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Google: search engine or copyright pirate?

Google today took a pasting in the Belgian courts. The case raises some interesting questions, chief among them: 'why would any publication not want to be Googled?' and 'since when did Belgium get so bolshy'?

A group of Belgian newspapers are unhappy that Google News publishes a brief precis of their content when it links to their stories. They claim - and they won - that this breaks their copyright. Which is fair enough, I suppose - Google tends not to ask before it searches.

But as a member of the wider, non-Belgian, community I have to say that I read very few Belgian newspapers. And, indeed, if I ever do, it will be the big G that takes me to them. What are they afraid of?

The internet and Google have been both a challenge and a boon to publishing in general. On the one hand publications can no longer rely on history, size and their masthead to bring in readers, regardless of the quality of the content. On the flip side, anybody in the world can, in theory, break a big story and hoover up the world's hits. In Google's world content is king.

(Alright, content, popularity and the number of links, but the playing field is a little more level. Imagine a blogger going up against The New York Times as a news source without a search-engine's help. And it does happen.)

So I struggle to understand why anyone in the world would want to take Google out of the equation. Some websites would do almost anything to get a story on to Google News (er, I'm told). Granted, there's no way of directly generating revenue from a Google News posting, but the spike in traffic can be huge.

The bottom line is, if your site is good enough, Google will find it. Not in Belgium, though.

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