Google reaches deal with Belgian publishers, avoids paying 'link tax'

The finer details of the arrangement are yet to emerge, but it appears as though Google has routed its opponents here. The litigation is over, and the company will not need to pay any ancillary copyright fees for include headlines and text snippets in its results.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Google appears to have won its war with Belgian newspaper publishers, ending six years of litigation around the publishers' 'link tax' proposals.

As is also the case in France and Germany, publishers in Belgium had been arguing that Google should pay copyright licensing fees for including headlines and snippets of text in its search results. The argument led to Belgian articles being de-indexed from Google's results at one point.

However, on Wednesday Google and Belgian publishers' association Copiepresse announced an end to hostilities. In a blog post, Google Belgium managing director Thierry Geerts said the agreement "ends all litigation and represents great news for both us and the newspapers".

"We continue to believe that our services respect newspaper copyrights and it is important to note that we are not paying the Belgian publishers or authors to include their content in our services," Geerts wrote.

Under the terms of the agreement, Google will advertise its services on the publishers' media and the publishers will "optimise their use of Google's advertising solutions, in particular AdWords, to attract new readers".

"It's much more beneficial for us to work together than to fight" — Thierry Geerts, Google

Publishers will also buy into AdSense and AdExchange, and will somehow collaborate with Google on "making money with content... via premium models [such as] paywalls and subscriptions". We have asked Google's press team to clarify this part.

Other elements of the deal include collaboration on distributing content via mobile platforms, setting up official YouTube channels for the publishers and embedding Google+ social tools such as video Hangouts into news sites.

"Many win-win ways exist for Google and publishers to join forces in the new digital universe," Geerts wrote. "Instead of continuing to argue over legal interpretations, we have agreed on the need to set aside past grievances in favour of collaboration. This is the same message we would like to send to other publishers around the world — it's much more beneficial for us to work together than to fight."

UPDATE (2.15pm): Copiepresse has issued a version of the joint statement in English. The statement said publishers were willing to "build new business models to further optimise their monetisation both on the advertising market and on the readers' market".

"Google, the publishers and the authors, even if they retain different legal positions, agree upon the opportunity to end the legal proceedings and to leave those disagreements behind," the statement read. "Google will pay the legal fees and work with the publishers on mutually beneficial business partnerships and innovation."

The statement quoted publisher representative Francois Le Hodey as saying that, when the legal dispute arose in 2006, "Belgian French media had no contact person at Google in Belgium and did not have a clear view on the intentions of Google in these markets during the launch of Google News".

"Today, and especially since the arrival of a new Google management in Belgium, a more constructive relationship has been established with these publishers, opening the door to further synergies with them," Le Hodey added.

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