News agency's suit against Google tests fair use in the Internet

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

NEW YORK -- In a case that could set limits on Internet search engines, the French news agency AFP is suing Google Inc. for pulling together photos and story excerpts from thousands of news Web sites.

Agence France-Presse said the "Google News" service infringes on AFP's copyrights by reproducing information from the Web sites of subscribers of the Paris-based news wholesaler.

The issues raised by the case have profound implications for the Internet, where anyone can be a publisher and Web journals, or blogs, are becoming more frequent destinations for seekers of news.

The lawsuit's outcome will likely hinge on whether Google can persuade the courts that Google News constitutes permissible "fair use" of copyright material. Legal scholars say Google could argue that it adds value by significantly improving the news-consuming experience without greatly harming AFP's ability to sell its service.

But in seeking at least $17.5 million in damages, AFP says Google adds little because its news site looks much like those of AFP subscribers, albeit one where software and not human editors determine the placement of stories on a page.

It's possible, though, for the courts to skirt key issues given Google's promise this week to remove the AFP items in question.

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