Following the enactment of a controversial copyright law in Germany, Google said that it would require publishers to formally “opt-in” to Google News or be excluded from results. Accordingly major German publishers have decided to do so — for now.
The new law, which went into effect today and gives publishers almost total control over the use of their content, still allows news aggregators and search engines to show “single words” and modest “text excerpts” but creates legal uncertainty and potential liability for those who misinterpret the rules.
What qualifies as a “text excerpt”? That’s a potential decision for a German court. Google’s new opt-in policy for Google News in Germany thus seeks to avoid any ambiguity about German publisher consent and thereby preclude any claim against Google under the new law.
According to the AP, German publishers have opted in as a matter of temporary expediency but intend to still “come after” Google for fees:
Axel Springer AG – publisher of the mass-circulation tabloid Bild and national daily Die Welt – said the decision to opt into Google News was a temporary measure while the company lays the legal and technical groundwork to charge aggregators for their use of its material.
The publisher’s approval to display snippets from its sites could be revoked at any time and occurred “without accepting Google’s one-sided conditions,” spokesman Hendrik Lange said.
Google believes that inclusion in Google News benefits publishers by sending them traffic. The publishers, who effectively sponsored the new, restrictive copyright law believe that Google steals their readership and turns them into commodity providers of content.
Among the major newspaper publishers the AP reports that Rhein-Zeitung decided not to opt-in and so will no longer be included in Google News:
[O]ne Germany’s oldest online news sites said it was breaking with Google. Rhein-Zeitung, based in the western city of Koblenz, declined to opt in to Google News as the new law came into effect, saying it had decided to stop “giving away” its own material online for free.
This sets up a very interesting test case: will those who decline to be included in Google News see their metrics improve or fall? In addition, how will publishers such as Axel Springer try to extract fees from Google when the company has set up what amounts to a “complete defense” (explicit consent) to any claim of liability under the new law?
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