Press publishers are pushing the German Parliament to approve a pending new copyright bill that requires online search engines and other commercial actors to pay a license fee for using headlines or snippets from their articles.
Dubbed as the ancillary copyright for press publishers, the proposal aims to extend publishers’ copyrights to include even short snippets of news made available by news aggregators and web search engines.
Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), is leading the movement through the ruling coalition of the German government.
“Publishing costs time and money,” said Merkel in a speech to the Newspaper Congress of the German Federal Association of Newspaper Publishers in September 2011.
“For this reason, I can understand the demand for related rights for publishers. The Federal Government is therefore currently working on a bill to adapt German copyright law even more to the requirements of a modern information society. We have not forgotten it; it is being pushed forward. We are striving for a balanced solution that takes account of the just interests of all those involved.”
Publishers contend the insufficiency of German copyright laws for its deterrent effects on their use of the copyright laws against widespread reuse of information.
Adopting such rules may be bad for users and the web. If snippets and headlines require license fees, the ability to locate information may be curtailed as search engines could (and likely will) simply remove the publishers from their index – an approach Google has already taken in Belgium.
“We don’t have any sympathy for these plans, as an ancillary copyright lacks all factual, economic, and legal foundation,” said Google’s spokesperson to InformationWeek’s Matthew Schwartz in August to condemn the proposal.
“And we are not alone with this opinion: The Federation of German Industries (BDI) and 28 other associations vehemently oppose an ancillary copyright for publishers. The German parliament is divided on the issue as well. For a good reason: An ancillary copyright would mean a massive damage to the German economy. It’s a threat to the freedom of information. And it would leave Germany behind internationally as a place for business.”
Copyright law experts and several critics have suggested that Google may cease operations in Germany if the bill becomes a law. Finding relevant news from legitimate sources will be harder if the bill pulls through.
The enforcement of license fees may cut competition because most newcomers cannot pay the fees, which inadvertently favors well-funded players.
“We believe that the Web brings the world together through the flow of information, ideas and creativity. Search engines, in their purest form, foster this information flow allowing people to connect with information and news that may be worlds away from them. Impediments to this information flow, be they commercial, political or even legal, restrict the real benefits the Web has to offer,” said Denelle Dixon-Thayer in a Mozilla Blog post to support the fight against the bill.
The copyright bill is on its way to the Reichstag (German Parliament) on Thursday, November 29.