German Publishers To Google: We Want Our Snippets Back

German publishers want their snippets and thumbnails back. A consortium of roughly 200 companies, together known as “VG Media,” have said that the loss of traffic from the disappearance of these elements could cause some of their members “to go bankrupt.” 

The publishers have been trying for more than a year to collect money from Google for their content. For the time being they’re going to allow (request) the return of snippets without any demand for compensation — to regain some of the traffic they’re losing without them.

This “white flag” seems to validate Google’s contention that it delivers valuable traffic to publishers. The publishers had wanted Google to pay for snippets under under Germany’s “Ancillary Copyright” Law, passed in 2013. The law was originally promoted by German publishers to set up licensing demands targeting Google and others.

But things haven’t quite worked out as planned.

After the passage of the law Google asked German publishers to explicitly opt-in or be excluded from search results as protection against liability. Publishers opted-in but filed an antitrust complaint, arguing they were effectively forced by Google to waive their copyrights.

Given that antitrust claim and the threat of ongoing liability, Google decided earlier this month to remove publishers’ snippets and limit their content to headlines in search results. The following is a translated version of the statement Google issued earlier this month:

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.

Now, according to published reports, VG Media has acknowledged that the removal of snippets is putting “major economic pressure” on their publisher members. The consortium, however, continues to pursue civil litigation and other legal remedies to capture an 11 percent share of Google’s gross revenues that come “directly and indirectly from making excerpts from online newspapers and magazines public.”

This contest will go several more legal rounds before it’s over. But what’s now clear is that the publishers are not going to be able to have it both ways: to legally force Google to include their content and get paid for it.


About The Author

Greg Sterling
Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes a personal blog, Screenwerk, about connecting the dots between digital media and real-world consumer behavior. He is also VP of Strategy and Insights for the Local Search Association. Follow him on Twitter or find him at Google+.