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

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.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

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.

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