Later this month, German legislators will take up debate on a bill extending copyright protection to snippets of news articles that appear in search engine results.
Google has warned both Germany and France — which has proposed similar legislation — that it is not willing to play along, and will simply black out media outlets that try to levy such fees.
However, German copyright laws are different from those in the United States, and they tend to favor content creators above all. The proposed new law puts the business model of Google News in particular in conflict with media outlets and their desire to protect their revenue streams.
Listen to a conversation with Stephan Dorner, technology editor at The Wall Street Journal Deutschland. Dorner talks about where things stand heading into this month’s talks, why German media are so eager to pass this legislation, why paywalls don’t seem to work in Germany, and more.
Download the podcast (16:26 minutes) or use the player:
Here are some excerpts:
TechNewsWorld: I wonder if maybe the best place to launch into this is by looking at the media outlets themselves. As far as I understand, they have been very supportive of the idea that search engines like Google should indeed pay for displaying links to news articles.
The reason this is interesting, especially right now, is that there has been a lot of change in the media landscape, and not all of it has been for the better. I know the DAPD, which had a partnership with the Associated Press, recently announced that they were insolvent, as did the Frankfurter Rundschau — also announced insolvency. And these both happened just in the past few weeks, or even few days.
So I wonder how much of this has to do with the current media landscape, and maybe some of the economic troubles that are going on right now.
Stephan Dorner: I think it has a lot to do with this because the big media outlets, they are a little bit in fear because they look into the U.S. And in the U.S. you had this wave of dying newspapers, I think five years ago, and now they are afraid this wave will come over to continental Europe. And there are a lot of big newspapers that are in trouble — not only in Germany, but especially in Germany. And they look at the Internet and they see that Google makes a lot of money and they want to have a part of this.
TechNewsWorld: Could you say how much of it is a survivalistic attitude of, “We need money, we’re going out of business,” and how much of it is maybe philosophical, as in: “Google is displaying our links, and they’re putting ads next to our work, and they’re getting money and we’re not.” Is there also a philosophical element to this?
Dorner: Yeah, maybe, but I think the main motivation for media outlets to lobby for this law is that they’re just afraid — of the Intenet, and of Google and the changing of the media landscape.
I think the argument for the so-called “Leistungsschutzrecht,” which it’s called in Germany, is pretty absurd because basically [the idea is that] Google should pay to bring customers to the newspaper websites.
TechNewsWorld: Yeah, this is an argument that Google made. This same situation is going on in France, and Google said, “We drive millions and billions of clicks to your websites. This is a two-way relationship.” Do you kind of feel like that’s the same way it is in Germany, that the news outlets aren’t acknowledging that Google is in some ways good?
Dorner: Yeah, totally. And the really absurd part of it is that the publishers pay a lot of money for search engine optimization — really a lot of money. And they want their articles to show up on Google and they want to be found, of course. So this is maybe the most absurd aspect of this whole debate.
TechNewsWorld: I wanted to ask you if you think this situation with search engines and displaying news links is similar at all to the situation with YouTube and Gema. And Gema, for those who don’t know, is a group that protects music copyrights in Germany, and they have for a long time kind of tussled with YouTube and about what is and isn’t allowed to be shown on YouTube. Anybody who has used YouTube in Germany knows that a lot of the videos you search for are not available and they’re just replaced with a note from Gema that says, “Permission to this video is restricted.”
There’s a fierce protection of copyright, and there’s a history of a fierce protection of copyright. Do you think that this is at all similar to that situation, with YouTube and Gema versus Google News and the [news] publishers?
Dorner: Gema is a very special system in Germany. Gema is an organization for the musicians, for the creators of the music. It’s not the organization for the owner of the music, like the big music labels. This is some other very complicated topic because it’s something that’s very German.
This has something to do with the Google News discussion because of German copyright law. The German copyright law differs very much from the U.S. copyright law and the British copyright law because in Germany the creator of the work is something very special. If you create a work, you can’t sell the work, you just can sell the right to use the work.
TechNewsWorld: So Google then definitely conflicts with this philosophy, if they take a news article and then spread it around?
Dorner: Yeah, we have something like the Leistungsschutzrecht in the area of music. Because if you are a label you have not only a right to sell the music, but also the right to make exclusive money from this compilation of music. And this is something that — the publishers want a similar right.
And this is what newspapers are now pushing for. Because now the law is that the right to the article belongs to the creators, so the publishers can’t charge Google for it because they don’t have the rights: they just have the rights to publish it, but not the right to own it. And this Leistungsschutzrecht would create another right for the publishers to commercialize the article.