German copyright bill adopted by Bundesrat still excludes news snippets

The upper house of Germany's legislature has adopted a bill that gives publishers exclusive commercial right to their content

The German Bundesrat has adopted an online copyright bill that will give publishers the exclusive right to make commercial use of their publications on the Internet. The bill, which does not extend protection to news snippets, must be ratified before it becomes law.

The bill adopted by the upper house of Germany's legislature on Friday aims to protect publishers against systematic access to copyrighted content by search engine providers like Google and other services such as news aggregators.

The Bundestag, the lower house of the legislature, adopted the bill on March 1. It still needs the signature of the German Federal Government and the President before it becomes law.

The German Federation of Magazine Publishers (VDZ), one of the bill's supporters, expects its opponents will ask the President not to sign, alleging the bill is unconstitutional, but the publishers say such a challenge has little chance of success.

The initial draft of the law aimed to only allow search engines to republish news snippets with permission or a paid license from news publishers. However, it was weakened by a legislative committee ahead of the Bundestag vote. The law as passed 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 snippets.

That's a positive development, according to Google, which would have faced difficulties operating its Google News service in Germany under the law's original drafting.

The alteration made the impact of the proposed law unclear, opposing Bundestag politicians said at the time. However, according to the official Bundesrat document explaining the bill, the exemption of single words and small text snippets was added so search engines and aggregators could keep showing search results without infringing on the rights of the rights holders.

Publishers said Friday that even in its altered state the bill allows them to determine the conditions under which search engines and content aggregators can use their content.

There could be further delays before the bill becomes law, though.

After the bill was adopted by the Bundestag, the European Commission said it would investigate whether the German government should have informed it about the legislation under European Union rules for coordinating national and E.U.-level legislation.

The Commission is studying whether the bill should have been presented to other E.U. member states before adoption. If so, then it will give the member states a chance to comment, possibly delaying the bill's signing into law by up to 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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