German parliament to discuss controversial online copyright bill

Earlier this week, Google started a campaign against the proposed law

The German parliament is set to discuss a controversial online copyright bill that is meant to allow news publishers to charge search engines such as Google for reproducing short snippets from their articles.

The parliament is set to discuss the draft legislation late on Thursday evening, a spokeswoman for the parliament said. Debate will begin at midnight and last about 40 minutes; no vote will take place at that time.

The draft law proposes that publishers could charge a search engine for republishing snippets of articles, or eventually allow them to sue search engines like Google for copyright infringement. The bill was proposed by the Federation of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), which contends that search engines are pirating their content by publishing the snippets without asking for consent, and without sharing revenue with the publishers.

Earlier this week, Google started on online campaign against the bill, which was backed by the German cabinet in August. Under the title "Defend Your Net" the search giant called on Germans to back its protest because the bill can "massively disturb" the way people search and find information on the Internet.

The campaign site has had more than 500,000 visitors and more than 25,000 people have signed an online petition against the law, said Google spokesman Mark Jansen in an email. "We are delighted that this important debate for the German web is finally taking place and so many Germans care about the web and its services for users," he said.

Discussion sparked during the week between supporters and opponents of the bill. Google was backed by Mozilla, which gets nearly all its revenue from search engine deals.

"Adopting such rules may be bad for users and the web," wrote Denelle Dixon-Thayer, Associate General Counsel at Mozilla on the company's blog. If the bill becomes law, search engines are likely to simply remove the publishers from their index, meaning locating news becomes more difficult, she wrote. "Impediments to this information flow, be they commercial, political or even legal, restrict the real benefits the Web has to offer," she added.

Not only tech companies are concerned though. "There is a risk of incalculable negative consequences," said scholars at the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property and Competition Law in a position paper on the proposed law. Many German and European law scholars are concerned about the bill, they said, and the Max Planck contingent said they have not seen the need for such copyright protection.

Publishers and search engines need each other and if they work together the Internet can actually be put to good use, they wrote. "Without content the search engines wouldn't find anything, and without search engines, the vast amount of information on the Internet wouldn't be found," they said, adding that both parties benefit from the current situation.

Overall, the proposed law is not well thought through, and it can not be justified by any substantive argument, the scholars said. And since not even the publishers unanimously agree on the necessity of the bill and a similar proposal was almost unanimously canceled by politicians 2010, any basis necessary to adopt the proposed rule is lacking, they wrote.

Meanwhile, five youth organizations connected to German political parties released a joint statement on Thursday in which they pleaded against the proposed copyright reform, calling it an "interference in the freedom of the Internet."

Google was criticized for its campaign against the law. The search engine "obviously" tries to use its own users for lobbying interests "under the pretext of a so-called project for the freedom of the Internet", wrote Günter Krings and Ansgar Heveling, politicians of the CDU and CSU conservative parties, who together form the biggest block in the German parliament, on their website.

"It is a remarkable process, that a company uses the public for its own economic interests," they wrote, adding that Google's behavior doesn't contribute to the factual weighing of the arguments. "With the bill we want to achieve that quality journalism will have a balanced competition in our country on the Internet too," they wrote.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues 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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