By Cornelius Rahn and Rainer Buergin
Google Inc. (GOOG) and other news aggregators may continue to show short news items on their Internet sites without being required to pay, German lawmakers decided in a parliamentary vote today in a blow to publishers including Axel Springer AG (SPR) and Bertelsmann SE.
A majority of lawmakers from Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition allowed companies such as Google to display “single words or very small text excerpts” referring to publishers’ websites at no cost. For content exceeding these limits, publishers retain the exclusive right of use, according to the bill.
Publishers, pressed by falling revenue from newspapers and magazines, argued search engines and aggregators like Google News should pay for displaying short excerpts from news stories. Google, which doesn’t display ads on its news aggregator pages in Europe, argued its so-called “snippets” are actually helping publishers by driving traffic to their sites.
The bill by Germany’s Justice Ministry gives publishers one year during which they have the sole rights to commercially use their journalistic content. Google’s director of public policy in Europe, Simon Hampton, in November called this a “complete reversal of the legal situation today” and a reversal of current Web practices.
“As a result of today’s vote, ancillary copyright in its most damaging form has been stopped,” Google said in a statement. “However, the best outcome for Germany would be no new legislation because it threatens innovation, particularly for start-ups. It’s also not necessary because publishers and Internet companies can innovate together, just as Google has done in many other countries.”
Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and French President Francois Hollande earlier this year signed an agreement to settle disputes with French news sites. Under the accord, Mountain View, California-based Google will help publishers lift Web advertising sales and set up a 60 million-euro ($78 million) fund to boost their digital publishing efforts.
The search-engine operator in 2011 removed some Belgian newspaper content from its search engine after an appeals court upheld a 2007 ruling granted in favor of newspaper association Copiepresse, forcing Google to remove links and snippets of articles from Google.com and Google.be.
Google later agreed to restore French- and German-language newspapers in Belgium to search results without displaying the papers’ full articles.
The bill was passed in the Bundestag with 293 votes in favor, 243 against and three abstentions.