Google Maps 150,000 supporters in German link tax fight

Google has notched up thousands of supporters in its ongoing copyright law battle in Germany, a battle that, should it lose, would see it forced to pay news sites for aggregating their content.

Google has reached a milestone in its "Defend Your Web" campaign, part of its ongoing battle against a proposed "link tax" in Germany — mapping the location of its 150,000 supporters in the country.

The search giant reached the milestone last week as it attempted to counter an upcoming change to German copyright law. The update, publicly called "Leistungsschutzrecht," would allow publishing houses to charge news aggregators like Google News for using content they produce. The legislative change was proposed after publishing houses complained that the aggregators were taking content they made available for free and then using it to make money, for example, by integrating their ads.

Google campaign DeinNetz
Google has started mapping its supporters in the battle against a proposed change to German copyright law. (Credit: Google)

The proposed change has sparked a great deal of debate in Germany, with both the Leistungsschutzrecht's supporters and opponents accusing each other of using propaganda methods to win over German citizens and members of parliament.

Google started its campaign relatively late — kicking off "Defend Your Web" last year, while the Leistungsschutzrecht was proposed in 2009 — but has nonetheless spurred a lot of discussion. The first step of the campaign saw the company offering citizens information about which members of parliament are responsible for their home town, with people then able to use Google's website to contact his or her representative directly. Although such information is publicly accessible, Norbert Lammert, the president of the German Bundestag, called the initiative "brazen and obvious."

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Google also collected statements opposing the Leistungsschutzrecht from its supporters, who currently number more than 150,000 (with more than 2.6 million allegedly "watching" the campaign), and published the names and statements on its new website (which translates to Net-Defender). As usual, Google has chosen to use a zoomable map to show its data: If you click on an entry, the map shows the name, location, and message the user left. Those messages are either preset by Google, written by the users, or are connected to the hashtag #DeinNetz (your net).

The Leistungsschutzrecht is currently still on track to become law in Germany. It was discussed at the German Bundestag for the first time in November 2011 and has now been referred to the appropriate committee for discussion. It still has to be discussed twice in the parliament before making it into the statute books, and since Germans get to vote for a new parliament in 2013, the future of the law is not set in stone.

And even if Germany signs the Leistungsschutzrecht into law, it might not play out as publishing houses hope. After a similar law was instigated in Belgium, Google de-indexed the sites, resulting in a massive drop of visitors. Shortly after, publishers and Google agreed on a deal .


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