Belgian French-language newspapers were back on Google on Thursday after agreeing that the search engine can link to their Web sites, the first signs of a thaw in a bitter copyright dispute.
But neither has so far settled on a key part of the dispute: the use of newspaper story links used on Google News.
In February, Google Inc. lost a lawsuit filed by the newspapers that forced it to remove headlines and links to news stories posted on its Google News service and stored in its search engine’s cache without the copyright owners’ permission.
Google had earlier removed all reference to the newspapers to avoid legal trouble, meaning that a search for even the name of Belgian daily “Le Soir” would not bring up the publication’s Web site.
But searchers will now find that paper and 16 others although they will not be able to access stored versions of older content that the newspapers want to charge for. It is similar to the system used by The New York Times and others for premium content that marks stories with a “no archive” tag so it won’t be cached.
In a joint statement, Google and the newspapers’ copyright group Copiepresse said they had decided that Google could once again list the newspapers on the search engine.
But they made no mention of one of the main parts of their dispute, Google News, merely saying they were still in talks.
“The Belgian French and German-language daily press publishers and Google Inc. intend to use a quiet period in the court dispute to continue their efforts to identify tangible ways to collaborate in the long term,” they said.
The Brussels Court of First Instance ruled this spring that Mountain View, Calif.-based Google could not call on exemptions, such as claiming “fair use” because it says Google News reviews press articles when it displays headlines, a few lines of text, photos and links to the original page.
The company behind the world’s most-used search engine is still appealing that ruling to clarify what it covers. It claims its Google News service is “entirely legal.”
Google says the court has still had not settled the question of what the ruling covers, claiming it only applied to Google News Belgium and google.be. The company says it has been in compliance since September.
It was unclear if Google would have to pay retroactive daily fines of 25,000 euros (more than $32,000) for each day it did not comply and what date any fines should start from.
Copiepresse first cried foul in February 2006, a month after Google launched a Belgian version of Google News displaying content from local newspapers found by its search engine.
The group was also negotiating similar copyright issues with Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.’s MSN.