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Google Ordered to Pay Up in Belgium

UPDATED: A Belgian court today reportedly sided with European newspaper publishers, ruling Internet search giant Google must pay fines for violating that country's copyright laws.

Along with demanding the removal of all infringing links to Belgian newspaper articles displayed by Google or Google News, the court fined the search company $32,500 per day, The Wall Street Journal reported. If the fines are retroactive to an earlier September ruling, the penalty could reach more than euro 3.45 million (US$4.4 million).

The court also ordered Google to get permission from copyright holders or face daily fines.

"Google is disappointed with today's judgment, which we will appeal," a spokeswoman told internetnews.com, adding that Google News is "entirely legal."

The company said publishers benefit from Google and Google News driving traffic to their Web sites.

The search company said it already provides a way for publishers to opt out of its Internet sweeps through robots.txt files. Those files limit what pages search engines can collect.

"You can easily shut the door," Gartner analyst Allen Weiner told internetnews.com. Publishers can't ask for the exposure Google provides and then close their sites to search engines. "They can't have it both ways."

Content providers need to face the reality of a digital world. "It goes against the flow of information on the Web," said Weiner. Publishers can use an XML feed to control what information is available.

The Belgian ruling reaffirmed a court decision that said Google violated copyright law by displaying links to news articles without permission.

That case, brought in September by Copiepresse, an association of 18 French, Belgian and German newspapers, claimed Google violated the nations' copyright laws by caching links to news stories the newspapers would normally archive and sell by subscription.

After the Belgian Court of First Instance originally ruled against Google, the company appealed, claiming it didn't know about the hearing.

While a loss, the most recent ruling trims the $1.3 million daily fine threatened in September to $32,500.

Copiepresse has sent warning letters to Yahoo and Microsoft's MSN to remove offending news links, pay fees or face fines, the newspaper reported.

This isn't the first time Google has been hauled into court for its linking practices.

In 2005, Agence France Press (AFP), France's equivalent of the Associated Press or Reuters, sued Google for $15 million, charging Google's new crawler technology cut into its subscription revenue.