German publishers capitulate and let Google post news snippets -- for now

The publishers probably won't get any money from Google, the German antitrust authority said.

German publishers said they are bowing to Google's market power, and will allow the search engine powerhouse to show news snippets in search results free of charge, at least for the time being.

The decision is a step in an ongoing legal dispute between the publishers and Google. Publishers are trying to get compensation from the search engine for republishing parts of their content. Google however, refuses to share revenue with the publishers.

The move follows a Google decision earlier this month to stop using news snippets and thumbnails for some well-known German news sitess of Thursday. Google said it that as of Thursday it would just show a link to a story along with the headline, to avoid legal risks. However, the publishers, represented by copyright collective VG Media, said on Wednesday that they are being forced to give Google the "revocable" right to republish their content due to Google's "overwhelming market power." This "extraordinary step" was made to prevent revenue losses for the publishers, VG Media said.

The situation shows the publishers are in a plight. They want Google to pay them for reuse of their content, but on the other hand, they don't want Google to stop republishing because they need the traffic for their sites.

Google is violating competition laws by abusing its market power in this way, according to VG Media.

The issue of whether Google is abusing its market power is currently under investigation by the German antitrust authority, the Bundeskartellamt. It was asked to review the case last week upon request from Google, who asked the authority to declare its business practices legal.

However, the publishers probably won't get any money from Google whether or not the antitrust authority deems the search engine operator's practices to be anticompetitive.

There are two things going on as far as the antitrust authority is concerned, a Bundeskartellamt spokesman said.

The publishers base part of their claim on a German online copyright law that came into effect last August, which gave publishers the exclusive right to the commercial use of their content and parts thereof, except in the case of single words or small text snippets. However, the law does not give anyone the right to get paid for these snippets, the spokesman said.

Another twist to the case is that Google could be violating German antitrust laws if it started delisting publishers from the search results, the spokesman said. Google is a dominant player in Germany, controlling about 90 percent of the German search market. In Germany, dominant players have the obligation to handle each customer equally and are not allowed to discriminate.

"Again, this has nothing to do with if somebody should get paid," the spokesman said. It will probably take several weeks or months to reach a conclusion in the antitrust case, he said.

A Google spokesman meanwhile said the company would keep publishing snippets from the publishers who gave permission. "We are pleased that most VG Media publishers have joined the vast majority of German publishers in agreeing that we can continue to display snippets, generating millions of views for their sites," he said.

Google is looking forward to talking with publishers about potential areas of collaboration, such as ways to help promote their websites and apps, increase traffic, and otherwise support digital publishing, he added.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, online payment issues as well as EU technology policy and regulation 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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Loek Essers

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