Lawyers for Belgium's French-speaking newspapers and Internet search engine Google clashed in court on Friday during a hearing into a copyright case against the US giant.
The newspaper editors, who have lodged the case against Google, accuse it of violating copyright rules by displaying parts of articles, photos and graphics from their media Web sites on its own site without permission or compensation.
"Google sucks up content from web sites and recopies it onto its site," said Bernard Magrez, lawyer for Copiepress, an association representing the papers.
For example, he said, Internet users logging on to the Web site of Belgian newspaper Le Soir had to pay to access its archived articles, but if they went onto Google's site, they could access those articles for free.
Hitting back, Google's lawyers said the papers were seeking to profit from its immense financial success in recent years.
"What's at stake today is not copyright but money," lawyer Erik Valgaeren told the court in Brussels.
Google's main defense is that it is a search engine that helps users find information on other Web sites and not a so-called portal that hosts its own information.
Google News only displays 150 characters per article, Google lawyer Celine Eyers said. The company considers that it should not have to pay copyright fees because it only directs users to newspapers sites.
"Google thinks that newspapers should thank it for raising the profile of their work," said Karine Doutrelepont, a lawyer for an association which manages copyright for Belgian journalists and backs the newspapers.
But, she added, "it asphyxiates the entire content through appropriation."
After a hearing lasting more than three hours, the presiding judge said she would issue a ruling on the case "after the Christmas holidays," without offering a precise date.
On Sept. 5, a lower court ordered Google News to stop reproducing content from French-language and German-language newspapers in Belgium on its Belgian Web site.
The California-based company, which faced a daily fine of one million euros (US$1.3 million) if it did not comply with that ruling, more or less acquiesced, although there was some grumbling from the papers about items still available on Google's archive section.
Separately, Italian prosecutors on Friday put two Google Italy representatives under investigation as part of an inquiry into how a video of teenagers harassing an autistic classmate surfaced on its Video site, a judicial source said.
The two are accused of failing to check on the content of the video posted on the Internet search engine's Web site.
The video, which sparked outrage in the country, showed four teenagers beating and poking fun at a 17-year-old disabled boy in a classroom in the northern Italian city of Turin.
Prosecutors have already put the four students and a teacher under investigation. The students have also been suspended until the end of the school year.
A spokeswoman for Google in Europe said the Internet search engine was sorry for the distress caused by the video and had acted swiftly when it was informed of its content.