New Copyright Law changes Google News in Germany: The Federation of German Newspaper Publishers vs. Online Readers.



Last Friday, Google announced on its German blog that this summer the German Google News (hereafter "GGN") will change[1] (see here). What are the consequences for German publishers? Does this new copyright law harm Google? Is Germany the only country against this product? Explanations.

Google has (only) one mission: “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. In other words, to serve hundreds of thousands of users and customers around the world. 


Among the different (free) products/services created and proposed by Google to accomplish this mission, Google News is certainly one of the most important one. Launched in September 2002, with the aim of selecting most up-to-date information from thousands of publications by an automatic aggregation algorithm, “Google News has grown to 72 editions in 30 languages, and now draws from more than 50,000 news sources. The technology also powers Google’s news search. Together, they connect 1 billion unique users a week to news content” (here).
Thanks to this product, Google is providing a free (opt-out) service for publishers,  unbiased by commercial relationships, and accessible around the world. 

Things will soon change in Germany. In March 2013, the German lawmakers passed an addendum to the copyright laws - known as Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverlege (or ancillary copyright law for newspaper and magazine publishers) - that “allows publishers to charge aggregators and search engines for the content they index and re-publish on their sites and in their apps” (more info). Needless to say that the law (also known as “Lex Google”) was (only?) targeting Google and unfortunately all German Internet users.

In fact, starting on August 1st, GGN “will only index sources that have decided to explicitly opt-in (i.e. express permission) to being shown on the search giant’s news-aggregation service” said TechCrunch. If not, publishers will simply be removed from the Index.

What's the problem?

If Google doesn’t comply with the German copyright law, the Giant will have to pay German publishers for the right to show (short?) snippets, abstracts of articles and/or news on its service. However, as clearly stated by Google on its German blog, there is a legal uncertainty/grey area that comes from the law and, more precisely, regarding the definition of “snippet”. This is important because the law gives publishers the exclusive right to commercialize their products or parts thereof, except in the case of single words or very small text snippets. 

The Collins Online Dictionary defines "snippet" as a "a small scrap or fragment". Doesn't really help... The Cambridge Online Dictionary defines it as "a small and often interesting piece of news, information, or conversation". Much better... That's exactly what Google news is providing: a small and interesting pieces of news (often between 20 and 30 words) catchy enough to make you decide whether or not you wanna read the article. There we go, we have a definition (perhaps I could send it to the German lawmakers).

In order to make the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZW) happy, Google created a new tool/confirmation system: the Google News Confirmed Consent ToolGoogle will require German publishers to notify Google ( i.e. to give their consent) that they would like their content picked up and published by Google News (here). In other words, "if a German publisher does not accept the ‘confirm consent’ his content will not be shown any longer in any (underline added) edition of Google News" said Google spokesman Ralf Bremer. However, the BDZV is not entirely satisfied by this opt-in tool because they wanted  a share (a compensation) of the revenue Google makes by republishing publishers' content.


Isolated German example or not, only the future will tell. In some other EU countries (such as France and Belgium) Google reached an agreement with online publishers after being sued for violation of copyright law.

To be honest, I don't really see the harm with this Google service that definitely brings online newspapers more click-through traffic (and advertising revenues). Probably not for all of them (such as the WSJ or other big giants) but for smaller one it is a free added value. At the end, I think it's a fair proposition from Google: if you wanna be seen in GGN, check the box; if you don't, well, good luck to maintain the current users on your websites and selling your non-online newspapers. In sum, online readers may perhaps lose some interesting piece of news.













[1] English translation reported by The Forbes: “A few weeks ago a law was passed in Germany: the related right for press publishers. In light of this development, and in light of the legal uncertainty that comes from the law, we have introduced a new confirmation system. With this we offer German publishers another way to tell us whether their contents (continued) to be displayed in Google News. This new confirmation statement is an addition to the existing technical possibilities for publishers to determine for themselves whether their contents to be displayed in our services – or not. Such tools such as robots.txt be recognized alongside Google and many other search engines and Internet services.
In all other countries, we will maintain in force, proven process: if a publisher makes its content available on the net, they are included in Google News. If publishers do not wish to be included in Google News, you can use a variety of technical options (robots.txt, meta tags) use to prevent indexing by Google – or simply tell us that their content will not be recorded. This is the best way to ensure that a wide variety of publishing votes are represented in our service – and not just those who have the administrative resources and the time for such processes” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/timworstall/2013/06/22/google-news-goes-opt-in-in-germany/).

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