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To Avoid Liability, Google Limits German News Content To Headlines
Google move in response to repeated licensing demands.
German news and magazine publishers are determined, one way or another, to get Google to pay them for their content. They’re not upset about the content appearing in Google News or search. They want it to appear — they just want Google to pay for it.
Google doesn’t want to pay. And there’s no U.S.-style “fair use” copyright exception in Germany.
The publishers had originally sought to enshrine what amounts a “link tax” in German law last year. However they were unsuccessful in establishing such a content toll. They did succeed in passing an ”ancillary copyright” law in the German parliament in 2013.
The law allows Google and other search engines to show only “single words or very small text excerpts” before licensing fees would potentially be applicable. Under the law publishers are given exclusive rights to commercialize and monetize their content.
Because of legal ambiguity surrounding the phrase “single words or very small text excerpts,” Google initially compelled German publishers to explicitly “opt-in” to Google News or be excluded from results as a protection against potential liability. Publishers opted-in but then pursued an anti-trust complaint against Google arguing they were effectively compelled to waive their copyrights.
The German antitrust regulator disagreed. Publishers had a choice about whether to opt-in and thus there was insufficient abuse of market power by Google. The publishers were not forced to be part of the index.
German publishers have also sued Google as a consortium known as “VG Media.” Their stated objective is to obtain an 11 percent share of Google’s gross revenues that come “directly and indirectly from making excerpts from online newspapers and magazines public.”
In view of German publishers’ myriad efforts to extract revenue from Google the company has decided to minimize its exposure by limiting the search and News exposure of the VG Media publishers. As PC World reported, Google has now decided to stop showing news snippets and thumbnail images for members of the VG Media consortium.
Google said the following in its German Google Product Blog (translation by Google):
We regret this legal approach very much because every publisher could always decide whether and how its contents are displayed in our services themselves. Against the background of this action, we will not show snippets and thumbnails of some famous websites like bild.de, bunte.de or hoerzu.de, so that publishers who are organized in the VG Media. For these pages we will show only the link to the article and its headline.
Accordingly Google will now only show a headline and link for these publishers. Other search engines in Germany have entirely declined to show publisher sites if there’s any sort of copyright licensing fee demand lurking in the background. This extends to more than 20 German news or magazine publisher content sites.
Google maintains that it delivers traffic and revenue, directly and indirectly, to newspaper and magazine sites in Germany. The publishers, however, don’t appear to appreciate that.