Good news for Google – Germany makes crucial change to online copyright bill



Germany’s ruling coalition has made a crucial change to its bill to extend publishers’ rights online. The change is good news for Google – but don’t call it a win just yet.

Under the proposed law, companies who want to systematically gather together news articles (or parts of news articles) would need to get a license from publishers first.

Google, with its news aggregator Google News, is the biggest player that could be affected – and it isn’t too happy about it: “We are sending the traffic to the publishers’ websites,” Google spokesman in Berlin Ralf Bremer told us last month. “We don’t understand why we should pay for this service.”

Germany’s publishing lobby, meanwhile, says publishers currently enjoy less rights online than film and music producers. The new bill is about closing that gap, it argues.

The bill, an amendment to Germany’s Copyright Act, passed its first reading last November, backed by Germany’s ruling CDU and FDP parties. The second and third readings it needs to pass into law will – all going to plan – take place this Friday.

A crucial change – “smallest” text snippets are OK

Opponents, who as well as Google include the youth branches of Germany’s main political parties, the German Association of Startups and the Max Planck Institute, are worried the bill’s wording is too ambiguous. In the version that passed first reading, even the text snippets used for normal search indexing could arguably be pulled in.

This week, the CDU and FDP agreed to a crucial change in wording: the bill will not apply to individual words and “smallest” text snippets (full text in German).

This should cool concerns – though, since it’s not clear what will be considered “smallest”, Google News might still be affected. Google is still evaluating the amendment and will not be making any comment until Friday, Bremer said yesterday.

Christoph KeeseIt’s unlikely the publishers’ lobby will be pleased with the new wording. BDVZ spokesperson Christoph Kees (right) made it clear last month that search indexing is not a target. That suggests the change might not matter too much to the group – but it’s still a watered-down version of the original proposal.

Asked to comment, the BDVZ said only that the new legal protections would make a “significant contribution to the need to protect the common benefits of publishers and journalists in the digital age”.

The debate over online copyright in Germany follows similar scuffles between publishers and Google in the US, Belgium, France and Brazil. Earlier this month in France, Google agreed to set up a €60m digital publishing fund and help publishers make money from online ads.

Meanwhile, in the US, the New York Times and AP are stepping up a controversial copyright lawsuit against online news aggregator Meltwater.

Image credit:
Reichstag, by flickr user Werner Kunz;


In focus: What Google’s German battle over news copyright means for startups