EU to quiz German government over online copyright bill

After receiving complaints, the Commission will ask Germany for further information

The European Commission will ask the German government to explain more about a draft bill that aims to protect publishers against systematic access to copyright content by search engine providers such as Google.

The Commission was informed of the draft legislation by "some complainants," Commission spokesman Carlo Corazza said in an email Wednesday. After analyzing the complaints, the Commission decided to seek more information from Germany, he said.

The German Bundestag, Germany's lower house, last Friday adopted a bill that would give publishers the exclusive right to make commercial use of their publications on the Internet and allow them to determine the conditions under which search engines and content aggregators use their content.

Initially, publishers wanted to be able to charge search engines for publishing short text snippets. But the bill was watered down by a legislative committee before the vote in the Bundestag, making it unclear what the impact of the bill would be if it becomes law.

The bill approved by the lower house now states that publishers have the exclusive right to commercialize their products or parts thereof, except in the case of single words or very small text snippet. Those changes were welcomed by Google, which said that the "most damaging form" of the proposed law had been stopped.

The bill still has to be approved by the Bundesrat, Germany's upper house, to become law.

Google did not respond to a request for comment on the Commission's decision to seek more information.

While Google's reaction was mildly positive, the bill was also welcomed by publishers who said that while not all ideas were considered in the adopted text, it did close a legal loophole. The bill would give them a "fair instrument" to decide what search engines and aggregators can do with their content, the publishers said at the time.

Before the bill was approved by the lower house, its compliance with E.U. regulation was doubted by Siegfried Kauder, head of the legal affairs committee that prepared the bill and Bundestag representative for the CDU party. The proposed law should have been presented in Brussels so that other E.U. countries could comment on it, he said.

The Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment about possible actions it could take. But according to a European directive that lays down a procedure for the provision of information in the field of technical standards, member must notify the Commission of draft technical rules so other states and the Commission can comment on them. This procedure could halt the adoption process for 18 months.

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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