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Google opposes German push for search engines to pay newspapers

November 28, 2012|By Emily Alpert
  • A file photograph dated Oct. 21, 2004 of a Google logo in Frankfurt, Germany.
A file photograph dated Oct. 21, 2004 of a Google logo in Frankfurt, Germany. (Boris Roessler / European…)

Google has come out swinging against German legislation that would require search engines to pay for using snippets of newspaper articles, photographs and other media content.

German lawmakers are slated to debate the legislation Thursday, one in a string of proposals pushed across Europe by frustrated publishers seeking ways to survive in the Internet era. Google has likened the idea to making taxi drivers pay restaurants for dropping off customers at their doors.

The company is now seeking to mobilize Internet users against the German measure, arguing that it would hamper their searches. “For more than 10 years you’ve been able to find what you are looking for. A planned law would change that,” Google warned in a German video.

An online petition follows the video. "Such a law would hit every Internet user in Germany,” Google Germany manager Stefan Tweraser said in a statement shared with reporters.

German newspaper and magazine publishers slammed Google for “scaremongering” and “nasty propaganda” in a statement Tuesday, insisting that information would still be easily available. Simply linking to articles would remain legal, they pointed out.

“It’s obvious that businesses that work with other people’s content should pay for it,” said Anja Pasquay, spokeswoman for the German Newspaper Publishers Assn. “Yes, Google brings a lot of traffic to newspaper pages – but they also make money from it.”

Exactly how much money is in play in unclear. The measure does not spell out how much newspapers would be paid for short snippets of their articles, Pasquay said.

The German debate will be closely watched in France, where the idea has also cropped up.  Italian publishers also have floated the idea of pursuing similar legislation.

Google warned France last month that if it adopted such a law, the company might drop French websites from its searches. It also argues that news publishers can already ask to be removed from Google News searches if they wish.

While German publishers say they don’t want to do that, it’s exactly what has happened in Brazil, where the vast majority of local newspapers have pulled their articles off the search engine. Its National Assn. of Newspapers told the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas that “staying in Google News was not helping us grow our digital audiences.”

Nearly half of visitors to Google News simply scan headlines without moving on to newspaper websites, the publishing research firm Outsell concluded in a study two years ago.

But it’s unclear whether those Internet users would otherwise go to newspapers, said Jeff Hermes, director of the Citizen Media Law Project hosted by Harvard University. In the United States, Google has been fairly successful in arguing that it is helping people find information, not competing with those who generate it, Hermes said.

The question is far from settled internationally, however.

“There are so many questions about whether government should be involved in protecting journalism against economic upheaval caused by the Internet, let alone how to go about doing it,” Hermes said.

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