Google launches petition against German 'link tax' proposals

The company has initiated a campaign against German government proposals that would force search engines to pay a copyright fee every time they bring up a snippet of a news story in their results.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Google has kicked off a campaign against a proposed German law that would force search engine providers to pay copyright fees every time they return a news article in their results.

The Leistungsschutzrecht für Presseverleger, or 'ancillary copyright for press publishers', would provide an extension of copyright in Germany to cover snippets of articles, such as those that show up in search results so the user can tell what each result is about. It is being proposed by Angela Merkel's coalition, and follows intense lobbying by publishing giant Axel Springer and others.

On Tuesday, Google launched a petition against the proposals, arguing that they would make it much harder for web surfers to find what they are looking for. Google has complained about the Leistungsschutzrecht before, but is now stepping up its opposition due to the fact that the bill will be debated this week in the Bundestag.

"Most people have never heard of this proposed legislation," Google country director Stefan Tweraser said in a statement. "Such a law would affect every internet user in Germany [and] mean less information for consumers and higher costs for companies."

The petition is accompanied by an interactive map intended to show people how to contact their local MP to lobby back against the bill.

Not the only attempt

The version of the bill that is set for debate is not the first iteration. An earlier version would have forced not only search engines to pay up, but also any business that lets employees search the web at work.

That proposal elicited such a furious response from German industry bodies that the government scaled back its plans. The Federal Association of German Newspaper Publishers (BDZV), which has been a driving force behind the legislation, has expressed its unhappiness with the current version.

A key argument of those who oppose the bill has been that any publication can de-index itself from Google's results, making legislation unnecessary. Indeed, this is what happened in Brazil last month, when all 154 members of the country's National Association of Newspapers (ANJ) opted out of being findable through Google's services.

Google is also facing similar problems in France. There, Google got so fed up with the demands of the newspaper industry for a 'link tax' that it said it would de-index all French media stories. This drove French culture minister Aurélie Filippetti to hit back against the company, saying "one doesn't deal with a democratic government using threats".

And in the UK, the Meltwater case has established that hyperlinks can be covered by copyright. However, while the 2011 ruling stated that anyone distributing links to newspaper articles for commercial purposes should have a licence to do so, the precedent has not yet been extended to the likes of Google.

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