Opinion: Google News, Bloggers, and the Belgian courts

From time to time we like to see the giants fall.  However, I think in this particular case if the giant falls so does the little guy.  If the Belgian court's recent ruling against Google becomes the "standard" that all sites will be judged, the ruling would likely have a negative effect for most bloggers and the readers who visit those blogs.  As reported by CNET:

A Belgian court on Tuesday ordered the search giant to refrain from showing excerpts of articles from French- and German-language Belgian newspapers on Google News and Google's Web search site for Belgium, reaffirming an earlier ruling by the same court against the company. However, in a nod to Google, the court reduced the daily fine Google faces if it fails to heed the order, from $1.3 million to $32,500.

Please don't take this as legal advice, but I think this ruling is just plain silly.  The fact is most bloggers and many news sites take excerpts from other articles and place it in their own article (with proper references, of course).   In fact, I have to wonder since I put the above citation from CNET into this post am I now breaking Belgian law?  If you're a visitor of sites such as Linux Today, NewsForge, Slashdot, Digg, and the infamous CMS Report...well according to this Belgian court  you may be visiting a site that is breaking Belgian copyright law.

Luckily, most countries have copyright laws that state the use of excerpts and facts from other articles are allowable and do not infringe copyright.  For example, regarding copyright law in the United States:

The 1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law cites examples of activities that courts have regarded as fair use: “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

Copyright protects the particular way an author has expressed himself; it does not extend to any ideas, systems, or factual information conveyed in the work.

Of course the question becomes exactly how much text can be considered an excerpt from the article and when is too much considered stealing.  However, I think most bloggers and reporters try to do their best to not cross that line.

In this particular case with regards to Google, I think the Belgians and the rest of the anti-Google lot are on the wrong path.  I only hope the rest of Europe doesn't follow the Belgians lead down that same path.  Let's face it, if showing excerpts of articles is wrong for Google then without a doubt it's wrong for bloggers like you and me.  You can quote me on that...unless of course you are a resident of Belgium where you may need to first check with a lawyer.