In a Brussels courtroom today, Google robustly defended its practice of caching and summarising news stories on its Google News service.
The world's most popular search engine had been accused of copyright infringement by a group of French-language Belgian newspapers.
Lawyers for Copiepresse, the association representing the newspapers, said Google was giving away archived articles that the newspapers charge readers for, and was therefore undermining the papers' business model.
Google faces copyright lawsuits on a number of fronts. Agence France Presse has sued the company for indexing and republishing AFP news stories taken from the websites of its customers. Authors and publishers in France and the US are suing it over its Google Book Search tool, which displays whole pages from books in the public domain, and excerpts from books still under copyright. And a French film production company has sued the company for distributing a film through its Google Video service.
At issue in the Belgian case is the way Google's news search sites present headlines and excerpts of news stories taken from other sites, grouping together stories that Google's software determines are about the same event. The three lawyers representing Google presented a wide range of arguments defending its practice.
"The freedom to disseminate news should not be curtailed by copyright," said one of the lawyers.
Another said that Google's practices did not violate anyone's copyright. The third cited the 2005 European Copyright Directive, pointing out that the Europe-wide law tries to balance authors' rights with the interest of the general public.
"Over-zealous protection of authors' rights could put a brake on the internet," he said.
Defending the company's practice of summarising articles from newspapers, one of Google's lawyers pointed out that the summaries contain only 150 words, and that the source of the information and the name of the author are identified.
Copiepresse also had three lawyers representing it. They dismissed Google's arguments, characterising them as an attempt to portray Google merely as a research tool.
"Google News is not a research tool but a cocktail of content," one said. In their arguments against Google they tried to portray the search engine as a rival publisher in the online world.
The hearing finished by early afternoon. The judge said she would give her verdict early in the new year.