Ze Google, She Scares Me

Some weird cultural stereotypes defy explanation. What was the deal with Germans and David Hasselhoff? And why, oh why, do the French hate Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) so much?

We've seen that the sale of competing AdWords -- something the courts have found just hunky-dory in the U.S. -- constitutes a big non-non in France.

Last week, Agence France-Presse (AFP), following in the footsteps of its commercial brethren, filed its own lawsuit against Google, looking for a reported $15 million in damages for alleged copyright infringement for the firm's use of AFP material on its news site.

For those of you unfamiliar with Google's news site, it does not, in fact, reprint articles in whole. It provides only headlines and brief summaries, along with thumbnail images and a link to the news site from which the story was gathered. Although AFP's main Web page contained code designed to dissuade Web crawlers from aggregating its stories, Google's software could, and did, pull bits of AFP stories from licensees of AFP.

AFP claims the headlines and summaries are the core of its protected material. I will bet the AFP legal team a case of Beaujolais that any U.S. court will find Google's use to be fair use, and, moreover, will ask what exactly the beef is, now that Google is working to remove all AFP stories from its indexing pages. Oddly enough, by demanding its removal from Google, AFP will probably see that the websites of its licensees are accessed less often, depriving them of traffic and ad revenue.

Of course, Google isn't the only U.S. Web firm that has run afoul of French authorities. Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) recently asked a federal court for protection after a French court awarded damages (now amounting to some $15 million) because the firm allowed French users to deal in Nazi memorabilia on the U.S. site, something that's against the law in France but not in the United States. As odd as it seems, the French court's decision, if unhindered, would give the French government control of what can appear on American websites.

That may be exactly what the French government wants. Lately I've been seeing plenty of signs that the French media and government are united in their efforts to rebuff what is construed as American techno-corporate imperialism, from use of the catchphrase omnigooglization, to a Chirac-endorsed initiative to digitize French libraries to stave off the threat of Google's well-known project.

Shareholders in Google, Yahoo!, and InterActiveCorp (Nasdaq: IACI  ) can probably ignore the panicky predictions of sinking ad revenue for now. But they should remain on the lookout. With the amount of overseas revenue at stake -- especially for Google -- a dose of successful foreign jingoism could put a serious cramp in what's already a pretty pricey growth story.

For related Foolishness:

Seth Jayson figures he'd best not make any more smart-alecky remarks about France. At the time of publication, he had positions in no firm mentioned. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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