Earlier this year, the German Federal Ministry of Justice (Bundesjustizministerium) drafted the “Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverlage” – the law of intellectual property rights for the press – aimed to protect German news publishers against online aggregators. The main target of this law was Google, who according to the new law, should pay for reproducing news content from German publishers in the search results. This refers to both titles and snippets.
Google is now fighting against the law, with an online campaign that gains popularity, mainly fueled by international media coverage. The campaign, Defend Your Net (Verteidige Dein Netz), warns Google users in Germany that the law would make it much more difficult for them to find the information that they seek on the Internet.
Defend Your Net is already grabbing headlines in Germany and abroad, mainly because it reached its goal in a few hours after launch. On Wednesday, one day after the launch, Google reported more than 25000 signatures on its virtual petition. German lawmakers met with Chancellor Angela Merkel and also reported receiving several letters from users. This is no surprise, as Defend Your Net encourages people to contact their authorized representatives in the Bundestag and defend Google’s position.
Google lists 10 facts to convince users to support the campaign:
- Any publisher can block Google from indexing its pages with a simple line of text in the robots.txt file.
- There are no ads in Google News, and no paid placements. Instead the search engine delivers permanent traffic to publisher sites.
- Google services provide many German publisher sites around half of their readers.
- Through AdSense, Google supports press publishers around the world to market their online sites. In 2011 alone, AdSense paid 7 billion dollars to Google publishing partners, including numerous press publishers.
- Search engines may display spinets of articles legally, according to a Federal Court decision from 2003: “Paperboy”-Entscheidung des BGH (Urteil vom 17.7.2003 – I ZR 259/00).
- Many German press publishers in the digital business are very successful.
- Four million German jobs depend on the Internet. (Author note: that’s not to say that they depend on Google)
- “Lex Google” is rejected by large parts of the German society.
- Many CDU opponents see the law as “an attack on the free market and economic architecture of the Internet.”
- Compared with other countries, Germany lags behind Internet policy.
The Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverlage law is met with arguments and counterarguments in Germany, depending on each of the interested parties. While Google’s arguments, listed above, are clear, most German publishers disagree, stating that Google uses its market power as a weapon, deceiving consumers. This is also a matter of concern in other countries, and an argument in recent FTC antitrust investigations.
German publishers are convinced that Google is abusing its market power in the compilation and presentation of search results, and that newspapers can only thrive if the conditions in search are fair. For them, fair would be that Google and other search engines only index content from mainstream newspapers after paying a yearly license fee.