German publishers start legal action against Google over news snippets

German news publishers want a part of Google's revenue

German news publishers are escalating their fight to get a cut of the ad revenue that Google makes when it republishes parts of their news articles.

The publishers' society VG Media has started legal proceedings against Google after the search-engine giant refused to negotiate with the collecting society and publicly declared it would not pay such a compensation, VG Media said Wednesday.

Twelve German online news publishers took a 50 percent stake in VG Media last February with the aim of beginning to start collecting compensation from search engines. They want some of the advertising revenue that search engines and aggregators generate by republishing parts of their content. 

As a first step in the legal proceedings, VG Media filed a request for compensation with the Copyright Arbitration Board of the German Patent and Trade Mark Office, an independent body that mediates disputes between collecting societies and users of copyright works. The board strives to reach amicable arrangements between the parties and precedes a procedure with the district court, VG Media said.

The publishers based their claim on a new German online copyright law that came into effect last August. It gives 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.

This exemption was added in order to allow search engines and aggregators to continue to show parts of news articles without infringing on copyright. Publishers however interpret the law differently and maintain that it allows them to demand compensation.

"The law is formulated clearly," and means that search engines with a commercial interest like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo are subject to pay fees, said Michael Tenbusch, managing director at Burda Broadcast Media and deputy chairman of VG Media's advisory board.

The society is also negotiating with other providers and will start legal proceedings against them if necessary, it said.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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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