Germany wants search engines, aggregators to pay publishers

Detractors say it is wrong to punish companies that help users find content

The ruling German coalition has agreed to start work on a law that will require Google and other search engines as well as content aggregators to pay publishers and journalists for reproducing even short snippets of articles.

The German ministry of justice has been called on to write the new copyright law, according to a spokeswoman at the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of Germany parliamentary group.

Google has faced similar challenges from news organizations in France and Belgium. In 2007, it agreed to license content from French news agency Agence France Presse for use on Google News, and last year lost a court case brought by an association of Belgian newspaper publishers.

In the latter case, the search giant was ordered to remove all content created by the papers from its websites.

A draft of the German law may be published as soon as April, but the law likely won't come into effect until next year, the CDU spokeswoman said.

At the Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers Association (BDZV) the move is welcomed.

"It was our idea, so we are happy that this will happen," said Anja Pasquay, press officer at BDZV.

Google makes a lot of money thanks to the content created by BDZV's members, so the association would like to get a small percentage of revenues, according to Pasquay.

The law would hopefully also make publishers better equipped when they need to take on sites that abuse their content, which is a problem at the moment, according to Pasquay.

For example, an Austrian aggregator was taken to court by German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung for publishing full articles. But the court wanted details on every article that the site had infringed on, which made the judicial process very difficult, she said.

But not everyone is convinced that forcing the likes of Google to pay is such a good idea.

It is just a comically stupid policy, according to Joe McNamee, advocacy coordinator at European Digital Rights (EDRi). The reason publishers put their content on the Internet is so that people can access it, and punishing companies for helping people to find content is nothing short of absurd, he said via email.

Also, If the publishers' inability to evolve in the digital environment leads to policies that allow them not to evolve, then this will ultimately be bad for them, according to McNamee.

European copyright law is already excessively complicated and disjointed. This is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to launch legal content services in Europe. Adding another layer of bureaucracy and legal hurdles would make the situation even worse, McNamee said.

Google did not respond to requests for a comment.

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