Tension between Google and German publishers continues

Following the controversial ‘Google tax’ law passed by the German parliament in March which intends to make search engines pay royalties to publishers for showing extracts of their articles in search results, Google has hit back with a blog post asking the German news businesses to sign “declarations” that renounce their intellectual rights and hence agree to continue having their articles shown on Google News free of charge.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 28, 2013

Google has therefore imposed a harsh ultimatum: sign the declaration, and we’ll continue to give your work powerful online visibility on Google News, or don’t sign, and we will no longer publish extracts of your work – after all, it’s no great loss to us. In essence, the US web giant has point blank refused to subsidize Germany’s news businesses through link licensing, a move that paidContent supports, hailing it a “small consolation at a time when other European countries are trying similar tricks to force Google to prop up their struggling publishing industries.”

The new ‘Google tax’ law, due to take effect on 1 August, was initiated by the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) whose members include big names in the German media world such as Axel Springer and Bertelsmann. “Search engines pirate content by publishing extracts and they don’t ask for permission, they just take them,” said a spokesperson for the federation at the time of voting (translated from French), explaining the German press’s main motivation behind the introduction of this new tax on Google and other search engine’s search results. “Publishers are bothered by the fact that Google publishes their content but does not share advertising revenue with them.”

Furthermore, the publishing of news snippets on Google News arguably reduces traffic to the news sites themselves – internet users are perhaps less likely to visit individual news sites when they have a service at their disposal which aggregates news from a variety of sources and presents it all in one place. (Although as Google argues, its aggregator sends a vast number of clicks to news sites.)

Google’s proposed opt-in scheme offers it a convenient escape route from the ‘Google tax’ law, and the publishers who celebrated the introduction of a new law allowing them to monetize Google’s use of their own content are outraged and frustrated. Jeff John Roberts of paidContent, however, has expressed his inability to sympathise with these publishers, finding it difficult to understand why the publishers believe that they should be paid by Google in the first place. “As a journalist, I can attest that it’s a good thing when Google News surfaces one of my stories — it results in a rush of new visitors and publicity for me and my publication. The notion that Google is somehow to blame for stealing or replacing news content is absurd,” he argues. Roberts points out that the ‘Google tax’ law could provide a slippery slope: “will the publishers next demand Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn prevent people from sharing their precious headlines?” he asks.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the scope of the problem is wider than Google. The internet has evolved into a place of sharing and exchanging – in this day and age, news can no longer be contained in one place unless elaborate paywalls are put in place to places digital news content behind a closed door. But do publishers really want this? Surely if they restrict the sharing of their content to such a degree, they risk becoming unknown and irrelevant. As Roberts sees it, “if German and other European publishers want to avoid this fate, it’s time to stop blaming Google for their troubles and get on with the hard work of building digital news companies.”

WAN-IFRA has a new LinkedIn group devoted to discussing international intellectual property and copyright issues – if you would like to join please request an invitation here

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