German “Ancillary Copyright” Law To Go Into Effect, Imposes Limits On Search Results

According to a report from IDG News, a “toned down” version of an earlier, more restrictive “ancillary copyright” law has been published in Germany and will go into effect in August.

The ”ancillary copyright” rule was proposed in August of 2012. In its initial form it would have required Google and others that indexed or aggregated news to pay for links or excerpts from those news items — essentially a “link tax.”

The law was pushed by German magazine and newspaper publishers that see the Internet and Google, in particular, as the cause of many of their subscription, readership and revenue challenges.

The original law did pass the German parliament, but a compromise was later negotiated to allow search engines and news aggregators to display “single words or very small text excerpts” at no cost. Anything beyond this would be subject to the publishers’ “exclusive right to commercialize” their content.

There is no “fair use doctrine” in Germany. Fair use is effectively what allows Google to exist and withstand copyright claims in the US.

Using this law as its basis, German publishers hope to establish a licensing marketplace for their content. When the law initially passed the European Publishers Council issued a statement saying the following:

The European Publishers Council (EPC) welcomes today’s decision by the German Bundestag to approve an ancillary copyright for news publishers in law that means that search engines and other aggregators who commercialise publishers’ content will no longer be able to do so without permission. The “Leistungsschutzrecht,” as it is know in German, will pave the way for commercial negotiations between the parties on the price for the commercial use of publishers’ content . . .

The new law will only apply to those companies who exploit commercially third party content such as content aggregators and search engines. The proposed provision signifies no change at all to possible uses by other users, or for consumers, bloggers or companies and associations who may use links or cite passages of published content.

News publishers can now demand that search engines and other providers of such services that aggregate their content, refrain from unauthorised forms of usage. These companies will need licences for such usage in the future.

The EPC believes that this law will help establish a market for aggregator content. New innovative business models can now be built based on legally licensed content.

While search engines and news aggregators in Germany will be able to show some third-party news content (“single words” and modest “text excerpts”) there hasn’t been any precise definition of how many words can be shown: a fragment? a sentence? more than a sentence?

As the statement above indicates, German publishers contend that even in its diluted form, the new law gives them near total control over their content. We can probably therefore assume there will be some initial litigation or attempted enforcement action by publishers to compel the narrowest possible interpretation of “text excerpts.”

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About The Author: is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog Screenwerk, about SoLoMo issues and connecting the dots between online and offline. He also posts at Internet2Go, which is focused on the mobile Internet. Follow him @gsterling.

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  • Durant Imboden

    OK, so why don’t search engines in Germany simply require that publishers opt in if they want stories indexed? Am I missing something?

  • WordpressExamples

    Link tax, my Gawd… their government officials really have nothing else to do?

  • Flemming Kaasgaard

    This is quite an exiting topic to follow – there’s widespread debate in many parts of Europe about how the publishers should be reimbursed by i.e. Search Engines. To me, this looks a lot like the whole SOPA thing in the US, in how the debate and legislation is run.
    On one side, there’s a lot of lobbying by major newspapers, who feel their rights (and revenue streams) are being broken. On the other hand, there’s mainly Google, who seems very ill equipped for lobbying.
    And just like SOPA, most of the public are completely unaware – and uncaring – about the debate, since it this far has no influence on the user side.

    The logical step for Google would be to ramp up lobbying, do a bit of PR, and then start de-indexing news sites who does not wan’t Google to ‘scrape’ their content. News is not major use of Google, and certainly not a major revenue stream, so it should be easy to squeeze traditional media into submission – they just need to get the consumers on their side first.

  • Greg Sterling

    The publishers want their sites to be found, they just don’t want any of their content to be used by third parties, esp. Google, whom may of them blame for their current problems.

  • Nathaniel Bailey

    Isn’t google news something you have to sign up for to have your news content published on? So if these guys news is displaying on google news isn’t it because they have asked for it to be?

    As for it showing in the general SERPs, again do these news papers not know how to tell google not to index/rank them?

    This really shouldn’t be as hard to fix as the news people are making it sound, simply don’t submit your news sites to google and it wont show them!

    And I’m sure if news site report scrapper sites to google they will happy to remove them of content theft, no?!

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