Wednesday 22 August 2012

Google fights proposed charge on news snippets and headlines

News aggregation sites: newspapers can't live with them and can't live without them.

Is the newspaper a dying breed?
In June, the German government published draft legislation which would require news aggregation sites to pay royalties on the snippets and headlines that they publish. These royalties would be paid to a new collecting society which would distribute them to the publishers.

According to Information Week, a recent revision to the draft legislation has limited the scope of the copyright proposal. The first draft included a new "ancillary copyright" that would have required companies to pay licensing fees for any published work used in a commercial setting. This would have meant companies payinig a licensing fee for any published works (including online news) consumed in the work place. The most recent draft, which remains under discussion, seems to relate only to snippets and headlines on news aggregation websites. This blogger cannot however find a copy of the draft legislation so is unable to provide further details.

Unsurprisingly, Google is fighting back. Yesterday Kay Oberbeck, Google's Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Germany, commented on the proposed amendments on his blog. His post is in German, however according to Google Translate he is of the view that the bill is "A law to the detriment of all".

Oberbeck has also said:

"Nobody sees a real reason why this should be implemented. It's really harmful, not just for users who wouldn't find as much information as they find now, but such a law is also not justified for economic reasons or judicial reasons."

Further, Oberbeck points out that Google send readers to the publishers' site and that anyone who doesn’t want their content to be indexed by Google use a robots.txt file.

This may sound very familiar: English readers will know that a similar battle is currently being fought in the UK. The Newspaper Licensing Agency took Meltwater, a paid-for news aggregation site, to the High Court and the Court of Appeal to confirm that both paid-for news aggregation sites and their commercial users need to pay royalties for the headlines and snippets of articles consumed. The case proceeds to the Supreme Court on the very narrow issue of whether the copies of the articles viewed by users are temporary copies under s.28A CDPA 1988, however for the time being both news aggregators and users are required to pay licensing fees.

This has proved to be an unsurprisingly unpopular decision for news aggregators, however interestingly the Newspaper Licensing Agency is not charging free news aggregation sites, so Google remains unaffected in the UK.

Will the bill be passed in Germany? The German federal elections are just over a year away and opponents of the neighbouring right are expected to challenge successive sets of proposals. The fact that the two sides appear to take conflicting views on the bill means that anything could happen.

According to Kay Oberbeck "It is absurd that, of all people search engines should be addressees of the law. Such a law protects no one and hurts everyone - users, publishers, search engines, and the German economy."

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