Mozilla and German lawmakers spar in increasingly furious 'link tax' row

Mozilla and German lawmakers spar in increasingly furious 'link tax' row

Summary: Mozilla has pointed out that, if a proposed German law really did make search engines pay for returning results that include headlines and snippets of news articles, the result may actually be to entrench the position of deep-pocketed Google.

TOPICS: Google, Legal, EU

Mozilla has weighed into the rapidly heating war between Google and German lawmakers, pointing out that the imposition of copyright charges on news headlines and snippets could actually make it impossible for any search rivals to take Google on.

The German Bundestag, or parliament, will this week debate a new law that would extend copyright to cover the small chunks of information about an article that Google and other search engines display when including that article in their results. The Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV) has lobbied strongly for this to happen, as it would supposedly mean more cash for the publishers, in the form of royalties.

Google launched a petition against this Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger (LSR), or 'ancillary copyright for press publishers', on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Mozilla entered the fray.

In a blog post, Mozilla pointed out that the most likely outcome of such a law would be the de-indexing of German journalism from Google's search results, as has happened in Belgium.

"If this happens, locating the news becomes more difficult. Imposition of license fees in this context may also reduce competition by making it more difficult for new entrants who cannot pay such fees, and unintentionally favouring well-funded players who can pay," Mozilla said, adding that the limitation of information flow "restrict the real benefits the web has to offer".

Whose interests?

Although it does not operate its own search engine, Mozilla does have an interest in this argument: the company makes most of its money off Google, by giving Google prominence as the default search engine in its Firefox browser. That said, Mozilla could theoretically benefit if a rival engine challenged Google's dominance in search, perhaps giving Mozilla more bargaining power the next time that deal comes up for renewal.

Many have argued that, if the new law goes through, German publishers would themselves be severely hurt

Many have argued that, if the new law goes through, German publishers would themselves be severely hurt. One particularly thorough explanation in this vein (PDF, in German) came on Tuesday from the Max Planck Institute for Legal Studies.

Meanwhile, according to a Reuters report on Wednesday, conservative MPs Guenter Krings and Ansgar Heveling said Google's campaign, which includes a petition against the LSR, was "cheap propaganda".

"Under the guise of a supposed project for the freedom of the internet, an attempt is being made to coopt its users for its own lobbying," the Bundestag member said, while justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said Google was trying to monopolise opinion-making.

Somewhat ironically, Google placed an advertisement in Germany's top national newspapers on Thursday morning, as part of its campaign against the LSR.

This led many wags on the internet to note that the law was already putting extra money into the pockets of the old-guard publishers.

Topics: Google, Legal, EU

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • buh bye German newspapers

    The hard print media is very much a dying breed. I don't even remember the last time I bought a newspaper. If it doesn't come up in some search (not necessarily Google), then for all practical aspects, it doesn't exist. The online hits these publishers get will fall off a cliff when search providers no longer provide links to these shakedown artists - then watch them complain as their (the newspapers' and magazines') ad revenue falls off that same cliff.
  • Much ado about nothing

    more than the mostly ancient "news" Google aggregates. Google even has a special name for their most ancient "news"- "Spotlight".

    What Google does in the US could in no way be accurately described as providing links to "news", unless "news" means "already forgotten".
    Aloysious Farquart
  • And don't forget..

    I am sure the german Gov't is going to make a few Euros off the dea for "handling" eh?
  • All well and good

    But once the newspapers are gone, we will be straight back to lynchmobs with torches and pitchforks. After all, who needs verified facts when you have the internet and an opinion.
    • Re: But once the newspapers are gone

      Let me introduce you to this radical idea called "robots.txt". If you feel that Google (or any other search engine) is ripping off your site, all it takes is ONE LINE in this file to banish them forever, so you will never appear in their search results.

      You want them to go away? It is easy to make them go away.
  • Fair Use?

    Traditionally, citing a short snippet (paragraph, for example) from an earlier book WITH CREDIT, to compare or contrast the author of that work with other authors, or to explain why a reader should PURCHASE the cited work, has been called "fair use" of the cited work. This, in academic tradition, is not considered plagiarism, while including the quote in the flow of the new work WITHOUT credit, is. Copyright law follows, or ought to follow, the same principles as academic plagiarism ethics, allowing or banning the same practices.

    In this case, Google CANNOT tell you that, for example, the New York Times printed an article on Prince William on a certain date without including at least part of the headline (e.g. Prince and Kate are expecting) so you will know whether you want to link to that story. Once you get there, the Times may or may not allow you to read the story without having a subscription. But if Google cannot QUOTE the headline, you will never reach the story, and the Times will lose advertising/subscription revenue.
    • and vice versa

      If Google can't direct you to anything that could also mean the death of Google
  • German Newspaper publishers

    This is a good way to accelerate the demise of newspapers. These pieces of information only allow a person to decide whether or not to read the article. If I read the article, I might also read the ads associated with the article. If its not on Google or any other search engine, the article doesn't get read, the ads don't get looked at, nothing is bought by the reader and the newspaper goes out of business.
  • looks like Germany is facing it's own Fiscal Cliff

    only theirs will be caused by taxation rather than excessive spending.
    this new law won't save the news-mags, only slightly delay or slightly accelerate their demise.
    California tried this sort of thing once.
    instead of revenue, most businesses affected simply moved out of the state.
    the best way to ensure nonexistence on the web is to tax linkage.
    it's not fear-mongering to say so, just being truthful.
    then again, this is the same state that says parents don't know what's best for their own children.
    so why should we expect common sense in this matter??