Google News Sparks a Fight in Norway

Since Google News launched its Norwegian edition one week ago, protests have run high.  Editors and photographers claim that Google News’ practice of using photos on its automated site violates Norwegian copyright.

Norwegian Media Businesses’ Association (MBL) is fronting the fight on behalf of the news sites. MBL’s chief legal officer, Pernille Børset, told the Norwegian-language trade magazine Journalisten that “Google should ask for permission” before using pictures from MBL members’ sites.

The fight has been going on for some days now. Many observers, myself included, have come to suspect that neither the MBL nor the site editors have been aware that they can easily block out Google’s robot with a simple line in their robots.txt-file (see right).

Sure enough: Today in Journalisten, the editors of two major news sites (VG Nett and Dagbladet) admit that they didn’t know the robots.txt trick. However, they claim it’s not their responsibility to lock Google out. Quite the opposite, they claim — Google should simply refrain from taking their pictures.

Laura Ainsworth, European spokeswoman for Google, told Journalisten: “When newspapers (sic) are [averse] to being indexed by our news service, we are happy to discuss this with them. After they have looked into the service, they usually ask to be included. Our position is that we don’t break any rules.”

Not being a lawyer, my position is this: Google News is probably in violation of Norwegian copyright law. On the other hand, they probably drive a lot of traffic to the sites they index. That’s why Google and MBL should sit down and talk. Maybe there’s a deal to be struck…

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