German cabinet backs law that could allow news publishers to sue Google

An earlier proposal that bloggers be made to pay to quote from news stories they comment on has been dropped, however

The German cabinet gave its backing Wednesday to a draft law extending copyright protection to snippets of news articles republished by search engines, although proposals to make bloggers pay to quote articles they comment on have been dropped. Google said it was a bad day for the Internet in Germany.

Under the proposed law, news publishers could be allowed to charge search engines such as Google, as well as content aggregators, for reproducing short snippets from their articles. A publisher that thinks a search engine is infringing on its copyright by publishing snippets of text in search results could sue the search engine, said Hendrik Wieduwilt, spokesman for the German Ministry of Justice. The draft law is meant to protect news articles but also covers texts published by "professional" blogs, he said.

The draft law still has to pass through parliament, something Wieduwilt estimated could take up to a year.

The law will not require search engines to delete all the snippets, said Wieduwilt. "It is up to the publisher. The publisher can also agree that search engines can use the snippets for free," he said. "We won't install a snippet police."

The draft law was proposed by the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV).

The law is about piracy and stealing content on the internet, said federation spokeswoman Anja Pasquay. Search engines are pirating content by publishing the snippets, "and they don't even ask, they simply take it," she said.

The publishers are upset that Google republishes their content, but does not share the resulting advertising revenue, she said. The publishers just want part of that revenue, she added.

The federation welcomed the adoption of the draft law by the cabinet, although it is less then they hoped for, said Pasquay.

The law was toned down since it was first drafted, removing proposals to make bloggers pay to quote the articles they comment on.

"There was some discussion about bloggers," said Wieduwilt, who added that the cabinet decided that bloggers can cite news articles without having to pay a fee for republishing parts of the article.

"Snippets are not quotes," said Wieduwilt, who explained the difference between quotes selected by humans and snippets generated by a computer. Bloggers who quote parts of an article add their opinion and usually add value, while search engines don't do that, they just republish the snippet, he said.

While computers may be banned from republishing snippets without permission, they will still be allowed to link to the news stories published on the Internet. "Due to the German copyright law, a link is neutral," he said.

Google slammed the proposed law, saying it would drastically limit access to information on the Web for German citizens, lead to legal uncertainties and increase costs for all.

It called on the German parliament to stop the proposal from becoming law.

Google Director of Communications and Public Affairs for Northern Europe, Kay Oberbeck, said in an email that Google does not have any sympathy for the plans, as an extension of copyright lacks all factual, economic and legal foundation. It would mean massive damage to the German economy, he said, calling the draft law "a threat to the freedom of information" that would leave Germany behind internationally as a place for business.

Loek covers all things tech for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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