google formally paying to use the snippets, thus opening itself up to claims in other countries.

The deal also includes several other areas of partnership: publishers will “optimize” their use of Google ad services on their sites, the sites will carry tools from Google +, the newspapers will get official YouTube channels, there’ll be work on Android apps for the titles, and the two sides may work together on paywalled subscription sites.

According to Google, “Instead of continuing to argue over legal interpretations, we have agreed on the need to set aside past grievances in favor of collaboration.” Whether that means it secretly thinks there is too much risk that it might lose if such a battle made it to court remains to be seen.