(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions
expressed are his own.)
By Olaf Storbeck
LONDON, Dec 19 (Reuters Breakingviews) - If you can’t ransom
it, punish it. That seems to be the German media’s Google
(GOOG.O) policy. After intense lobbying from the country’s
publishers, the German parliament is about to vote on a new law
stipulating that search engines need publishers' consent before
listing freely-available stories. This will even apply to
headlines and short, automatically-generated excerpts that
Google and others use to promote search results.
Haunted by a faltering print business and desperately
struggling to find viable business models for the digital age,
German newspapers allege that search engines monetise someone
else's intellectual property and hope the law will pressure
Google into signing paid licence agreements with them.
This is a cheeky argument. Publishers who don't want to be
listed by Google have always had the opportunity to opt out, as
all 154 members of the Brazilian newspaper association did
recently. The only benefactors of such a move, however, would be
the websites deciding to stick with Google. German media
currently get 30 to 50 percent of their online readers via the
U.S. search engine. And this audience already means money, in
the form of higher ad rates.
Google is adamant that it will not pay any fees, but will
abide by the law. So it would have to de-list every newspaper
unwilling to licence its headlines and snippets for free. The
company is careful not to threaten such a move publicly, because
it is currently under pressure for alleged anti-competitive
behaviour in Brussels. Behind closed doors, German anti-Google
diehards toy with the idea of using anti-trust laws as a stick
on that occasion. However, legal experts consider it impossible
to force Google to use content it must pay for.
Given that even the proponents of the new law only expect
that licence fees from search engines will contribute 3 to 6
percent of newspapers' revenues in the future, the whole battle
looks irrational. Both camps may prefer to reach a consensual
agreement. But a punitive law would set a bad precedent for
other European countries, where local publishers are also asking
their governments to help them tax Google.
SIGN UP FOR BREAKINGVIEWS EMAIL ALERTS:
- The German government is determined to see through
parliament a law regulating the internet in the first half of
- The new rules would prohibit search engines and other
commercial content aggregators from using headlines and short
excerpts of articles ("snippets") without publishers' prior
- The next parliamentary hearing on this so-called
"Leistungsschutzrecht" (service protection law) is scheduled to
take place on Jan. 30.
(Editing by Pierre Briançon and Sarah Bailey)
Keywords: BREAKINGVIEWS GERMANY/GOOGLE/
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