Google Is Not Happy With This Proposed Law

    August 24, 2012
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Google has been speaking out about a proposed law in Germany, which would require search engines and aggregators to pay to license content from publishers via ancillary copyright, in order to display headlines (with links) and snippets of text. You know, the typical display of search results you see in Google News. It does seem to be specific to the Google News format, which takes the beginning of the article (usually not much more than a sentence or two), as opposed to the web search format, which provides more random snippets of text, based on the user’s query. Of course, the law is still being drafted, so who knows?

Do you think such a law would be good for the web? Tell us what you think.

Back in March, the German Ministry of Justice was tasked with penning the law, which in the meantime has gone through multiple drafts. It’s currently said to be on number three.

A Google spokesperson tells WebProNews, “We don’t have any sympathy for these plans, as an ancillary copyright lacks all factual, economic, and legal foundation. And we are not alone with this opinion: The Federation of German Industries (BDI) and 28 other associations vehemently oppose an ancillary copyright for publishers. The German parliament is divided on the issue as well. For a good reason: An ancillary copyright would mean a massive damage to the German economy. It’s a threat to the freedom of information. And it would leave Germany behind internationally as a place for business.”

“Publishers should be innovative in order to be successful,” the Googler adds. “A compulsory levy for commercial internet users means cross-subsidizing publishers through other industries. This is not a sustainable solution.”

“In difficult economic times, the Internet is thriving, generating economic gains, creating jobs and giving struggling businesses a vital lifeline,” the spokesperson says. “It is important that any legislation supports, rather than hinders innovation on the internet to encourage new jobs and economic growth.”

Google’s Kay Oberbeck, out of Hamburg, addressed it in a Google+ post (in German) earlier this week. In that, he said (according to Google Translate’s translation):

A law to the detriment of all , the Internet is an interdisciplinary technology our economy, BITKOM already eleven percent of German jobs from the Internet are dependent, ie some four million jobs. Here lives the power of billions of people and companies that connect with each other, share their knowledge and information. Core are the links and brief Textausrisse that provide the context for a link. If these mini-texts continue to be paid for, which would use for any economically employed for risk. The träfe bloggers, media, start-ups and each company with its own website – and ultimately each individual Internet users. As always try one likes to limit the effect of this “ancillary copyright”: This non-system and world unprecedented intervention into the architecture of the Internet would be the economic and innovation in Germany seriously harm.

In other words, this law could do a good deal of harm to Germany’s economy, which largely depends on the Internet, and the sharing of information. This law would hinder that sharing of information, potentially reaching beyond search engines like Google, but possibly to bloggers and Internet users in general.

GigaOm’s David Meyer got some additional commentary out of him (in English), quoting him as saying, “Nobody sees a real reason why this should be implemented. It’s really harmful, not just for users who wouldn’t find as much information as they find now, but such a law is also not justified for economic reasons or judicial reasons.”

Joe McNamee, advocacy coordinator at European Digital Rights (EDRi), tells WebProNews, “The draft proposal for ancillary copyright provisions aims at regulating (direct and indirect) commercial use of press products. Under the draft law, publishers would be able to prohibit further use of their products. Services, such as Google, who publish even very small parts of published contents would have to obtain a licence and pay a tax in order to do so. Publishers have been pushing for extensive rights to regulate what is indexed by search engines, arguing that existing HTML is not enough.”

“The justification for the legislative proposal in Germany is therefore that services, such as Google re-publish (or ‘steal’) snippets of content and benefit from journalistic work – hence publishers deserve a share of Google’s profits,” McNamee adds. “Fact is, however, that things are not all quite as bad as publishers sometimes describe them. For example, Germany’s biggest publisher Axel Springer announced an increase of 55% for its online products in the first half of 2012.”

It’s a pretty classic storyline, really. Media giants want to get paid because search engines and aggregators are getting benefit from their content. The concept of “fair use” always comes into play, as does the nature of the web in general, which is built upon content linking to other content. Search engines aren’t publishing full text content. They’re providing links with small snippets, and sending traffic on to the source, for those who want to read the content.

“The fact that these snippets drive large amounts of traffic to the publishers’ websites, to their benefit is neatly ignored,” says McNamee. “The logic is broadly similar to Disney demanding to be compensated by airlines for advertising flights to Florida using pictures of Disneyland.”

Google even offers a variety of options to publishers who offer paid content, or content behind other walls. And of course, there’s always the good ol’ robots.txt.

Google has dealt with similar mentality from media giants like News Corp. and the Associated Press in the past. Google actually did license AP content to be able to host it.

But in this case, we’re talking about an actual law, and Google is probably not willing to enter into such agreements with every publisher in its results. What would Google’s plan of action be should the law take effect? Perhaps Google could simply not include content from publishers who required compensation, and let those who are simply happy with the traffic opportunities sign up for inclusion for free. You can already submit your site to Google News as it is, and it’s not as though there will be a shortage of content. It would be interesting to see if those seeking fees would miss the traffic, and ultimately submit.

Of course, there is always the possibility that Google would index other sites and blogs who are still linking to other publishers as the original sources, which would likely lead to more legal targeting of blogs by said publishers on similar grounds (if the law doesn’t already lead to that to begin with).

Step outside of the search engine mindset for a moment and just think about your own blogging habits. Let’s say you found some point in this article interesting, and wanted to discuss it in a post on your blog. Maybe you wanted to quote something I said, and even include a link. Under such a law, perhaps we, the publisher, may not like that you’re using our content, and decide to make a legal case out of it. Of course, we wouldn’t do that, as we encourage links and the sharing of information.

The point is that this is how the web works, and any law aiming to prevent that, can’t be good for the web as we know it.

You can also think about how social media sharing works. You know what happens when you share a link on Facebook? It displays the link a snippet of text – pretty much in exactly the same fashion Google does.

Sharing on Facebook

Does that mean Facebook would be required to pay publishers too, even though it’s users sharing the links? Does it make users liable? You can see what a legal mess this could be.

“Ancillary copyright provisions could potentially become a tool for publishers to put bloggers under pressure and ultimately stifle free speech,” says McNamee. “Bloggers or users of social media publishing snippets generally don’t have the financial power to defend themselves in court. The first draft of the law would have created legal uncertainty.”

“However, after harsh criticism from civil society groups, the draft law was amended to explicitly exclude bloggers who use ads or micro-payment systems on their sites,” he notes. “Still, the current draft would restrict the diversity of information on the internet. Due to the vague definition of a ‘press product’, search engines would need to conclude thousands of individual contracts. Smaller publishers and bloggers do not have the capacity to do the same. So this is likely to result in a creation of exceptions for monopolies, leading to an uncompetitive market situation. Ultimately, this will also limit the freedom of communication and freedom to do business.”

“Even though Google, understandably is campaigning against the proposal due to the wider precedent that it would set, as an isolated case, it would be quite beneficial to them,” he says. “The bureaucratic, administrative and financial costs in respecting such a law would be a significant barrier to market entry, helping Google maintain its market share.”

Meyer points to an earlier version of the law, which even went so far as to indicate that employers would have to pay publishers for letting employees read the news online at work. It does appear that the law is aiming more towards search engines now, as Meyer notes that a second draft narrowed the scope of the legislation in this way, but then the whole thing just seems like a double standard.

Where is the line between a search engine and an aggregator? An aggregator and a blog or social media account? The lines aren’t that clear, because people and companies use different platforms in different ways. Besides, according to Meyer, the publishers aren’t even happy with the second draft, and liked the first draft better.

Rumor has it that the third draft of the law has been finalized, and is going to be negotiated in the Chancellor’s cabinet end of August, according to McNamee.

The whole thing is absurd, for a variety of reasons, he says. “It is absurd because the proposal, which would, as I said, benefit Google, was proposed, at least in part, due to anti-Google feeling among certain German politicians. It is absurd because the proposal seeks to ‘compensate’ publishers for something that is actually beneficial to them. It is absurd, because European copyright law is on its knees due to the excessive compliance costs and bureaucracy – and the publishers are asking for more costs and more bureaucracy and claim to support copyright enforcement.”

Do you agree that it’s absurd? Do you think that such a law would be good for the web? Let us know in the comments.

  • T.

    No, period.

  • T.

    I think this is an obsession of negative forces insatiably hungry for more control.

  • http://www.scifipop.com Phanna

    I am certain Google is indirectly paying those news website by linking to them and dramatically increasing their pageviews. This law should go in effect so we can all see how stupid it is. Better test it on the Germans than us.

  • http://couponcodehut.com/ Kaushal Shah

    In last one year, I have read same type of news 3 to 4 time. I think German government is not happy with Google, they take action whenever they get chance. I am happy with them, someone exist who can punish Google…LOL…

  • http://www.quicklinklist.com Alex

    This law will die a quiet death. It has been trimmed down in scope in the past few months to something that won’t be favourable to the press in the end. Google is in a strong position …

  • http://topshelfcopy.com Doc Sheldon

    This goes beyond absurd, Chris – it probably falls somewhere between assinine and brain-dead. This certainly isn’t the first time that Germany has proffered legislation that defies logic, and sadly, isn’t likely to be the last.

    I think it would be interesting to see what happens (if this law were to be enacted) if Google was to make opt-in necessary for any website hosted in or otherwise located in Germany, conveying rights to “republish” (an inaccurate term, in this context, given fair use doctrine) snippets for the purposes of listing in the SERPs.

    You don’t want to opt-in? Fine – your decision. They could either exclude your site from the index entirely (my personal favorite) or list the site with no snippet whatsoever. Perhaps even an alternate snippet, such as “this website has chosen to not share information which would indicate the nature of its content.”

    I suspect that public pressure would be immediately brought to bear to rescind the law from the books.

  • http://www.acclinet.com Mike

    There’s an easy solution: If you don’t want your site included in Google News, there should be a meta code you can use that will signal Google News to ignore it. Problem solved.

    I can’t imagine anyone opposing to the massive traffic Google News provides them. Anyone who does will probably think differently once the traffic disappears. Knuckleheads.

  • http://www.vimeo.com/8336589 Brian

    If I were to like something in this article and create commentary in my own blog using a snippet from this article, then it falls under “fair use”, but I have created something new using part of this article. Google does nothing but “steal” headlines and republish them in their search results, contributing nothing new, writing nothing new, and adding their own money-making ads around those headlines and snippets. To say I have to use meta-code on my site to stop Google from “stealing” my writing is akin to saying I have to put locks on my doors otherwise anyone can come in and legally take anything they want from my house. Review snippets are fair use; copying and pasting while adding nothing but a link back is “theft”.

  • http://foreverelegant.com Karen Miller

    Another fine example of government overreach. There are enough laws already and no need to add more. The irony here is that Google is seeking to control and dominate, and now they find themselves the target of others who would control and dominate them. Two control freaks doing battle won’t help anyone. It is a waste of resources. If Google is doing something wrong (which I don’t doubt), go after them civilly on the basis of existing laws.

  • Martin Lee Turnbull

    Should this law be passed it will result in the demise of the site originating the article copyright simply because the link backs to their web site will be cut by 90%. As a web site owner I will not pay a fee to a copyright holder for the privilege of referring people to their copyright holder’s site. If the articles content were of interest I would simply research my own article, on the same subject, and post it for the world to see.

  • http://stocktonlistings.com David

    Government must stay away from the internet. Government is wastful and incompetent..

    • http://interfaceamerica.net Larry

      What you say about Government being wastful is undoubtedly true!

      However without the government, we would not hav had the internet in the first place. Have we for gotten that the internent was first developed for communication during times that other forms of communication might have been disrupted by war or terrorism.

      Whether or not this law is put in place the internet will go on and change is on the horizon for all of us, just by the very nature of the internet, its still akin to the wild west.

  • http://www.byfchat.com Jay

    Don’t expect me to feel sorry for them. After spending 7 years building a site, according to their guideline policy”, they all but destroyed it in the past few months. They tend to change the rules constantly in the 4th quarter. Not only have the algorithms hurt me but they also recently changed the Google Adsense policy saying “chat sites are not allowed to use the program, when their own TOS did not say that. Perhaps this is KARMA coming back at them. Ruining peoples businesses after YEARS of work and following their advice is about unethical as you can get. I suppose if all countries follow Germany and start mandating fees it will ruin them like they ruined me, and millions of others. At least they would get a taste of what it feels like for someone to take away many years of hard work because someone else changed the rules in the last quarter of the game.

    • bob

      I’ll second what Jay says, too

  • Jason

    Germany is leading the front for the United Nations in their trying to control, profit off of, and ruin the entire Internet.

  • Lol

    This is a typical case of those in power who cannot, or refuse to realize the power of the internet. Most likely cannot in this case. Let these stubborn old men pass such laws and sse what happens.

    By the way, the article does not say where the tax collected would go to. Hmmmm….

  • bob

    Here’s what I think about any new law.

    About 1 in every 100 laws is a good and needed law.

    Unfortunately the other 99 remain on the books forever.

    They don’t call them lawmakers for nothing.

    I never heard of a politician called a law rescinder.

  • Steve

    It’s funny to see people (lawmakers) trying to make laws for subjects they know nothing about. They think Google is ripping off content from these publishers, when in fact Google is doing them a favor by sending them free publicity/traffic.

    Pure nonsense.

    • Idiots

      Maybe you should get the newspapers opinions. It’s Google’s business to “help everyone with free indexing” and then to commoditize it by building their own monetization around it, and calling it their own. Most of Google’s products do this, and it puts them out of a job.

  • greg

    It is probably in Google’s interest to stay out of the fray for they are self serving. By simply cutting off the service in Germany for a bit I think the outcry would be enough to deal with the German law.

    There does need to be someway to remove the millions of stupid services that clog the internet like Ask etc.

    It is funny that people are so interested in “Green” solutions yet they do nothing to reduce the wasted energy by spam and engines that generate links to links to links with very little actual content.

    It is a tough issue but I am personally tired of people who pretend to know something and never give credit to the original author.

  • Matt

    Sounds like a pretty dumb bill, but I doubt it will make it to law. Google is already sending them free traffic, which should earn them money. Expecting Google to pay for sending traffic their way is ridiculous.

    • http://www.autumnspanties.com Autumn

      @ Matt, I totally agree!

  • http://www.alda-architects.co.uk Alan

    Daft law, but it is hard to commiserate with Google who are currently trampling around creating mayhem with their own, never ending changing rules and sanctimonious bilge.

    I think the problem goes deeper than copyright. The tide is slowly turning against Google and this is but one of the manifestations. How many of you feel the same about Google as you did say 10 years ago?

    • http://topshelfcopy.com Doc Sheldon

      @Alan – actually, I do feel pretty much the same way I did at the point they became more than just another startup. I always recognized that they were a business, and as such, could be expected to make business decisions that furthered their interests. The exception would be that I used to think “they’re not stupid… they know they’d never get away with [insert rule-bending tactic here], so they’d NEVER try that.”

      I still don’t think they’re stupid, but I AM beginning to wonder if they, too, feel as though they’re “too big to fail”.

    • http://www.autumnspanties.com Autumn

      @ Alan, regardless of my posting above….GOOGLE is a bunch if ignorant a$sholes, Germany’s propasal is even more stupid then Google’s (Penguin, Panda Updates Dance-Crap! I think that hit *home hard!

      *HOME=ecommerce and web businesses

  • P.

    Funny how Google has no problem sticking their hands in others pockets (commercializing Google Shopping) but cry when someone else is attempting to stick their hands in Googles pocket.

    Google has gotten “too big for their britches”. Just remember…what goes up, must come down.

  • CC

    I think it would be hilarious if Google just didn’t index them at all. See what kind of laws, they’d want then. LOL

    • http://www.autumnspanties.com Autumn

      LOL! Yeah just get Germany offa the d#mn map! Then let them go to “daddy-SATAN” for help. -Let Germany build there own Search Engine(s)! SERIOUSLY F. ’em, if, they want to be left alone to f up there own economy/own business community, let them! Let’s see who goes to wipe their a$ses 1st? Don’t you see Google is FREE ADVERTISEMENT?! Hence the reason they’re a SEARCH ENGINE! JUST SAY NO-TO DRUGS-Idiots!

  • http://www.bushipower.com Al Connelly

    I think that it is a proper application of copyright law. The news organization spent its money developing the article. Those who scan the snips on Google have are likely not going to the news site and be a viewer/customer there.
    I am not happy when I see content I developed being used by others. And others who develop content no doubt feel the same way. I suspect that it is politically incorrect to complain about being robbed.

  • http://discoverqueensland.com.au/ Shay

    Google should develop a Adsense display that uses news feeds and the publishers would have to PAY FOR IT!

  • http://aboutfacts.net Kenneth McCormick

    Everyone is trying to get a piece of the Internet pie. That is everyone from the government by collecting taxes on internet sales to businesses who either want to limit what we see, get more fees for what we see, or just plain rip us off because the Internet can be the biggest source of income the world has ever known.

  • PJ

    This sounds just like an Obama rule and regulation ment to kill business.

  • http://irwan21291.mywapblog.com irwan

    hello world please come to my blog

  • Lankesh C

    There is a “deception” behind every fortune.

    G$$gle – Needs the free content produced by website owners more than the website owners needs the search engine.

    Miro$oft – Produces software under work for hire laws and sells it under copyright laws (book publishers has to pay all authors).

  • Tommy Brown

    Anything that Germany does can not be good for us or any country.

  • Tommy Brown

    Anything that Germany does can not be good for the rest of the world. I have not forgot the WW11 yet.

  • Steve Coipa

    I think the so called law sucks!Even if passed I cannot imagine how it can be, monitored, tracked and enforced.

    A total waste of resources.

  • Watching the Wheels

    These tech companies NEED to be put into “check”. They’ve grown power happy, and unfortunately work with geeky mindsets.

    The lot of them delusionally rationalise theft on a daily basis. They then con the masses into believing that THEY rpresent freedom.

    Remember the 1980’s movie “Revenge of the Nerds”? It’s here.

  • http://booksandhealth.com kc

    This is the stuff that happens when a company starts playing God and is so very greedy…Did I read this correctly? “In difficult economic times, the Internet is thriving, generating economic gains, creating jobs and giving struggling businesses a vital lifeline,” the spokesperson says. Too bad the spokesperson doesn’t understand how Google has hurt the economic gains and have taken jobs when they destroy small business by dropping them off the face of the earth so that their “improvements” assist them and Amazon and all those other 1 % business who can afford to pay Google top adword dollars.

    • Sandy Wyatt

      I don’t see how Google owes any business a particular ranking. If your business relies on a high Google rank to generate sufficient sales, you are in a very risky place. The machine logic which produces those rankings is not understandable by mere mortals and results have been observed to be unreliable and capricious from the point of view of business owners. Users, however, have found them to be generally on point and a good guide to important content. I think Google exists to serve searchers primarily, and does a good job winnowing good content from poor content.

  • http://www.macgames.info Penguinized

    google lives off duplicate content, for their android market place they even use the comments from OTHER stores ( fnac in france for example ) , and then they penalize webmasters for having duplicated content, google is do what i say, not what i do.

    switch to bing or yahoo or duck duck go…

  • http://www.ondigital.co.za/ charl hoffman

    This so smacks of George Orwell’s 1984!!! Big brother here we come. While I agree a search engine making profit from someone else’s content, is not acceptable the question is where does one draw the line? I believe the net should be free to a point ( sex offenders and the like) BUT then think about it you want visibility and traffic and you are getting it mostly FREE with Search engine’s! If you are soo worried about your content follow the FT.com model… 40% free and the rest behind a paid subscription???

  • http://Www.rchotel.com Richard

    Its a two tier system as it stand, those that can afford to pay for placement or results and those that can’t. The latter are being steadily marginalised and with this proposed legislation the situation will only get worse. Do I like the present system, no I don’t but can it get any worse for small business, yes it can. This legislation is an example of greed over common sense and yet another nail in the coffin of small business.

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    Bepaal zelf uw maandbedrag met onze website en ontvang meteen een scherpe offerte;
    Financial Lease is eenvoudig en snel bij ons geregeld.

  • http://beginwithhostgator.info Server guy

    The content snippets should be incredible limited in length for me to be on Google’s side in this debate. If the people don’t need to visit other websites because Google provides all of the information in the snippets, then I am no longer on Google’s side.

    These snippets should only act as a introduction to the content, otherwise Google is stealing value from other sites.

  • http://www.bobslinks.com Bob

    Do people making these laws have ANY understanding of the internet?

    Like really, it seems as though the people making these laws really don’t under stand how it all works, I see every day some new law some idiot is trying to make, which will ruin or dramatically change the internet adversely.

    Simple fix – As mentioned in your article.. Google can just exclude companies who do not want their “content” shown in Google, let their traffic and revenue dry up, and then they might change their minds.

    No one will read the content excluded, and the people who make silly laws should be fired and fined, if not jailed.

    • Sandy Wyatt

      The ability to prevent Google from listing your site’s content is already provided via the robots.txt file. This proposed law is a money grab by publishers who imagine they can get a steady stream of money from search engines and linkers, even if nobody ever reads one of their articles.

  • tomislav

    I’m against it because soon we will have to pay someone just to use some words or expressions in everydays conversation. Such law is against all freedom.

  • Denise

    Please add a thumbs up and thumbs down button so we can vote on a comment.

  • http://rainbow-websites.com Lydia Shelley

    I think it’s greedy and foolish. Nobody is going to pay to link to the stuff, and ultimately it will mean nobody will read that stuff… even if it is timely, relevant, and important. As a writer, I am appalled. My goal as a writer is not to make money, but to inform others. I would be very angry if someone who controlled MY writing insisted on charging to link to it!

  • Jill

    This will squash the little businesses and limit what is available to the public. Not a good law at all.

  • Sandy Wyatt

    Google is not using publishers’ content in any meaningful way, just directing traffic to its likely destinations with each search. They have an opportunity to present ads in that process, for which they can make some money. They get no money for their search engine links directly. I feel there is no justification to limit or force Google to pay for the links they provide in their search engine. If the law were to pass, Google would just eliminate the links or the snippets and continue to offer their search results without that info. Is that what the publishers want? Google doesn’t need them; they need Google.

    • http://www.hd100.in Darshan

      You are absolutely correct.

  • http://CommandLineInc.com Eugene Klaus

    I personally believe that the law is conceived out of Greed.
    It is to the benefit of all that information is provided as reference.

  • http://www.deviantart.com/prints Xana

    This would damage small businesses even more. Who has lots of money will be able to pay (more) but in the long term his business will suffer, too. This law would mean from even worse economy up to more unemployment. Stupid Germans those who came up with this idea.

  • PJ

    This sounds like an Obama regulation. Get used to it. Or get rid of him.

  • Joe G

    This is bull, and a way to attack Google. And foolish, Google is an oligarchy (wanting to be complete monopoly) and anyone wishing to curb them could just go after them for other issues relating to anti-trust and privacy issues.

  • http://Lillicotch.com Jim Lillicotch

    All Google has to do is to stop linking to these sites. Their traffic will drop like a rock and they’ll be begging to get back in.

  • http://coolscrapsdigital.com AddiesDesigns

    It “is” a ridiculous request to want google to pay to display their links! If google bites the bullet and starts paying, they’ll never hear the end of it from other sources, so just drop them like a hot potatoe and see how they like the less traffic.

  • http://urksoutpost.blogspot.com/ Urk

    This law won’t affect the internet one way or the other, but it will squash German websites and businesses as Google declines to service their market any further.

  • http://ez2megalotto.info andreihaze

    Yup totally agree if they don’t want to be listed in those searches they can always ask right?

  • http://www.LoftLivingLA.com Ted Trent